Cleveland State Vikings Head Coach Gary Waters Becomes Winningest Coach in CSU History

Updated: February 10, 2014

The Cleveland State Vikings defeated Eastern Illinois 82-68 on January 28th, and it marked the 150th victory for head coach Gary Waters, making him the winningest coach in CSU/Fenn College history.

Waters, 62, is in the midst of his eighth season with the Forest Green and White. All he has done is take the Vikings to four 20-win seasons, a Horizon League Tournament Championship and four post-season berths including the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the first for the school since 1986, where they defeated Wake Forest in the first round before losing to Arizona.

In a recent interview when asked about his goals for CSU, Waters said, “We have been consistent in what we have tried to do to bring forth a winning program that can sustain itself. I wanted (the team) to be competitive and be one of the top teams in the Horizon League. We wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament. We have done that and still want to go back there again.”

A long time assistant coach, first at Division II Ferris State and later at Eastern Michigan, Waters got his first head coaching job at Kent State in 1996-97 where he took the Golden Flashes from 9-18 in his first season to two Mid-American Conference tournament titles and a pair of NCAA Tournaments (the first in school history), which included a first-round win over Indiana in 2001. At the end of that season, he moved on to Rutgers, where he had just three winning seasons and an NIT finals appearance to show. He could not take the Scarlet Knights to the upper half of the highly competitive Big East Conference and into the field of 64.

In February 2006, he was at KSU being inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, but his flight back to New Jersey was delayed and could not get back to the Rutgers’ home game against Marquette. That incident gave the powers a reason to end Waters’ tenure, which they did at the end of the season.

At the same time, Cleveland State Basketball was going through some tough times. From 2003-06 under head coach Mike Garland, the Vikes were 27-60. They gained some relevance when they hired Rollie Massimino in 1996, but could manage only two winning seasons in seven campaigns.

In the spring of 2006, CSU hired Michael Schwartz as President of the school. Schwartz was the head man at Kent State and gave the blessing to hire Waters. In the summer, some deals were made to buy Garland out of the remaining years of his contract which allowed Waters to come in as the 14th head coach in school history.

From that point on the rest, as they say, is history.

Waters has brought discipline, accountability and self-respect to a team that was lacking those qualities for years. His first season (2006-07) he went 10-21. However, you could see the building blocks starting to be assembled.

With players like J’Nathan Bullock, Cedric Jackson, Chris Moore, D’Aundray Brown, Norris Cole, Chris Moore, Trey Harmon, Anton Grady, Bryn Forbes, Trey Lewis and Jon Harris, CSU has been a consistent winner both on the court and in the classroom.

Like any coach, Waters does have detractors, both with fans and the media, as they see ‘mid-major’ programs like Gonzaga and Butler becoming national powers. Some say, why not CSU, with a facility like the Wolstein Center and new buildings, including dormitories on campus. Many believe they should be right there as well.

Waters does believe he can get the Vikes to The Final Four before his career is over. He said, “If it can happen at those schools it can happen here.”

Before the start of the 2012-13 season, Waters signed a contract extension that will keep his as head man through the 2019 season. He is planning to spend more times with his wife of 38 years, Bernadette, as they have plans to attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil as well as the major tennis tournaments.

After going 12-18 last season, the Vikings are back challenging for the Horizon League crown, and a large part of that success is because of Gary Waters, who can officially be labeled a “winner” in the eyes of all CSU fans.

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