The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

May 5, 2012

Walking away

Livingston resigns post as Lakeside coach

Rob Livingston has held a lifelong love affair with the game of basketball. He has served the sport first, as a fan, then as a player, and, finally, as a coach. At 50 years old, Livingston has come full circle.

He will once again be a fan, having resigned his post as the Lakeside girls coach.

“There are two reasons,” Livingston said. “No. 1 is family obligations. My little one (Ryan) is going to be turning 4 in June and he’s able to get started with some different opportunities. Where I live in Euclid, he can start playing basketball in May.

“The second thing is my health.”

The rumor mill was awash with questions of Livingston’s health all winter. Many in the basketball world have been concerned for their comrade.

In typical Livingston style, he chooses to remain low key and out of the spotlight. He only acknowledges there are issues with his health and that he is doing well with the treatments.  

“I’m doing fine,” Livingston said. “I know there are a ton of rumors. The treatment is going well.”

He did, however, discuss the issues with his Dragons.

“Right toward the end of the season, we had a meeting and told them I was going for some tests,” Livingston said. “We let them know about my health. I held off until the end of the season. I went back and forth until the end. I did make the announcement at the awards banquet. There were tears from (the players) and tears from me. It was definitely a hard night.”

Telling teenaged girls you have health issues is not an easy task. Livingston dreaded that conversation.

“Since January, when I started finding out some stuff up until the time I told them, I had a heavy heart,” Livingston said. “I knew they’d take it hard, and they did. I can’t even describe it.

“We talked about it before practice and told them about my health and then brought them together the next day during school for a discussion. My heart was heavy right up until the time I made the announcement. It was tough for even me to get through.”

Livingston was 151-211 (.417) overall in a career that included a stint as the boys coach at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin and 50-96 (.347) with the Dragons.

Stepping away at this point in his career is not something Livingston expected he would have to do.

“I can’t say it I saw it coming,” Livingston said. “But it’s always one of those things that was in the back of my mind. I always figured it would happen some day, but it was always in the future until I actually did it. I guess I thought about it, but I guess you when it’s time, too. My decision was for two good reasons.”

One of those reasons being his wife, Carita, and son.

“You always hear how people say they are stepping down to spend more time with their families,” Livingston said. “I always thought that was a copout, they weren’t renewed and were trying to save face. But now, I understand. On a regular practice day, I’m not home until seven at night. I leave for school at six in the morning. I’m driving to school in the dark and driving home in the dark.

“That wears on you. The ride wasn’t as bad as the fact that, on game nights, I would only talk to my wife for a few minutes. There were 24-hour periods I didn’t see my son. That tore me up. I try and put him to bed every single night. If we played a game on Monday and another on Wednesday, I knew I wouldn’t see him until I got back Thursday.”

In a way, by stepping down, Livingston is only practicing what he preached to his girls in the seven seasons he spent as coach at Lakeside.

“It’s very hard (to resign),” Livingston said. “Before I came to Lakeside, I was strictly a boys coach. I talked to a couple of coaches in the Cleveland area and some of my mentors, people I trusted. After I discussed it with them, it was something I decided I wanted to do.

“It was definitely the best move I could have made. We talked about family every day and the girls are definitely part of my family. It’s definitely difficult to step away.”

Not going to the gym every day has allowed Livingston time to devote to his son, who has become a sort of shadow to his father.

“The awards banquet is officially the last day of the season and I’ve been with my family every day since,” Livingston said. “My little one’s been by my side nonstop. I’m very fortunate. It’s time to take care of myself and spend all of this time with my family.”

The two Livingston men have bonded over the game Livingston gave so much of his life to.

“As much as I love basketball, he does, too,” Livingston said. “He’ll watch college games on TV with me and I took him to his first Cavs game. As soon as I walk in the door, or when he walks in the door if I get home first, he says, ‘Let’s go play basketball, Dad.’ He’s going nonstop. There’s no down time. I really enjoy it.”

Instead of driving his players batty each evening, Livingston is at home with his wife.

“I guess that’s a good thing,” Livingston said with a laugh before turning serious. “I give her all the credit, her and all the other coaches’ wives. She has picked up the slack when I’m not home. She gets (Ryan) up and sometimes has to put him to bed by herself.

“She’s been very supportive. I’ve been coaching (a lot of) years and she’s supported that. My priorities had to change. I am blessed to have both of them. I just want to enjoy my time with them.”

A return to coaching may or may not happen down the road.

“I guess you never say never,” Livingston said. “Basketball has turned into a year-round sport. I’m still getting used to not doing things (for the team) that I would be doing right now. I’d like to stay involved somehow, but I don’t know exactly in what way. I guess you can say it’s always a possibility. I’ve loved the game my whole life. It’s tough walking away.”

It’s very possible a return to the sideline might coincide with Ryan Livingston’s taking to the court.

“I would think so,” Livingston said. “I’d say, right now, that’s my plan. It’s every father’s dream to be able to coach his son. Hopefully it’s an avenue we go down.”

The Dragons have left a lasting impression on Livingston over the years.

“From the get-go, they were very attentive,” Livingston said. “One of the things from my first year to this last year, I told them what they needed to do to be successful and what they needed to do to compete and they did what I asked them to, no questions asked. (I will remember) the smiles they brought to me every single day at practices and games. It was a pleasure to walk in the gym. For six years, there wasn’t a day I didn’t look forward to getting to the gym.

“They came in and it was a different ballgame. They brought fun back to the game. Sometimes, when you coach guys, it’s a lot different. You realize it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun (with the girls). They helped me put my priorities in order. (I will remember them for) just how they were. They brought enjoyment to my life.”

Livingston knows there are things his players will take from his coaching them as they move on with their lives. He hopes some of his lessons will be used along the way.

“We talk every single day about playing hard, playing smart and playing together,” Livingston said. “I want them to be able to walk away with me having taught them things on the basketball court that will carry over to their careers and family lives. I hope the work ethic I tried to teach them helps them achieve their goals. I try to make it fun every single day. That’s what life’s about.

“There are years you will be successful and years you will struggle, but you always have to put in the same effort and just enjoy your time.”

Livingston is appreciative of the people he has worked with at Lakeside.

“As far as the administration, I appreciate the support they’ve given me every year,” Livingston said. “They’ve been very gracious to me. They gave me the opportunity to come in here. They took a big chance bringing in a former boys coach to coach the girls. I want to thank them for the opportunity to do so. Them doing that opened my eyes to a lot of different things.

“I want thank my assistant coaches through the years for the time they put in. I expect a lot and they never let me down.”

If there were a message Livingston would leave the Dragons as he steps away from the game, it would be simple, but from the heart.

“When I talk to the girls, every single day I say that I am proud of them and love them,” Livingston said. “I’ll say it one more time. I told them that when Ryan becomes of dating age, if he brings home the type of girl I have coached, I’d be ecstatic. I love them dearly and will miss being their coach, but I will stay attached to them.

“I was demanding of them, but they knew I was there for them 24 hours  a day, seven days a week.”                    

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.

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