Nov 3, 2009

Coach Layer ready to lead

by Daniel Martinez

Two years ago, Dale Layer was serving as an assistant coach under Richie McKay, guiding the Liberty University men’s basketball team to its best record in years. Then he landed a job at nationally ranked Marquette University, which made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament despite losing a star player to injury.

While recruiting for Marquette in Minnesota, he got a job interview during last year’s Final Four in Detroit. He got the job, beating out five others for his first head coaching job in three years — the head coaching job at Liberty. He moved back into the Forest home he and his wife had prayed earnestly would sell but it had not. Layer guides a team of six freshman, five sophomores, two juniors and two seniors through one of the toughest schedules the school’s program has ever seen. One of those games will be played against a perennial NCAA contender Clemson live on ESPN. Thousands will be watching his every move.

It could be a classic story, but Dale Layer is just glad to be out of the snow.

“I like that (Liberty’s) not in Milwaukee,” Layer said when asked what he likes most about Liberty.

He was joking, but he barely has time to concoct a more eloquent response because his new position is no small task.

“I think our schedule is incredibly tough. We’re playing five of the top 40 or 45 teams in the country in the first three weeks,” he said.

The 2009-2010 basketball season will start on Nov. 13, with the Flames visiting Fairfax, Va., for a match-up with the George Mason University Patriots. The schedule also features Clemson, then over the course of the next five days, the Flames will tangle with Old Dominion University (Nov. 19), the University of Notre Dame (Nov. 22), and Northwestern University (Nov. 24). There are 25 games left after that.

Fortunately, Layer has experience leading basketball teams. He has been working as a head or assistant coach since he graduated from Eckerd College in Florida in 1980, and has held positions at schools such as Eastern Kentucky University, Queens University, Colorado State University, and Marquette. He has a 16 year record of 270-193 as a head coach.

A few of his players know him from his 2007-2008 stint as Liberty assistant coach.

“He’s got tons of experience,” senior guard Kyle Ohman said. “He’s smart and knowledgeable, and he’s a good motivator, too.”
“He genuinely cares about his players and coaches,” senior forward Tyler Baker added. “He’s very intense and demands a lot of us, so we always have to get better, but, at the same time, you want to give it to him because you know he cares about you.”

A Christian man of strong faith, Layer know how head coaching can test ones principles.

“In the heat of the moment, when you’re in competition, it can be difficult (to handle things in a Christ-like way),” he said. “Typically you say and do and think things you probably shouldn’t.”
What is the answer?

“You want to handle things as Christ would, as Christ-like as possible according to His Word,” Layer said.

While Layer expects and hopes to see his team perform at a high level, their off-court behavior is very important to him as well.

“I try to encourage guys to represent Christ, represent their families and represent the university in the right way — in the midst of adversity, in the midst of winning, losing, injuries, tough times, good times,” Layer said. “It’s a great opportunity for growth for all of us.”

Layer sees basketball as a metaphor for the Christian life.

“When you’re in the middle of a team and you try to put each other first, rather than yourself, you try to use your gifts for the benefit of others. It’s a lot like the body of Christ.”

While Layer’s eyes are largely turned to the 15 men on his roster, with whom practices six days a week, he does have advice for all Liberty students.

“Embrace what Liberty is all about. Use everything as a growth opportunity, because it’s like putting money in the bank. You’re gonna need it at some point in your life, and God will have a chance to work in your heart. This is a special place.”

Contact Daniel Martinez at dpmartinez@liberty.edu.
 


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