I wrote a (very) lengthy profile on Tom Billeter and his path to taking the Augustana men’s basketball program to where it is for Sunday’s paper. I haven’t seen the edited version yet. My fingers are crossed.
Anyway, this was supposed to be part of it, but space reasons have pushed it to the blog.
Tom Billeter wants to make it clear: He’s happy at Augustana and wouldn’t lose a night of sleep if he spent the rest of his coaching career with the Vikings.
But that doesn’t mean he’s permanently attached to Augustana.
From his years of experience as an assistant at the Division I level to the success he’s had as a Division II head coach, it’s obvious that Billeter would be a candidate to make the jump back to college basketball’s top classification.
When the Vikings left the North Central Conference to join the NSIC In 2007, Billeter had openly lobbied for the Vikings to make the jump to Division I, and in the years since, it hasn’t been hard to detect in him a sense of longing to be back amongst former NCC rivals that are now in the Summit League.
“I’m never looking not to leave, I’m never looking to leave,” Billeter said. “There’s a lot worse things in life (than being at Augustana), but I like a challenge, I like a change now and then. I’ve got friends in the business — I’m not saying I wouldn’t go back to being an assistant if it was the right system. My kids are going to be done with high school, I have a great basketball wife who gets it.
“I just — I don’t feel 52 years old, I feel like I’m 20,” he continues. “I’ve got tons of energy, I like recruiting, I like all the stuff that goes into it. I’d be perfectly happy to stay at Augie, but to give you an honest answer, I’d never say never.”
Of course, Billeter could scratch his Division I itch if the Vikings were to make the move to that level at some point. While there seems to be growing sentiment that the day may arrive eventually, there are no indications presently that it’s coming soon. USD has yet to remove the interim tag from coach Joey James, and while Billeter wouldn’t comment on the potential opening, it’s a marriage that would certainly make sense given his background and proximity.
Bill Gross, Augie’s outgoing athletic director, said he and Billeter have talked about the coach’s future, and the prospects of Division I, countless times over the years. Gross has been a supportive ear throughout that time, and says if the time comes that the Vikings have to say goodbye, they’ll do so proudly.
“Tom’s got a tremendous background, and if there’s something he aspires to and there’s a position he feels is right for him we’re not going to stand in his way,” Gross said. “If you have a coach that someone at a higher level wants, that must mean that coach is doing a pretty dang good job. I give Tom credit for respecting our decision to stay Division II, but I think he still has a yearning of what could be and I understand that.”
If all of that makes it sound to Viking fans like Billeter is a goner, though, keep in mind that the Augie job has become a very good one. And Billeter still has no Division I head coaching experience, so it’s not as though D-1 schools are going to be beating down his door ever year.
“Most coaches are just like players, they want to be at the highest level,” said Billeter’s assistant, Jeff Trumbauer. “But — and this is what we tell a lot of our recruits — the NSIC is a pretty darn good level. We outdrew almost 170 Division I schools in attendance last year. We have a great tradition here that Coach has built. So if that desire is there, I think it would take something awfully good to pull him away from what he’s built here.”