Though BYU Assistant Coach John Wardenburg is well-traveled like a vagabond, he seeks to help players avoid another kind of traveling-on the court.
From Iowa to Wisconsin to the Netherlands, and several towns in Utah, the 6-0 Wardenburg has moved his feet so that he could better teach basketball players the fine art of footwork. Fittingly, he taught geography after he graduated from BYU when he secured his first full-time job as an assistant coach at Pleasant Grove.
New on the Cougar staff this season, Wardenburg and Andy Toolson join a select group of less than 25 men to serve as assistant coaches at BYU. Wardenburg's baritone voice was natural for the guttural pronunciations in the Dutch language as a missionary. He has a pleasing radio voice, once used for a high school radio show he hosted when he lived in St. George. Most importantly, his deep voice is suited for the gym, barking orders in Pleasant Grove and Payson before he went to Dixie College and returned to BYU.
He's known to be an excellent teacher of the game of basketball, even though he didn't play beyond the high school level.
"I understand my limitations and the perceptions about me," said the 42-year old Wardenburg. "Through hard work and dedication, I can catch up to a lot of that stuff. I don't profess to be more than I am."
Wardenburg grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Kiel, Wisc., not far from Sheboygan where fellow cheesehead Rick Majerus, now coach at Utah, was raised as a youngster.
Like Majerus, Wardenburg had a desire to coach but playing basketball beyond the high school level was limited. The closest Wardenburg got to his coaching dream was drawing up plays during Church meetings or designing uniforms.
When his mother moved from Iowa to marry a man living in Wisconsin, Wardenburg went from being an only child to being the youngest of five children. Then his mother and stepfather adopted four more children, so he was in the middle of a "his-hers-ours-theirs" family.
Wardenburg, who was baptized as a nine-year-old in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, managed time as a four-sport letterman in Wisconsin despite challenges of hard work. His stepfather told him he was bringing home a cow for John to milk, but ended up buying 15 dairy cows. Eventually, Wardenburg ended up milking a herd of 80 cows by the time he had three college choices.
He could have stayed and played football at a small college in Wisconsin. He was accepted to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for a pre-law program. Instead, he tried to walk on and play football at BYU.
He interrupted his BYU schooling to serve a Church mission to the Netherlands, where he had a companion named Kelley Treseder, who played football at Utah State (1980-81). Another missionary companion with whom he served in Holland was Scott Eldredge, who ended up being Wardenburg's "best man" years later at his wedding.
"I was going to be a coach and John was going to major in business after our missions," recalls Eldredge. "For two years in American Legion baseball he ran the business end and I did the coaching.
"I got out of coaching and turned it over to him. All he does is win," said Eldredge, who is now a BYU administrator in the Harold B. Lee Library. "He has a real knack working with athletes and gets a lot out of them."
When Wardenburg returned to graduate in political science at BYU after his mission, Eldredge joined him on a BYU intramural flag football team for a couple of the team's 12 seasons. Wardenburg was a charter member of that flag football team which also had Chico Canales, former USU quarterback and BYU graduate assistant who is now the quarterback coach at North Carolina State.
"He (Wardenburg) is legally blind without his glasses, but he always was in the right place to make a play. We called John 'The Fridge' and had another player we called 'The Freezer,' " said Eldredge of the flag football team which held a reunion with Wardenburg last August during the weekend of the BYU-Tulane football game.
As a BYU student, Wardenburg also developed an interest in Pam Guthrie, whom he married. She was well-adapted to traveling as well, since she attended six different high schools as an "Air Force brat" living in Japan, Alaska and Kansas before she met him at BYU.
She has tolerated his paycuts, moves, and encouraged Wardenburg along his coaching path. Starting with him coaching Junior Jazz games in Pleasant Grove, Wardenburg's wife helped him earn his spurs as he coached basketball, baseball and football.
When she was expecting their first of four children, Wardenburg felt uncomfortable referring to the unborn baby as "it." He started to call his future child "Magic," no doubt influenced by basketball great Magic Johnson. "Magic" Wardenburg, officially known as K. Scott, is now Elder Wardenburg, who starts a Church mission in the Philippines this month.
Another bit of magic in Coach Wardenburg's career came with his first lucky break after he had been coaching seven years. In 1988, the head basketball coach job opened up at Payson High.
"I didn't know anybody there, but I'm extremely grateful forever to that principal because he took a chance on me," said Wardenburg. There, his basketball players also consisted of Barret Peery, now an assistant coach at Southern Utah; Tracy Zobell, now an assistant pro golfer at Gladstan Golf Course; and Cory Cook, who started as a defensive back for BYU football (1993-94). At Payson he also coached the dead-eye shooting DeGraffenreid brothers, Jimmy and Phil, who went on to play at Weber State University.
"The DeGraffenreid's are two of my favorite players," said Wardenburg. "Their work ethic was impeccable."
During this time, he also attended the University of Utah for two quarters, then decided to get a master's degree in health, physical education and recreation from Utah State University. From a parking lot in American Fork, he car-pooled with former BYU baseball players Kim and Dave Nelson, and former BYU graduate assistant basketball coach Russ Zaugg to drive to Bountiful for weekly USU classes.
After five years at Payson where his teams secured a tournament berth every year, a job opened at Dixie under Coach Dave Rose, now BYU's associate head coach. Rose had become acquainted with Wardenburg through summer basketball camps.
"I try to go to tons of camps," said Wardenburg. "Because of that, I have a fantastic relationship with coaches in the Intermountain area."
From 1993-97 he was an assistant under Rose as the two guided Dixie College to a 95-31 record and the Rebels had a national ranking as high as No. 2 with talented players like Keon Clark. Then Rose got the call from Coach Steve Cleveland to join a new staff at BYU.
Wardenburg wanted to succeed Rose as the head coach at Dixie JC, but fast as a referee tumbles hands to signal traveling, he was shuffled out of coaching. Then he was offered the position of director of athletics at Dixie.
He accepted the new role and proved to be a capable director for two years, increasing fund-raising and establishing the women's soccer program which went on to win the national title. However, Wardenburg's heart was set on coaching and a week after his wife said, "stop whining," the basketball coaching job opened up at Pine View High School in St. George.
At Pine View he had a 29-19 record in two years, winning the league crown both seasons. His team finished third in state his first year after being picked to finish last and won the state championship last season.
That success attracted two job offers. One was in Arizona where former BYU great Danny Ainge got wind of Wardenburg's success through Bruce Hurst, a St. George native who starred as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox when Ainge was playing for the Boston Celtics. Ainge's son's high school coach was leaving and Danny called Wardenburg.
Cleveland, through Rose's influence, also sought the services of Wardenburg when Heath Schroyer left BYU last spring for a job at the University of Wyoming. After a series of six interviews with various leaders connected with BYU, Wardenburg had an inkling he had the job with the Cougars. He remained mum until he received a half-hour notice of a live radio interview regarding his hiring.
The BYU position was the first job he has ever taken and gotten a pay raise. The money and health benefits come in handy as his 10-year-old son had a third open-heart surgery at the beginning of this basketball season.
A grateful Wardenburg is flying high, no longer traveling exclusively on buses. Now he jets to California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, doing something he loves as BYU plays its schedule.
"I love to travel and I'm also a voracious reader," says Wardenburg, who has even read War and Peace. In the coming weeks as he travels, he will be reading defenses and at least one of the two books he annually gets as Christmas presents.
Where Are BYU's Former Assistant Coaches ?
John Wardenburg and the current Cougar assistant coaches are the latest in a long line to serve since the position was created in 1955 at BYU.
Several men have served as assistant basketball coaches at BYU. Only Roger Reid (still lives in Spanish Fork) and Glenn Potter (is associate dean of education at Boise State) became full-time head coaches for the Cougars. Where have these former assistants gone since leaving the hardwoods of the Marriott Center or the Smith Fieldhouse?
* Harry Anderson, 1975-81 at BYU as an assistant, has a marketing business in Orem.
* Lynn Archibald, 1994-96, passed away in May 1997 and was BYU's first director of basketball operations.
* Charles Bradley, 1989-94, is out of coaching after serving as head coach at Loyola-Marymount in California and Metro State in Denver, Colo. He now lives in Highlands Ranch, Colo., where he is the owner of West Coast Chenille, a parent company to Varsity Jackets Plus, manufacturing chenille letters for letterjackets.
* Bob Bunker, 1955-62, retired from the BYU physical education department and now lives in Orem.
* Nate Call, 1997-2001, was an assistant coach until this season and now serves as BYU's director of basketball operations (see page 30).
* Gary Earnest, 1964-69, is retired and continues to live in Longview, Wash., after serving as an athletic director, coach and publicist at Lower Columbia CC.
* Bob Frederick, 1972-75, was athletic director at the University of Kansas until last season and currently teaches in the KU school of education.
* Elder Carl Ingersoll, 1981-89, joins the coaching staff this year at BYU-Hawai'i as an assistant to Coach Ken Wagner after a most successful high school coaching career in Utah. Elder Ingersoll is serving with his wife, Gene, as educational missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and helping to coach the team will be just one of his many duties.
* Tony Ingle, 1989-97, had an 11-15 season a year ago and missed the postseason in a three way tie breaker at Kennesaw State in Georgia. This year's Ingle team garnered one first-place vote and was fifth overall in the Peach Belt Conference's Preseason Poll. His wife Jeanne is an administrative assistant at the school and his son Golden transferred to the team from Western Kentucky.
* Greg Kite, 1996-97, currently lives in Orlando, Fla., where he has a home-building company and runs a private school with his wife. He and his wife have 10 adopted children, including two sets of twins.
* Elder Courtney Leishman, 1969-75, retired from the BYU P.E. department and is now serving a mission with his wife Pat in Australia. He also served as BYU's head women's basketball coach (1977-89).
* John McMullen, 1975-78, is entering his 22nd season as the head coach of Santa Monica College and his 33rd year in coaching. McMullen is closing in on his 500th coaching win at SMC with a current record of 468-178. McMullen took control of the program in 1978. Santa Monica has never missed post-season play.
* Roland Minson, 1962-64, retired from banking in Los Angeles, Calif. He and his wife Carol have served two missions to England and now live in Gilbert, Ariz.
* Pete Witbeck, 1958-72, retired from BYU last August after 47 years, but continues to serve as a consultant to the athletic department.