PITT MEADOWS — On Sunday, on what would be the final day of a life so completely devoted to his greatest passion, Rich Goulet made a simple request.
“Scoresheets. He was asking for scoresheets from a Grade 9 basketball tournament,” said his nephew Dave Goulet who was bedside at the hospital, tending to the needs of his uncle, the five-time B.C. senior boys basketball championship-winning coach, whose name had long since become synonymous not only with the rock-solid architecture of the Pitt Meadows Marauders program he had built brick by loving brick, but for Canadian high school basketball excellence.
“It was a Marauders’ tournament,” Dave Goulet, 52, continued of his uncle’s request. “He was asking for (longtime Pitt assistant coach) Ron Wallsmith to go get the game sheets. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite himself, so to calm him down, we said we would do it. Yet it’s kind of apropos that he was thinking basketball right to the end of his life… and it was his life.”
Despite a laundry list of medical maladies which had dogged him like an unrelenting 40-minute full-court press the past few years, including the amputation of his right leg above his knee this past summer, Rich Goulet fought the good fight until the very end, passing Sunday at the age of 74, leaving behind him a standard of program-building excellence sure to leave generations to come breathless in disbelief.
“In the 50 years that I knew him, the least amount of teams he coached at the school was two, and in many years he coached the Grade 9, junior and senior teams,” explained Rich Chambers, 70, a lifelong coaching foe during his stops at Moody Junior, Centennial and Terry Fox, who also happened to be a devoted lifelong friend. “He only had another coach go to games if there were conflicts. But he’d run every practice.”
Reaction to Goulet’s passing Sunday was massive and heartfelt, and on a thematic note, the outpouring of eulogies all centred around the full understanding everything that accompanied a coaching style which while unapologetically vocal, came from his desire to have his players, both individually and as a team, achieve their full potential.
“He was willing to push kids because he saw something in all of them, and he wouldn’t let them be average,” said St. Thomas More Knights head coach Aaron Mitchell, 43, one of the countless coaches who learned under Goulet and today leads the same program his mentor both played for and coached through the 1960s and ‘70s. “They didn’t have to love him. They just had to be the best version of themselves.”
Chambers echoed those sentiments.
“In his own way he was a really humble guy, but people would see him yell and think he was a loud, boisterous and boastful guy, which was completely opposite from the truth.”
Added Ross Tomlinson, 63, another Goulet protege and currently the head coach of the senior girls team at Heritage Woods Secondary in Port Moody: “I think the most important thing is, he had a passion for basketball but it was equaled by his passion to develop young people, and to instil a sense of dedication and team work in them that they could take with them and use for the rest of their lives.”
Along the way, the ninth child in a family of 10, who grew up in the Maillardville region of Coquitlam, not only drew notice by turning little-known start-up level programs at STMC and Pitt Meadows into provincial powers through sheer will and self-belief, he also introduced a level of sophistication theretofore unseen in B.C. high school basketball circles.
Goulet’s off-court initiatives in the areas of team fund-raising opened new possibilities to the entrepreneurial coach, while the blueprints he sketched as they related to program-building, both within individual high school programs and provincial teams, have remained templates to this day.
“There’s not a person in basketball, or a teacher, that worked harder than Rich,” said Chambers of Goulet. “He’d be at his school until 11 p.m. every night after practice. He’d organize his books. He had his chicken sales. He had his pie sales. Rich would with load up the back of his truck with telephone books and he and all of the kids would deliver them. They made good money. But he never once… not once, did he ever take anything for himself in any fund-raising or any team camp. All of this was to give his kids opportunity. He was just a special guy. He just bled basketball for his players.”
So much figuratively so, in fact, that one season, Mitchell’s St. Thomas More team, while attending a holiday tournament in Hawaii, were asked if they could take a different game time because another of the event’s teams had a coach needing some additional time to cope with some health issues.
“It turns out it was Rich,” Mitchell says of Goulet, who instead of cancelling Pitt Meadows appearance at the tourney because of difficulties he was having with his kidneys, soldiered on. “He needed a few hours on his kidney dialysis machine so he could coach the whole day. He had it shipped all the way to Maui, just so his guys could have a great experience.”
THE ROOTS OF THE GOULET BASKETBALL TREE
When you are the person who occupies the roots of a coaching tree, you stand tall for reasons that don’t really need to be explained.
Yet when it comes to the legacy of Rich Goulet, its proud branches simply cannot help but rustle in the wind.
“I think the first time I got to know Rich was back in 1991, when I was his assistant coach with the provincial team, and truthfully I was scared because he was intimidating, and he would yell and stuff like that,” began Paul Eberhardt, the CCAA national championship-winning coach of Vancouver’s Langara College Falcons, of mentorship he received under Goulet with Basketball B.C.’s Under-17 program in 1991 on a team that included Naismith Hall of Famer Steve Nash as a rising senior.
“But I remember when I went into it, the exact opposite was true,” Eberhardt continued of an experience that ended with Nash hitting the game-winning shot in the gold medal game against Alberta. “A lot of people who might have just saw him as that fiery coach didn’t understand what an amazing, giving person he was.
“He was such a mentor to me and so much of what I still practice today as a coach, came from that experience.”
Added Tomlinson: “He coached some incredible players. The tie between Robby Sacre, Kelly Olynyk and Steve Nash (other than their NBA futures) is that at one point they were all coached by Rich.”
It’s an understatement that there is not enough room here to address every branch on Goulet’s coaching tree, yet so many of those names are these days the very cross-stitches which hold the fabric of this province’s basketball community together.
In 1987, Mark Prinster, at the age of 23, became the youngest-ever head coach of a B.C. high school championship team when he guided Burnaby’s Cariboo Hill Chargers to the provincial Double-A title.
Yet as the current Terry Fox senior varsity boys co-coach admits today, he didn’t truly represent the best of his craft until he earned the position of B.C. Under-16 head coach over the same two summers (1991, 92) that Goulet steered the fortunes of the Under-17 team.
“I didn’t have any illusions when we won the B.C. title at Cariboo Hill,” remembers Prinster, 57. “I played a role as the head coach, but we just had more talent than everyone else that year. So I coached, but I wasn’t a coach yet. But being involved with Basketball B.C. teams, travelling to Las Vegas two summers in row with Rich… and then just being around him, listening to him. I was fortunate. I was lucky. The more time I spent with Rich, the more I realized how much he cared about every kid on every team he coached. That was his family. His family was his teams. I took it all in and then 30 odd years later I was fortunate to be able to call him my friend.”
Same story for STM’s Mitchell, who through his basketball podcast A Hoops Journey, was able to capture Goulet for posterity in an episode which thankfully will survive as B.C. basketball history.
“He talked about how he was feeling better, and he said to me that maybe he’d see me back on the court soon,” said Mitchell, who along with former White Rock Christian Academy and Trinity Western head coach Scott Allen, worked under Goulet on the B.C. Under-17 team in the summer of 2005 with such talents as Handsworth’s Sacre, Doug Plumb from Pitt Meadows, G.P. Vanier’s Calvin Westbrook, St. George’s Alex Murphy and Brent Malish of Brookswood.
“I am 26 years old, and I am in a dorm at the University of Regina with Rich Goulet and he is teaching me how to play crib,” remembered Mitchell. “I beat him the second time we played and he was pissed. I just sat there and listened to him all summer. He loved going to Denny’s. He was an open book. I learned so much.”
BASKETBALL FRIENDS FOREVER
This past summer, upon learning that he would likely need to have a part of his right leg amputated due to a vascular issue, Rich Goulet phoned his friend Rich Chambers to have a heart to heart.
“He said he had to ask me a question,” Chambers said Monday in reflection. “He said ‘They think they have to take my leg off. I think I am just going to go home and die.’”
Chambers didn’t hesitate to respond.
“I said ‘Rich, your whole life you have been the opposite. So what are you talking about?’ So we talked abut how we could get a car for him, all about his prosthetic… and within about 30 minutes, he was back on track. And it wasn’t me that changed his mind. He would never have done that. He just needed someone to talk to.”
Basketball, it turns out, gave him friendships off the court that stood the test of time.
“The rivalries were unbelievable, but after the game you went out for a drink or you went out for dinner… it was a fellowship,” Chambers said of group of coaches that also included Maple Ridge’s Ken Dockendorf. “It was so different than it is now. The coaches you played against became your lifelong friends. It was a different time, but it was a golden time.”
And within that era, Rich Goulet refined his coaching skill with an incomparable work ethic, making a swift climb to elite status among the B.C. high school fraternity.
A member of St. Thomas More’s very first graduating class in 1964, he was also the Knight’ first-ever class valedictorian.
While still matriculating at university, he was back at his high school’s Burnaby campus, cutting his coaching teeth with the Grade 9 boys team.
Not too soon after that, however, he had returned to his alma mater as a teacher, and after ascending to the position of senior boys varsity head coach, led the Knights to back-to-back B.C. Single-A titles (1975, ’76) in what was still a very new two-tiered province.
Goulet would later leave St. Thomas More for the hinterlands of Pitt Meadows Secondary in 1979-80, yet by the spring of 1983, the Marauders were hoisting the spoils as B.C. Single-A champions.
The workload Goulet brought on himself, however, was the very description of epic.
“I would phone him when he was my elite committee chair at Basketball B.C.,” remembered Tomlinson, “and he’d say ‘I will call you tomorrow night. I have a Grade 8 practice in the morning before school, then my junior and senior practices after school. I have to grade some papers, too, so I’ll call you around 10.”
It was a pace he maintained for close to four decades before he parted ways with Pitt Meadows after the 2016-17 season.
Along the way were equally epic moments: Ten B.C. top-tiered tournament appearances, four Final Fours, and two more B.C. titles in both 1989 and 2000.
The 1989 title was one of the most memorable in tournament history as the Marauders edged head coach Ken Dockendorf’s Maple Ridge Ramblers 58-57 before a sold-out house at the PNE Agrodome.
Yet as testament to Goulet’s relentless work ethic, Chambers remembers clearly the events of the following morning.
“He beat Ken by one in the B.C. championship game, and when I went to his house on the Sunday morning to congratulate him, he told me he was getting ready for six hours of Steve Nash (youth basketball),” said Chambers of the elementary school-aged program Goulet was coaching in his community.”
One of the members of that 1989 championship Pitt Meadows team reflected Monday on what Goulet had come to mean to both he and his teammates.
“Times have changed, but Rich had this tireless energy that any time I am feeling tired or discouraged, I think back to,” said Al Tuchscherer, the veteran head coach of Fraser Valley Cascades women’s basketball team in Abbotsford.
“I just think ‘Man, Rich coached three, or four or five teams at a time, and in his spare time he started a mini-dribblers program,’” continued Tuchscherer of Goulet, who in addition to all of that, even started a summer team camp at Pitt Meadows, Terry Fox and Maple Ridge which would host teams from all over the province in what, at the time, was a pioneering format.
“And everything he ran was at a level of excellence,” Tuchscherer continued. “He never cut corners. It was always to the max and those were really important lessons for us to see and learn growing up. He was an icon in the community.”
THE MENTOR, ALWAYS THE MENTOR
On the day of the 1983 B.C. Single-A championship final game, Dave Goulet remembers overhearing one side of a telephone conversation back in his mid-teens in the house in which he, his mom Aline and her brother Rich all shared.
All these years later, and in the wake of his uncle’s passing, the topic of that call stands as the perfect symbol of hoops karma which a young Rich Goulet harnessed for himself, then paid forward over a generation later.
“On the afternoon of the final, I was sitting in the living room, and I could hear him talking basketball on the phone,” Dave Goulet says, referencing the hours before his uncle’s Pitt Meadows Marauders would face West Vancouver’s Sentinel Spartans in that 1983 title game at Langley’s D.W. Poppy Secondary.
“I said ‘Who did you call?’ and he said “That was the SFU coach, Stan Stewardson,’” remembers Dave Goulet of the legendary university coach, that season in the midst of a two-year sabbatical from his team. “He said he called him because he needed some advice on defences.”
Whatever Stewardson told Goulet worked.
The Marauders won their first-ever B.C. title by holding the Spartans to 57 points and winning by two when Darrell Scott drained a 15-footer from the corner in the fleeting seconds of a 59-57 win.
“That,” added Dave Goulet, “brought me back.”
Of course the reference there is to the 2019 B.C. boys Quad-A championship final between Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers and the Kelowna Owls.
With 2:15 remaining in the third quarter of the title tilt and the Panthers trailing the Owls 76-58, Lord Tweedsmuir head coach Drew Gallacher decided it was time to act on a text exchange he had had with none other than Goulet the night prior, after he learned he would be facing the Owls.
“Last night, Rich Goulet texted me,” Gallacher told Varsity Letters, moments after winning the title that evening two years ago. “I asked him ‘Hey Rich, what would you do (to beat Kelowna) and he said ‘Go to a diamond-and-one.’ …at that point (trailing by 18 points) I was just grasping at straws. I didn’t think it would work that fast.”
The rest, of course, is history, as told by Varsity Letters: “Literally from the moment the switch was made to the new junk defence, one which asked Tweedsmuir’s top defender to shadow Kelowna’s best offensive player while the remaining four defenders maintained a diamond pattern following zone principles, the flow of the game was completely reversed. Lord Tweedsmuir went on a 25-0 run between the third and fourth quarters, a run so spectacular in its speed and breadth that it rocked the Owls like a hurricane. Final score: Lord Tweedsmuir 91 Kelowna 86.”
Tomlinson speaks for so many when he figuratively tips his coaching cap to Goulet.
“He was instrumental in mentoring so many coaches, and I am one of them,” said Tomlinson, who not only worked in administration for Basketball BC and served as legendary UBC head coach Bruce Enns’ longtime lead assistant, but who also coached Burnaby Central into the 1991 B.C. boys top-tiered title game. “He once told me that when he turned 65 that he would walk away from the game, and I started to laugh. I told him there was no possible way he was going to be able to. It was just in his DNA.”
Yet it’s like Eberhardt said: “One of the most important things he did was he passed his knowledge and experience on to others.
“And when they write a book about how to build a successful program, you would follow the Pitt Meadows guidebook,” Eberhardt continued. “And when they talk about B.C.’s greatest high school basketball coaches of all-time, his name would come to the fore.”
Yet despite every rally he and his teams managed over the last half-century, this past Sunday brought a deficit that Rich Goulet could not overcome.
His love of life, however, seemed to insure that he would fight to the end.
“He’d come back from issue after issue,” said Dave Goulet of his uncle. “He’d had a stroke. He’d had a pacemaker put in. He had a leg amputated. He had kidney malfunction. He was on dialysis for years. He fought things left, right and centre and he always seemed to bounce back. When I got to the hospital Sunday, I could see the concern in the faces of the staff, but then he started to settle down. You start to think ‘Is this another Goulet bounce-back?’ But late (Sunday) afternoon, it was just his time.”
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