A decade after he coached Lehman to its best record in the new millenium, Mike Piatt is back on the sidelines at West Milton, enjoying the challenge of building, and eager to make up for lost time.
It’s been ten years since he coached the Lehman Cavaliers to an 18-5 record and a sectional championship in the 2006-07 season. And for his time, and what he considers a pretty good body of work during his five year-tenure at Lehman, Mike Piatt was let go after that season by school administration – for philosophical differences.
He doesn’t talk about it much now; and didn’t then. Only, that Lehman had a different vision for basketball than he had. Ironically, that vision has since been defined by diversity and change. The Cavaliers have had four coaches in those ten years, the longest staying just three seasons.
Piatt was out of coaching for five years before joining Joe Staley’s staff at Chaminade-Julienne for three years, in Dayton, as a bench assistant.
Two years ago he came to Tipp City, with Jim Staley, as JV coach and varsity assistant. When Staley left mid-season Piatt took over as coach and finished the season suffering through one tough loss after another. He wasn’t rehired.
Sitting out again last season, that familiar old itch to teach basketball still haunted him. And perhaps, he wanted the opportunity to prove that maybe those that had judged him too severely, or prematurely in the past, had been wrong. Mike Piatt wanted another chance.
Did he have something to prove?
“Not really,” he said before Tuesday night’s game at Covington. After an 0-4 start, Piatt and the Bulldogs were seeking their first win together against 5-3 Covington.
“I could have coached with Joe at CJ forever if I’d wanted to. It was perfect for me. And I came to Tipp with Jim because I’m probably closer to him and Joe than anyone else I know in coaching.”
But he had applied for other jobs without success, and perhaps it was an omen that he didn’t get those jobs. Most were ‘fixer-uppers’, in rebuilding vernacular.
And for that matter, so was Milton-Union when that job was posted at the end of the 2015-16 season. After doing his due diligence, Piatt asked for an interview…and got the job.
“Beautiful new school, great facility, and a great administration,” he said upon taking the job. “Our kids haven’t played a lot of basketball, but they’re really good kids and I think some of them have a chance to be good.” For starters, that’s all he asked. He wanted to feel that old fire again.
His teams have always played hard, defended, taken care of the basketball – sound in the fundamentals of the game. Mike Piatt learned his basketball at Cambridge High School under legendary coach Gene Ford, and there’s never been a question over his basketball IQ. The Ford imprint is clearly visible still when you observe his preparation and sideline logic.
The 0-4 start? Nothing to fret about in Piatt’s words. Just learning pains.
“We need to play,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “Everyone else has played twice what we have. Traditionally Milton has been a football school, and we need to turn minds to basketball, as well. We have some great kids and the administration is showing great patience with this process. We just need to play more basketball.”
It was a game marked by turnovers, poor shooting at times, and questionable decision making. Piatt’s young Bulldogs turned the ball over twelve times in the first half alone – 24 times for the game.
“A lot of those turnovers were unforced,” he said afterwards. “We have to clean that up.”
Nonetheless, trailing by three points at halftime, Milton came out in the second half and did clean things up, going on a 10-0 run – at one point holding a 7-point lead. Covington fought back, and whittled it down to two points with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter.
During a Covington timeout Piatt reminded his kids, “We have the lead. We need to take care of the basketball.” The same words he told Tony Reiss, Doug Westerheide, and Zac Schmitz back in the day at Lehman.
It was shaky, but they did as he coached. They took care of the basketball, forcing Covington to foul where sophomore William Morris and junior Dan Albaugh went to the line in the closing 30 seconds. Each hit the front end of a one and one to ice the game – a 36-33 Milton win. Piatt’s first on the new job!
“You always remember your first win and I’m going to remember the first one at Milton,” he said outside his locker room, wearing a broad grin. “Hey, we needed this. We’ve got a tough game at Carlisle on Friday and it’s a lot better to go there 1-4 than 0-5.”
But what he didn’t say – what he wouldn’t say – was that Mike Piatt needed that win as much as his kids. Nothing’s promised in coaching, and nothing is forever.
You coach to teach, to compete. You control what you can control. You’re only as good as your last win. You’re hired to be fired.
It’s an occupation of cliches’ and narrow appreciation. He knows it. He’s been there, and that’s fine. No regrets.
Mike Piatt is back on the firing line.