After a battle with cancer, former Edmonds Community College men’s basketball coach Keith Kingsbury died on Monday, Aug. 24, less than five weeks after his 80th birthday.
Kingsbury’s coaching statistics are eye popping and are worthy of an individual who has been inducted into three separate Hall of Fames: Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association in 2009, Northwest Athletic Conference in 2013 and the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. His numbers merit legendary status: 570 wins, 18 playoff appearances, an NWAC Championship in 1985, NWAC runner up in 1993 and two additional top 4 finishes (3rd in 2001 and 4th in 1979), 100-plus players who moved on to play at four-year universities, 25 players who went on to play at Division I schools.
Kingsbury began his Edmonds Community College (now Edmonds College) career as an assistant coach in 1969. He became the head coach four years later, a title he would hold for 32 seasons, until his retirement in 2005. Kingsbury is the all-time wins leader in Triton history and the statistics show that “Coach Kings” teams outscored their opponents more often than not. While the scoreboard totals and statistics are outstanding, the true legacy that Kingsbury leaves behind is reflected in the lives of the players, coaches and others that he touched and influenced.
The initial intention when putting together this tribute was to get quotes from three or four people who were affiliated with Kingsbury throughout his career. The plan changed quickly, though, once word started to spread. Within a few hours, the emails were flooding in from more than a dozen individuals, all very successful in their own right: a high school principal, an athletic director, a company president, a fire lieutenant and numerous high school coaches and educators. They wanted to share their thoughts about, and feelings for, a man considered by many of them as a mentor — and to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for their own accomplishments. Many of them are now responsible for shaping and molding the lives of other young men and women.
Former Triton players spoke of the influence that Coach Kingsbury had on their lives.
Nate DuChesne played for Kingsbury during the 1985-1986 basketball season, which ultimately helped Duchesne land a Division I roster position at the University of Montana. DuChesne would later go on to become a successful teacher, basketball coach and athletic director, and he currently is the principal at Mariner High School. “Coach Kingsbury’s influence shaped me as a player, person, and eventually a basketball coach. Coach cared deeply about his players off the court and he continued to be in their lives.” said DuChesne, who also spoke to what made Kingsbury a great coach. “His knowledge of the game was exceptional, and he taught the game with simple, direct instruction,” DuChesne recalled. “He was a skilled communicator, and he had the ability to reach all of his players. Coach was a master at bringing athletes together from all backgrounds to create a harmonious team.”
Mike Broom played and coached under Kingsbury and is now the head coach of the boys basketball team at Ballard High School. Broom is also a second-generation Triton player as he and his father Gene both played for the man known as Coach Kings. Gene Broom would later go on to play basketball at the University of Washington. Mike Broom spoke of the role that Kingsbury played in his life, “He (Kingsbury) was always there for me and was a major reason I pursued athletics and education,” Broom said. “He impacted lives and that has been passed down generation after generation. It was always so much more than basketball. He was a man of loyalty, integrity and compassion. There is a special fraternity of former players and coaches connected for life through their love of Coach.”
Jim Dallas is a lieutenant with the Seattle Fire Department and played for Kingsbury in the mid-1980s. “I think the thing that set him apart from other coaches and people in general, is that he was real and he was honest,” Dallas said. “Sometimes it hurt to hear the truth, but I always knew he cared and he wasn’t misleading me. I went on to play basketball after Edmonds Community College, but it was never the same. The level of enjoyment and sense of ‘family’ paled in comparison to the Kingsbury years. He was one of a kind and easily one of the three most important mentors in my life.”
Al Shannon is currently an assistant coach at Mountlake Terrace High School and was on Kingsbury’s Edmonds CC team in the early 1980s. “I used to go to his camps when I was in 8th and 9th grade in the late 1970s and all I knew is that I wanted to someday play for him,” Shannon recalled. “His knowledge of the game, the way he taught you to push and to become your best was always there.” He called Kingsbury’s passing “a sad day for not just the game of basketball, but for hundreds of young men whose lives he touched, changed and shaped over the decades — that is his greatest legacy.”
A handful of Kingsbury’s former assistant coaches also wanted to share their sentiments. Randy Hansen coached with Kingsbury for 16 years and spoke of what made him a winner in the realm of competition and in life. “I never met a more competitive person in my life,” Hansen said. “Whether it was hoops, golf, racketball or ping pong, he wanted to win and he did win! Challenge him and you didn’t have a chance.” Hansen also spoke of Kingsbury’s character, recalling that he was “fiercely loyal. Many people told me over the years that if they were ever in a foxhole, they wanted him on their back. If you were his friend, he would do anything for you. In hoops, he wanted to win but it was for the kids. He would tell me that we owed it to the kids to always have them prepared…or we had failed.”
Tyler Geving spent a year coaching under Kingsbury at Edmonds CC. He later spent eight years as the head coach at Portland State University and is currently an assistant coach at the University of Portland. “Coach Kingsbury impacted and mentored so many high school and college coaches at all levels,” Geving said. “More importantly, he cared about the kids he coached and had relationships with these players years after coaching them. I can’t think of another coach who impacted kids more than him. He is a true legend, a hall of famer and outstanding person. The basketball community lost a great one,” he said.
James Rowe was an assistant coach for Kingsbury from 1992-1996 and again in 2001. When asked what separated Kingsbury from other coaches, Rowe said it was Kingsbury’s relationships with people, adding that all of those relationships “continued long after he retired.”
Local high school coaches, active and retired, also offered their thoughts. Mountlake Terrace High School boys basketball head coach Nalin Sood spent a year redshirting and practicing as a player for Kingsbury back in the 1980s. “To me, like thousands of others, he believed in me and thus gave me confidence to believe in myself at a young age,” Sood said. “Even though he was not tall in stature, in our eyes he stood as a giant. Many of us never wanted to let Coach down because we knew he cared about us. It didn’t matter if you were a star or just a guy that hung around the gym, he treated everyone the same.”
Sood pointed out that he essentially went through a dual apprenticeship in coaching during his one season at Edmonds CC, serving not only under Kingsbury but also as a volunteer assistant coach at Mountlake Terrace under Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association (WIBCA) Hall of Fame Coach Roger Ottmar. He recalled “just soaking up as much as I could. During that time, I had the best of both worlds. Being around and learning from two hall of fame coaches, most of the time on the same day. How lucky was I?” Sood said.
Ottmar, the former MTHS boys basketball coach from 1977-2000, also paid tribute to Kingbury as the two knew each other not only as coaches but also as players in college. Kingsbury played for Western Washington University from 1958-1962 and Ottmar at rival Central Washington University. Kingsbury’s enthusiasm for the game “never wavered and this carried over in to his being able to recruit local players to come to Edmonds CC,” Ottmar said. “He did a great job getting the most out of these players and elevating their games. Keith always did whatever he could to promote basketball in Snohomish County. He will be missed very much.”
WIBCA Hall of Fame Coach Pat Fitterer ranks second all time for most wins in the history of high school basketball in the state of Washington and won a state championship as the head coach of Sehome High School in 1996. Kingsbury also was his teacher when Fitterer needed to earn postgraduate school credits. “You could talk to Keith about anything,” Fitterer said. “I loved him as a mentor and enjoyed his coaching philosophies and his wisdom. Coaches and players loved to be around him because of his passion for life.” Fitterer also fondly recalled seeing Kingsbury attend his games when prospecting for potential player recruits. “I loved seeing him show up to watch our games in his sweatsuit and looking like he was ready to play at any minute,” he said.
Jerry Koester, who won two state championships at Redmond High School and is a WIBCA Hall of Fame coach, also spoke glowingly about Kingsbury, whom he considered to be a close friend. “He was a student of the game and very innovative on offense,” Koester said. “A high percentage of his players loved playing for him and stayed close to him over the years. He gave a lot to the game of basketball and as a fellow coach, I appreciated him and will miss him.”
Even Kingsbury’s opposing coaches held him in high regard. Larry Walker was the longtime head coach at Everett Community College and possibly Kingsbury’s biggest rival; however, the two were friends off the court. Walker said he last spoke to Kingsbury on July 21. “I talked to him on his 80th birthday and he said the cancer was winning the battle but he was very happy about making it to 80,” Walker said, adding that he most admired Kingsbury’s love for the game and the fact “he always put his players first. He would do whatever he could for them. He was always great to me and my family.”
And, of course, Keith Kingsbury continued to support the Edmonds Tritons even into retirement. Current Edmonds College head coach Kyle Gray laughed as he recalled Kingsbury’s final game as a coach prior to retiring. It was a Triton victory over a North Seattle Community College team that was then coached by Gray. “He kicked my butt” said Gray, who went on to mention that Kingsbury was far more generous toward him after Gray was hired to coach Edmonds. “I’ll never forget soon after I was hired, he took me to dinner and we just talked shop.
“I really appreciated how open and honest he was about everything,” Gray continued. “He never held back, I think that is why he has had such a strong relationship with his players and coaches. Everything with Kings was real.” Gray noted that one of Kingsbury’s greatest attributes was his “eye for talent,” and recalled Kingsbury showing up at an open gym at Edmonds College that featured over 30 players — including one particular player that wasn’t expected to play a very big role for the Tritons, was likely to red shirt and probably serve as a practice player. “Kingsbury picked this kid out over everyone else and said he really liked him,” Gray recalled. “That kid ended up starting for us on a 20-win team that season. He (Kingbury) knew within a couple minutes that kid just had a great feel for the game.”
When talking about Kingsbury, former Assistant Coach James Rowe said, “We never expect our heroes to die,” but in many ways, Kingsbury continues to live on in the thousands of people whom he has touched directly and indirectly. A favorite phrase of Kingsbury’s was, “It is great to be a Triton,” and it is clear the Tritons were great because of Keith Kingsbury.
Keith Kingsbury was preceded in death by his wife Alice in 2019. He is survived by son Mike, daughter Missy and grandson Zachary. A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.
— By Steve Willits