Assistant coaches are rarely seen. They work just feet from the spotlight, and often go unappreciated. They go day-to-day knowing that recognition is not a part of their job description. That's why a simple phone call to Texas A&M Women's Basketball coach Bob Starkey was so special. It was his call to the hall.
"When I got the call from Felicia Hall Allen of 'A Step Up' to tell me I had been selected to the Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame, I got emotional on the phone," Starkey said. "To be honored in such a way for a lifetime of work means a great deal – especially as an assistant coach, whose role can sometimes be overlooked. I got emotional because my coaching career literally passed before my eyes."
The eyes of the fans, spectators and even history books are usually fixed on the players and head ball coach. What they often look past are the assistant coaches. As Coach Starkey said, the role of an assistant can be overlooked.
In case you weren't watching, Starkey has amassed over 750 victories at the collegiate level. He has coached league MVPs, finals MVPs, Olympic gold medalists and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers.
Shaquille O'Neal, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles might be names you recognize from before his arrival in College Station. He has coached Aggie legends such as Chennedy Carter, Jordan Jones and Kelsey Bone. Since he arrived in Aggieland, Starkey has helped lead A&M to three Sweet 16 appearances and the 2013 SEC Tournament Championship.
To say the least, his spot in the A Step Up Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame is more than warranted. His journey has taken him to Texas A&M, UCF, LSU, Marshall and West Virginia State.
But it began in a junior high gymnasium in Charleston, W.Va.
"I had never played organized basketball until the 7th grade," Starkey said. "My junior high coach Allen Osborne took a vested interest in me as a player and a person. It was a time when my father was busy working a couple of jobs and Allen really filled a void in my life at that time."
Coach Osborne helped grow the love of the game in young Robert all those years ago in the Mountain State. He had such an impact that when Coach Starkey married, guess who was standing by his side?
"He had such a major influence on me that when I got married at the age of 31 he was on stage standing by me," Starkey said. "My entire life I have leaned on him for advice and still to this day I don't make a major decision in my life without talking to him."
Surely neither Osborne nor Starkey could have fathomed the journey they would walk together that began in that school gym. Osborne also instilled what would end up becoming Starkey's identity as a coach. What is that identity you may ask? If you have had the pleasure of watching the Aggies fight in Reed Arena you would know that identity is…
Since 2004, Starkey's teams have allowed 56.6 points per game. In case you need some context, teams in the SEC this past season averaged 69.8 points per game. He has been holding teams 10+ points below their average scoring output for almost two decades. Yes, that is good. It is really good.
Defense is grit and grind. It is blood, sweat and tears. It is pure unadulterated effort. If you have played the game then you know.
"I love defense because it requires so much effort – physically and mentally with very little fanfare," Starkey said. "Offense creates headlines but defense creates victory. It takes unselfish players with determination and discipline to play good defense – and when you get a team to buy in to defense then it speaks to their character as much as their basketball ability."
Defense creates victory. Since Starkey arrived on the campus of A&M in 2012, no statement has ever been truer. The Aggies have earned 216 victories in that eight year span, never winning less than 22 games in a season. Defense has indeed created victory.
Taking a step back, a pivotal point in coach's life came as a freshman at Marshall University. College is a time in many people's lives where they find out what they "want" to do. Starkey was no different, as he stepped foot into the classroom of the Thundering Herd's head basketball coach Stu Aberdeen.
"The next step of my coaching evolution was as a freshman at Marshall University where I took a Basketball Coaching class that was taught by Coach Aberdeen," Starkey said. "He rarely talked about Xs & Os, but more about the role a coach has on impacting young people and even communities. I knew that was true after my experience as a player with Coach Osborne and though I started school as a journalism major, I knew at that time I want to be a coach."
While some fall in love with the game for the Xs & Os, he fell in love with what a coach could be. What role they played in the lives of those they coach, and the communities that they serve.
Years since the final exam was taken in coach Aberdeen's class, Starkey stands as the defensive coordinator of the Fightin' Texas Aggies. He has made stops in West Virginia, Florida, Louisiana and now Texas.
After all of his stops, he recounts that College Station, Texas, and Aggieland is different. And it has been different since day one.
"My first experience as a Texas A&M coach was to attend the team's banquet about a week after I had been hired," Starkey said. "There were over 500 in attendance! I spent quite a bit of time afterwards talking to so many of the fans and was blown away by their passion and knowledge for the game. It's an amazing fan base. The other thing that is unique about coaching at Texas A&M are the numerous traditions. It's really hard to explain to someone on the outside how special it is being an Aggie – you truly have to be one to fully appreciate it. We've been to an Elite 8, three Sweet 16's and have won an SEC Championship, yet my greatest thrill is being asked to speak at two Musters."
An Aggie knows that the last sentence Starkey just said is nothing but the truth. All of the accolades are great, but to be asked to speak on behalf of the absent at Muster is one that every Aggie covets.
It may sound cliché, but the wins and the statistics aren't what coach Starkey holds closest to his heart from his hall of fame career. It isn't the Final Fours or the championships either.
"I've had the honor of coaching NBA and WNBA players and even Olympians," Starkey said. "But to be honest, the most special memories for me come from the relationships. When a former player invites you to a wedding or sends you family pics. There are handwritten notes stating how I may have impacted them. Something as simple as a phone call or text from one of those former players tells me that I've done something right."
The Hall of Fame Class of 2020 was to be inducted on May 5, 2020. However, due to COVID-19 that induction will have to wait until May of 2021. The date does not take away from anything coach has accomplished. No matter what, from now on it will be Coach Bob Starkey – The Hall of Famer.