The end of an era is near. Head Men's Basketball Coach Mark Potter will coach his last game at home Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Following the Heartland Conference Tournament in Tulsa, Okla., which will take place in March, Potter will move on to his next journey in life.
That journey will be motivational speaking, a career that is only new to Potter from a business perspective. He has been speaking for several years to groups about his battle with depression and how he overcame some big obstacles in his life during that time.
"God's calling me to do this," said Potter. "To tell my story about depression and what I went through. That’s been a strong calling during the last 11 years since I went through that. Almost daily I see something in the news, or I’ll get a text or e-mail from someone asking for help. There’s nothing more priceless than that, to be able to touch other people through that."
For now, however, Potter has a full plate at Newman until the season is up. He is preparing for his last two home games along with the conference tournament in early March. Going into the week Monday morning, he knew it would be a week full of distractions.
He told his wife he was okay before leaving for work that morning — until he sat in his office and opened an e-mail from Director of Athletics Vic Trilli. "I saw that e-mail and had to call my wife and tell her that I wasn't doing so good anymore," Potter said.
The e-mail contained a promotional video that would run during Homecoming Week, and Potter said that video caused a lot of emotions to surface.
Potter, an alumnus of Newman University — then Kansas Newman College — talked a bit about being a student and reminisced about his athletic years, playing both baseball and basketball for the school. He praised Sr. Thomasine Steckline, ASC for understanding his hectic schedule and always supporting him as a student athlete.
"She was, the only word I can think of is special," said Potter. "Back in those days, we played 40 to 50 games per year and we had no lights, so all our doubleheaders were mid-afternoon. She would tell me to go get my hitting in and then get right back to class. She just got it."
Potter's basketball coaching career spans 30 years. After graduating college, he moved on to substitute teaching for a little while until landing a job as head basketball coach in Cheney High School. He coached there for five years, then at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School for another five and South High School for one year before getting the phone call that led to him coming to Newman and restarting the basketball program.
"But before I became a coach at Cheney," he said, "I subbed at area schools. Anytime I didn’t get a phone call, our [the Newman] Maintenance Department allowed me to come here and work. They always had work for me."
Everything changed for Potter in the late 1990s when he was contacted by Newman. William Eash, who was the part-time athletics director at the time, played a pivotal role in Potter's move. "He gave me the opportunity to come back to Newman and restart the program. I’ll always be thankful for that."
Potter announced in November 2016 that he would be retiring after the 2016-17 season was over, but for him, it's been business as usual. "The guys know," he said, "just because I’m making the announcement doesn’t mean I’m not going to bring it every day, because I’m gonna bring it! I don’t know any other way." He is certainly not slacking nor is he allowing his players to slack. "Business all the way to the final buzzer for me."
In fact, he said he's been more intense this year than in previous years. "You want it so badly to end the right way, but whether this is your first or last year, you want that," he said. "I’m an intense guy, it's who I am. Coaches try challenging our teams saying things like, 'what if this were your last day?' Well, now it’s real for me, it’s my final season. So every day becomes elevated that much more."
He credits many people throughout his career at Newman for helping him get to where he is today, but he added a special sentiment for one individual in particular. "Vick Trilli has been so special for me and my family," said Potter. "He’s one of the closest friends, brothers that I’ve had. From a personal standpoint, how much he’s helped me, how much he has recognized me, on certain days when I’m taking off to speak to a group about depression.
"He told me one time very early on [...], 'I want you to know, you’re the real deal.' And that’s a priceless thing. You always question yourself when you’re in this business. When you’ve had someone that’s been at the highest level tell you something like that, it gives you real confidence."
A special reception will be held for Potter directly following his last home game on Saturday, Feb. 25 in the Gorges Atrium. The event will begin around 6 p.m. and will include many past players, along with current players, faculty, and staff to reminisce and give their best wishes to Potter.
Watch Coach Potter's "Final Game Preview".