KEARNEY — Jerry Hueser had plans this weekend to watch his grandkids run at the state track meet.
Chasing after his kids and grandkids has been a big part of his life, Hueser said, since he was forced out of coaching the University of Nebraska at Kearney men’s basketball team in 1996. But the coronavirus pandemic has brought about a temporary halt to the grandkids’ activities.
Now he spends his time walking — walking to mow the yard, walking to play golf.
“I walk nine or 18 holes, watch a lot of TV and I guess that’s about it,” he said. “I play a lot of golf. I don’t keep score, so I enjoy it.”
He likely would have done a lot more watching golf this year; in particular, the Amherst High School team because grandson Jalen Hueser was going to be the head coach of the Broncos. But he said Jalen squeezed in just two practices before virus concerns shut down the school.
Although, “I hardly ever watch golf meets ... Watching golf meets from a distance really is not so much fun,” Jerry Hueser said.
Before the pandemic, the best place to start a search for Jerry Hueser was at a basketball game.
He’s still passionate about the game, and now he and his wife, Jean, have family connections to many schools with his sons coaching and his grandchildren participating in several sports at Papillion-La Vista South, Lincoln Christian, Lincoln Southeast, Amherst and Holdrege.
You can find him watching Kearney High, Kearney Catholic or the Lopers when he’s not watching his grandkids play.
“We ended up going to a few more area games with Amherst ... Some days, we would watch a junior varsity game in one town and catch a varsity game in another town. It worked out pretty good a couple times,” he said.
He still keeps a close watch on the players and the strategy. He believes the players are probably a little stronger and maybe a little quicker these days, but the game hasn’t changed much, he said, since the advent of the 3-point shot.
What he misses most about coaching are “the excitement of the game and the Xs and Os — preparing for a team, trying to figure out what they do and what his team could do against it.”
He often had the answer as the Lopers’ coach.
Before he took over as the head coach of the Loper men’s basketball team, only one coach had had a winning record. Fred Fulmer was 96-52 in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Hueser’s Lopers went 519-256 from 1971 to 1997. For nine straight years, the Lopers won 20 games or more. They made an NAIA record 11 consecutive trips to the national tournament in Kansas City.
And they lived up to the Antelope nickname, playing a fast-paced running game and averaging approximately 85 points per game even though many of those years were prior to the 3-point shot.
In five seasons, Hueser’s Lopers averaged more than 95 points per game.
“I enjoyed the offensive end although quite often it was the pressure of the press and those things that got the offense started,” he said. “Fifty percent of our shots would probably come from different patterns on a fast break and pretty much not getting into a pattern. We would get a freelance shot before they could get their defense set.
“My thought was, if you could come down and have an open shot from 15-20 feet out and you know you have three guys who are supposed to be rebounding all the time and another one following his shot, why waste time running a pattern for 20 seconds to take a last-second shot you really didn’t want in the first place.”
He picked up his coaching philosophy playing high school basketball in Quimby, Iowa, then college basketball at Wayne State.
“Some of the offenses came from there. As far as the rest of it, at the college level, if we had someone we really had a hard time stopping, the pattern they would use we would try to put that into our offense. So every day in practice we would be going against our opponents’ offense because we were using it ourselves.”
Kearney’s good fortune with Hueser came at the expense of Wayne State.
While working on his doctorate degree at Wyoming, Hueser interviewed for a coaching position with the Wildcats.
“I was actually interviewing at Wayne when Kearney State played there one night. As I walked in the door, (Kearney State head coach Wayne Samuelson) got hold of me and got me in a classroom and interviewed me. The next thing you know, after three or four phone calls, he talked me into coming down to visit campus,” Hueser said.
That was 1967 and Hueser became Samuelson’s assistant that fall. He also coached baseball and golf for the Lopers. He said he got the golf coaching job because “I didn’t have an accident with a state vehicle ... Les Livingston had some health issues and I took them for a year. When he gave it up, I had it for awhile. It was mainly to help the athletic department so they didn’t have to hire another person.”
Hueser’s stint as the head baseball coach lasted five years, but being the head coach of both sports became a burden.
“Baseball and basketball, after awhile, it got to where I didn’t have any weeks off at all during the year. I felt I was doing an injustice to the baseball program because I spent so much time with the basketball team. That was when I was able to get out of baseball,” he said.
His success gave him opportunities to move on to bigger and more prestigious jobs. But the Kearney community kept him here.
“Kearney is a great city — the community, the people. I looked a couple of times, but it wasn’t a place I wanted to move the family from Kearney at the time,” he said. “I did look when I was forced out of coaching, I did look a couple of places, but it never panned out and after being here 30-some years, it was hard to think about moving from Kearney.”
While his children moved on, his grandkids and now great-grandchildren, are finding their way back. Jalen lives in Kearney and has a baby daughter, and a granddaughter will be enrolling at UNK this fall.
It’s an active life — “following the grandkids as much as I can, watching basketball games as much as I can. A lot of TV. A lot of golf. Work out whenever I can.”