Photographs occupy much of the wall space in the office of Kerry Prather, Franklin College athletic director and men’s basketball coach.
Each is a framed snippet of cherished time. Some date to when his two children were barely taller than the height of a textbook bounce pass. Numerous others are of past teams or Prather’s basketball players donning caps and gowns shortly after receiving their Franklin College diplomas.
One, however, is markedly different. It’s from Nov. 3, 2010, the night the Grizzlies competed against coach Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers in a preseason exhibition game in Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
Credit goes to Prather’s wife, Cindy, who with 17:56 remaining in the first half had the presence of mind to forever freeze what many might have thought impossible: Franklin 7, Indiana 6.
She photographed the scoreboard, and just in the nick of time.
“She had to be quick because that lead didn’t last very long,” Prather said, laughing, thinking back to what evolved into a 89-37 loss. “For our guys, though, it was just a phenomenal experience.”
Prather himself has experienced runneth-over portions during the past three decades. He came to Franklin College as an assistant men’s basketball coach in 1982 at age 26 and was promoted to head coach the following season. The Loogootee native has since served in a number of administrative positions, including being the school’s A.D.
“I have told him many times, ‘I sure wouldn’t want your job,’” 10th-year Franklin College head football coach Mike Leonard said. “The thing that I respect most is I’ve never had the feeling he was looking over my shoulder trying to micromanage. He cares for our teams, but he does not micromanage.
“(Prather) has allowed me to make my own very stupid mistakes and learn from them instead of him saying, ‘You have to do this’ or ‘You have to do that.’”
Leonard remembers early in his tenure when, after a loss, he returned to his office and already had encouraging e-mail messages waiting for him from Prather and Franklin College President James G. Moseley.
The words the two men used varied, but the message was clear: Keep your head up because better days lie ahead.
That’s the Franklin way. Learn it. Embrace it. Live it, and then flourish because of it. Leonard, whose career record with the Grizzlies has grown to a sparkling 76-32 (.704) entering today’s Division III playoff game at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, even now has difficulty putting into words what such gestures meant to him.
Prather’s touch as an athletic director is rooted in a rather simple-sounding philosophy.
“The key to all of this is to never, ever make a bad hire,” Prather said, who admits to having made a few. “What makes our athletic department go is coaches who are very, very good at running their program. We have a common set of values, a common set of priorities. When we interview someone, it’s ‘This is the Franklin way of doing things. Tell us how you fit.’”
Less-than-adequate hires, he added, cause someone in his position to micromanage. Already pulling double-duty, Prather’s days are filled as it is.
Tale of two jobs
Prather remains fit at 56. Remove the gray in his hair that has become increasingly evident in recent years, and he looks as if he might be qualified to give the Grizzlies a few quality possessions as a “2” guard.
So how is he still capable of pouring his energy into two time-consuming occupations?
The coach’s drink of choice at his nearby Starbucks is a grande blonde roast with a touch of skim milk. He’s recently sworn off past favorites such as iced tea and diet soft drinks, so Prather’s Starbucks Gold Card tends to get plenty of miles put on it.
“I’m also one of those people who if I get five decent hours of sleep, I’m pretty good,” he said. “And when you do a job you love, there’s never a day I roll out of bed and don’t want to be here. We have a great sense of camaraderie in this program. I’m blessed because I love what I do, and I’m really busy.”
One might think Prather dreads the cold-weather months as they represent what should be his busiest times with his basketball teams playing. Not the case, he claims.
“What’s really hard are fall and spring. When the wintertime comes, we have enough help administratively. I’m blessed with great help,” Prather said. “I would be lost without (assistant athletic directors) Lance Marshall and Mary Helak. It works here, but it wouldn’t work without great head coaches. The philosophy is the same. The goal is the same.”
And it’s not like Marshall and Helak don’t have enough on their plate. After all, they are Franklin College’s head baseball and women’s volleyball coaches, respectively.
A family tradition
Katie Prather is now 21 and a student at Franklin College. Younger brother, Robbie, attends Roncalli High School and is a senior shooting guard for the Rebels basketball squad.
Both Prather children have busy schedules now, which means fewer and fewer road trips to watch their old man coach his team.
Oh, but once upon a time ...
“Katie celebrated her first birthday in Stephenville, Texas, when we were there for the (1992 NAIA) Nationals,” Prather said. “Cindy and I decided a long time ago we were going to do this as a family. We’ve changed more diapers in training rooms and up in bleachers than you could imagine.”
One of Prather’s favorite recruiting stories occurred in 1995. It centers around a player who’s gone on to fare quite well in the coaching profession.
“I’m going to Zionsville to recruit (current Butler men’s basketball coach) Brad Stevens. I’m taking Katie with me, so Cindy loads me up with coloring books and crayons,” he said. “We park 800 miles from the old Zionsville gym, and after the game we come out of the gym, and I’m exhausted. I run into (DePauw University men’s basketball coach) Bill Fenlon, and he goes, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Prather explained he was there hoping to land Stevens, who in his playing days was a 6-foot-2 guard who averaged 26.8 points a game his senior season at ZHS. Fenlon smiled, placed an arm around Prather and then proceeded to go on about how Stevens can be his family’s fourth-generation DePauw student if he so chooses.
Case closed. Prather wasn’t getting Stevens.
History of success
That chilly winter evening in Boone County aside, Prather has won a lot more basketball-themed battles than he’s lost. With 452 career victories, he is Franklin College’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach.
Mixed in are conference championships both at the NAIA and, more recently, Division III levels. His 1991-92 Grizzlies advanced to the Elite Eight of the NAIA national tournament; by 2000 Prather had led the program to three consecutive NCAA Division -III tournament appearances.
Prather also has coached seven conference Player of the Year recipients in Grizzlies standouts Mike Gibbs, Scott Roberts, John Holden, Jason Sibley (who won twice), Paul Buening and Nick Kane. Holden and Sibley were All-American selections. Not surprisingly, he’s been named Indiana Collegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year on three occasions (1989, ‘92 and ‘98).
It’s a long resume, all right. Exhaustingly long and growing by the year. But if Prather is beginning to slow down even so much as a smidge, he’s not letting on in practices or games. He’s every bit as engrossed in Season No. 30 as he was Season No. 1.
“He’s competitive. He’s real competitive. Coach expects a lot out of us, but it’s simple in what he expects. It’s always been the Franklin way, and we have to play not just to his expectations, but Franklin’s, too,” said 6-5 Grizzlies guard Gunner Erwin, the lone senior on this season’s roster. “He’s taught me no matter what the circumstances are to just keep pushing forward. Whatever you want, if you want it that much, you can get it if you try.”
Prather’s scoreboard advantage that night two years ago in Bloomington against Crean’s Hoosiers was short-lived. Yet in so many ways he’s won, from helping Grizzlies athletics transition gracefully from NAIA to Division-III to the growth experienced by Franklin College teams other than football and men’s and women’s basketball.
If only legacies could be framed and placed on walls.