AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Several years ago, after Leta Andrews had already put in many years coaching Texas high school girls’ basketball, she called her friend and mentor John Wooden for advice about when she should retire.
Wooden, who coached UCLA to 10 NCAA championships, told her not to look for a special sign or special moment to signal a time to leave.
“You’ll know when it’s time,” Wooden told her. “The light bulb will come on.”
After 52 years as a coach and teacher, Andrews’ time on the bench has finally come to end. The coach at Granbury High School, who compiled a national record 1,416 career victories, retired two weeks ago after her team lost in the state playoffs, ending her last pursuit of a second state championship to match the one she won in 1990. Her career victories are the most in girls’ or boys’ basketball, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Andrews, 76, had her “light bulb” moment as soon as she woke up on a recent morning and shocked her husband of 55 years, David, with the news. He had spent many seasons roaming the state with her, even driving the bus to Granbury’s games
“He probably thought I’d die on the court coaching,” she said. “It’s never been a job for me. I loved what I was doing.”
To put Andrews’ longevity in perspective, she had had already been coaching a decade before Title IX became the law of the land in 1972 to push gender equity at schools receiving federal funding. She’s seen girls’ basketball go from a six-player game to five and from half court to full court.
Age had never been a deterrent. Even well into her 70s, Andrews was known for having the energy to run bleacher steps with her players, or get into team drills to show them how to play defense. Now she said it’s time to let that go. A farm girl raised near Granbury, about 40 southwest of Fort Worth, she returned to her roots in 1992 and plans to spend a lot of time in her retirement tending the family cattle on about 1,500 acres.
Andrews became the winningest high school basketball coach in the country in 2010 when she passed Robert Hughes, the retired boys’ coach at Dunbar High in Fort Worth. She led her teams to 16 state final four appearances and was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
On Friday night, the University Interscholastic League, Texas’ governing body for public high schools, had a short presentation in her honor at halftime of one of the games at the state tournament.
Despite all her victories, Andrews snared just a single state title. She hardly sounded disappointed she didn’t win more.
“Winning a state championship was the utopia,” Andrews said. “But those years we fell short, those teams gave all they had.”
She counts as her mentors some of the coaching giants in both men’s and women’s basketball. Early in her career, Andrews sought advice from college coaches, including Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and North Carolina’s Dean Smith.
Andrews raised three daughters in the game and all three went on to play for the University of Texas’ powerhouse teams under Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, who won 1,000 games at the college level. Two of them became coaches and beat her into retirement. Daughter Linda Sue Andrews Waggoner was so successful she made it all the way to the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Anybody can coach Xs and Os,” Leta Andrews said. “It’s about love and a passion to work.”
(© Copyright 2014 the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)