Note: The article below is courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press & MLive.com dated Jan. 14, 2011. It can be found online at the website link below:
By Brian VanOchten
The Grand Rapids Press
BIG RAPIDS -- The special relationship between Ed Douma and Bill Sall has come full circle.
It all started in the late 1980s after Douma recruited Sall, a prep basketball standout at Unity Christian, to play for Calvin College, where they teamed up to reach the 1990 NCAA Division III Final Four. The unique bond between them grew stronger in subsequent years, whereupon Sall gave up selling life insurance to join Douma's coaching staffs, first at Calvin and later at Hillsdale College.
All these years later, they have reconnected one more time.
Sall is in his ninth season leading the Ferris State University men's basketball program, while Douma is in the midst of his second season as a volunteer assistant coach on his former player's staff. It's an arrangement that seems to be a perfect fit for both men at this stage of their lifelong passion for the game.
"I come and go as I please," the smiling Douma, 66, said of his role on Sall's coaching staff. "I'm at every practice and I'm in the office once in a while. I do a few things they ask me to do. I'm basically just a sounding board. He comes up with the ideas and he asks me about them. I get to stay in the game and stay involved with the kids."
Sall, 43, is delighted to be reunited with his mentor.
He got his coaching start under Douma at Calvin from 1992-95. He then spent the next three seasons as Ferris State's top assistant, plus an additional season at FSU on Tom Ludwig's staff, before rejoining Douma at Hillsdale from 1998-2002. Those experiences helped him land the FSU coaching job in 2002.
"I coached with him a lot of years and learned a lot from him," Sall said. "It's been a long relationship and a good relationship. I'm glad he's here. The roles are reversed, but I don't tell him to do much of anything."
No, that's for sure.
Douma still doesn't hesitate to express his strong opinions about the game.
In semi-retirement, though, Sall insists he is a kinder and gentler version of the same strong-willed head coach who compiled an impressive 561-295 (.655) career record at the collegiate level, including stretches at Alma College, Lake Superior State, Kent State and North Carolina-Greensboro.
"He's not afraid (to speak up), but he can be kind of a mentor," Sall said. "In some ways, he's a grandfatherly figure to the players. He's been great for our team. He still gets after it, but he has softened a little.
"It's nice for him to be able to take a different role. It's kind of like the good old days of having him here in the office and just talking basketball."
The fire still burns inside him. It's just on a milder setting, Douma said.
"I still let him know what my thoughts are," Douma said with a laugh. "As an assistant coach, it's way different. You can't have any input with the officials. You're not really coaching the plays. You're just giving suggestions. But it's still fun. "Obviously, since he played for me, we have most of the same ideas."
The idea to join Sall's staff was one of mutual admiration for each other.
Douma, who got the itch to be around the game again, made a couple of road trips from his home in Hillsdale to see FSU practice. He let his former pupil know in his own purposeful manner he would like to hang around.
"He didn't ask me, I asked him," Douma recalled. "I said, 'Hey, I'm not doing anything. I'd like to come up here and watch a few practices. I'm not looking for a salary. I just want to be involved.' This year, it's turned into something more."
As far as Sall is concerned, it has been an ideal situation for both of them.
"The real story is he came up to a couple of practices last year and he kept on talking," Sall explained. "As he kept going, instead of saying 'you,' he kept saying 'we.' So, basically, he asked, but he also sort of put himself in there, which was perfect. It's fun having him around. It's good to have him around full time this year."
Douma isn't interested in being a head coach again.
He finds it more rewarding being a teacher of the game and is planning to move back into the area to spend as much time as possible with his wife, Carolyn, daughter, Rachelle, and granddaughter, Kaylin, 9.
It'll be a homecoming of sorts for Douma when FSU meets Grand Valley State in the "131 Showdown" featuring games between the men's and women's programs Jan. 29 at Van Andel Arena. Douma was a key player on Western Michigan Christian's 1962 Class C state championship team, a four-year varsity standout at Calvin and led the Knights to the 1991-92 D-III national championship as head coach.
"I still have a lot of friends there," Douma said of his West Michigan roots.
"It's just a fun deal," he said of sharing the bench with Sall again. "It's about as good as it can get."