Not-so-average Joe

Basketball coach reflects on coaching success

Lady+Eagles+varsity+coach+Joe+Lombard+watches+during+the+Coaches+vs.+Cancer+basketball+game+Jan.+29.

Macy Mitchell

Lady Eagles varsity coach Joe Lombard watches during the Coaches vs. Cancer basketball game Jan. 29.

As the final lines of “Happy Birthday” echoed through the room, coach Joe Lombard let out a deep breath, not to blow out birthday candles, but to finally release the pressure and enjoy a state championship–number 18.

Lombard, a 38-year veteran girl’s basketball coach, celebrates his birthday every year during the state basketball tournament. Since his arrival in Canyon, the Lady Eagles have appeared in the state tournament 15 times, winning 12 state championships. Lombard, a member of the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame and a 2016 inductee into the national Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, said this year’s team stood out in his mind as one of his best.

“I think they had the ability to play under pressure and raise their level of play,” Lombard said “You do not see that in many teams. When the game was on the line or close in the fourth quarter, they took it up a notch.”

We try to prepare for each game one at a time, not look ahead, not look back, and be at our best each time we play.”

— Joe Lombard

The Lady Eagles, like all of Lombard’s teams, began preparation for the season last April. Lombard takes his teams through a process every year, beginning with fundamentals and fitness and followed by individual skill development. Lombard said the road to a state championship requires thorough preparation and meticulous work.

“It doesn’t just happen overnight,” Lombard said. “It is a slow process. We try to prepare for each game one at a time, not look ahead, not look back, and be at our best each time we play.”

After the state tournament, Lombard gives his team about a week off before they begin preparation for next season. Lombard said he is already looking at preparation for next season, as this team had a strong senior class. After celebrating the hard work of the seniors, he begins looking for a new place to start, knowing each year brings a new team.

“That is always the fun thing for me,” Lombard said. “Each year is a different journey. I know we just did ‘the threepeat,’ but each of those championships were different for me.”

Even with such a high percentage of wins, losing a game here and there is inevitable. Lombard said each loss is a learning opportunity.

I just want to learn and get better, and that is kind of the fun thing for me. I feel like I am still learning.”

— Joe Lombard

“Early in my coaching career I had a hard time with losing,” Lombard said. “That is why some coaches get out. It can wear on you if you do not handle it the right way.”

When he talks with other coaches, Lombard said he is always ready to learn.

“I will get ideas from junior high coaches, old guys and anybody in between,” Lombard said. “I just want to learn and get better, and that is kind of the fun thing for me. I feel like I am still learning.”

Attending the state championship provides insight into how other top-ranked teams in the state perform, but Lombard said he has learned far more than just offense and defense. He said he has learned to be thankful for what he has been given and not take it for granted.

“You strive to be the best throughout your life, but very few get to the top,” Lombard said. “I am humbled at how things have gone. I am just grateful that I get to be a part of this.”

Lombard said his favorite part of coaching is the excitement and fun, but coaching was not always his dream career. Though many of his coaches and mentors encouraged him to coach, Lombard went to college to major in business, believing making money equaled success.  He did not decide to pursue coaching until two years after college, when he felt called to change his focus. Now, his years of coaching have given him a new definition of success.

“Really it is as simple as being your best when your best is needed,” Lombard said. “You may not win every game. That is life, and you have to learn to deal with that. But to be the best you can be, for your team to be the best it can be–that is success.”