Dave Boots woke up at three o’clock Wednesday morning, the previous day’s decision still weighing on his mind.
But no, there were no second thoughts.
A day after announcing his retirement effective immediately after 25 seasons at the helm of the USD men’s basketball program, Boots, 57, maintained that he is happy with his decision.
“It’s a good thing. There were a few things that went into it,” Boots said Wednesday in a candid interview with the Press & Dakotan. “It certainly wasn’t a decision I woke up and decided, ‘Let’s retire today.’
“When you get to the end of your career, you start thinking, ‘What would be the best time and place to make a decision on this.’”
The news that Boots — winner of 503 games in 25 seasons at USD — was stepping aside caught everyone inside the athletic department by surprise, from administration on to assistant coaches and players.
On the issue of why Tuesday, Boots pointed to a couple factors that played into his ultimate announcement: From getting through the Division I transition, to coaching through the end of his son Jordan’s career (Jordan was a senior last season), to ensuring that the program was stable.
“I wanted to make sure our program was at least in shape to continue with strong growth, to take that next step, to get back to the winning ways,” Boots said. “With the players they have coming back and some of the younger guys, I think they have a good chance.
“I thought it was important to leave the next guy something that he could really work with.”
There has been no official announcement by USD on that subject — mostly because the administration didn’t expect the news — but Boots was clear Wednesday that he supports long-time assistant coach Joey James as the potential next head coach.
James, who will begin his 11th season on staff this fall, was, like everyone else, surprised at the timing of Boots’ retirement.
“I knew at some point, the road comes to an end in every thing you do in life,” James said Wednesday. “I just didn’t expect it to be (Tuesday). I maybe thought it would be a very more years. It caught me off guard that way.”
Boots, though, said he wanted to at least get through the summer before making a decision either way — and yes, he did go back and forth, “because of those kids.”
“I had a hard time giving up this group,” he said. “I knew when I had to tell them, it was going to be maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done in coaching. And it was. It was hard to even get it out.”
After calling his players down to the DakotaDome turf on Tuesday afternoon, Boots dropped the news — the “bombshell,” according to junior guard Brandon Bos.
“It’s been a real shock for everyone,” Bos said Tuesday night. “For the whole school, the whole athletic department. It’s tough to accept right now.”
Specifically for a team that starts practices within a month — a jump of two weeks from previous years, following an NCAA change this year.
Leaving the program, whenever the time, proved to be hard for Boots, James said.
“When he initially tried to talk about it, he got choked up at that point,” James said. “It was a very emotional deal. He came into the office (Wednesday) morning and said, ‘The toughest thing for him to do yesterday was tell those kids.’
“He took that very hard.”
Even for some of his former players, Boots’ sudden retirement proved to be shocking. Former guard Dustin Little was one of those former standouts to express surprise.
“I was pretty surprised to see that Coach Boots had retired given the fact that he enjoyed coaching basketball so much,” Little said Wednesday. “I guess he felt the time was right for him to move on for USD to move on as well.”
The recruiting calendar also played a role in him stepping down when he did, Boots said. By leaving shortly before practices start, and an interim coach likely named soon, the program won’t miss a beat on the recruiting trail.
“It’s a good time for a guy to come in and have a bunch of good kids to work with,” said Boots, who added that the program has a verbal commitment for 2014 — and is likely to be the only player signed this fall.
“They can change the things they want to change and recruit who they want from there.”
On that point, Boots referred to the 2013-14 Coyote roster as “the most talented group we’ve had in the Division I situation.” Though the team is young, with a combined nine sophomores and freshmen, it is set up well to make a jump from last season’s 10-win campaign.
“We do have some very good players that are good, tough kids,” Boots said. “The athleticism is at the division one level now. It’s in great shape.”
No surprise for a program that Boots guided since 1988.
His teams posted a record of 503-235 in 25 seasons, with 11 post-season appearances, seven conference titles and 23 consecutive winning seasons from 1989-2011.
Though the program has suffered back-to-back losing seasons, Boots pointed to the ongoing fundraising for a volleyball/basketball arena and the continued work toward an NCAA Tournament bid as reasons for optimism.
“I’m not leaving at the best time, but I wish I was still 40 and could be around for all this stuff we have going on,” he joked.
How about the idea of James, a long-time assistant, succeeding him?
“I hope for it,” Boots said. “He’s been a great, loyal guy to me. You’ll always pull for your guys. That is David’s (Herbster) decision.”
Whomever the administration tabs as the interim — or permanent — head coach, Boots said he will support that person.
James, too, has already made qualms about his interest in the position.
“It’s a goal of mine, there’s no question,” James said. “This place means more to me because it’s where I played; this is what I know.
“I know the kids we can get here and the success we can have.”
Comfort with the athletic department and university administration also plays a role in that ‘comfort,’ James said.
“It’s got to be reversed now, though,” he said. “I would hope they trust me. I love it here, without a doubt.”
So, what’s next for Boots? Will he remain close to the program, though as a spectator?
“We’ll see what we’re going to do,” he said, referencing his wife, Peggy, and two sons, Jordan and Nathan. “We’re just going through today, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.
“I’ll certainly be there in spirit. They know that I love them.”