Ramsey: Russ McKinstry was calm, cool, but his passion led Lewis-Palmer to top of state hoops

June 25, 2013 Updated: June 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm
photo - Lewis-Palmer head coach Russ McKinstry talks to his players during the second half of a game in Boulder on Thursday, March 8, 2012. Lewis-Palmer won 70-59 and will play in the state championship. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Lewis-Palmer head coach Russ McKinstry talks to his players during the second half of a game in Boulder on Thursday, March 8, 2012. Lewis-Palmer won 70-59 and will play in the state championship. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Russ McKinstry has performed for the past two decades as the mellow Zen Master of Colorado high school basketball.

A horrendous call by a befuddled official?

McKinstry just shrugged.

A dunderheaded mistake by one of his players?

McKinstry offered concise, calm correction.

On Monday, McKinstry ended his reign as Zen Master when he resigned as Lewis-Palmer's coach. He's departing the sideline to devote himself fully to administrative work as athletic director for Chaparral High School. He wants to spend more time with his wife and his grandson.

It appears his coaching career has ended.

And that's sad.

McKinstry cared, but he placed this caring in context. In an era of stomping, shouting, look-at-me basketball coaches, McKinstry stood out. After departing an L-P game, you talked about dunks and blocks and assists. You never talked about the coach's tantrums.

"The coaches who are in it for the long run, they do it for the relationships that they have with their players," McKinstry said. "That's where I was really blessed. I was blessed to work with great young guys who taught me more than I taught them."

At games, McKinstry was serene, but at practice and pregame talks he could roar.

Before a 2011 state playoff game, McKinstry shouted to the Rangers in the locker room. This was, he announced, "Burn the Bus" night.

"If we lose this game, we are not going back!" McKinstry shouted. "We can't use any excuses! This is the end of the ride!"

He was inspired by the Spanish explorer/plunderer Cortes who, according to legend, torched his ships when he arrived in The New World. His soldiers quickly realized there was no turning back.

Fortunately, McKinstry and Lewis-Palmer won the game, which meant players never discovered if coach was serious about torching the team bus. Might have been fun to watch.

McKinstry departs after his coaching masterpiece. In 2012, he led an expected march to the 4A title, greatly aided by Josh Scott, one of the most gifted players in state history.

This season was different. The Rangers boasted Justin Smith and Jordan Scott, the state's best big-man tandem, but the supporting cast looked confused in the season's opening weeks. For much of the season, the defending state champs ranked as the third-best team in greater Colorado Springs behind Sand Creek and Wasson.

McKinstry kept pushing, kept believing, and his players grew into their coach's faith. The supporting cast grew up, and L-P slipped past Wasson in the state semis before devouring Valor Christian in the final. After the final buzzer against Valor, McKinstry embraced his top assistant and close friend, Bill Benton.

Late Monday night, Benton talked in an emotional voice about his new opportunity. He's the new L-P coach.

"This is kind of rough," Benton said. "We had dinner every afternoon before games, and I'll always remember all the laughing. I'm going to miss that part, but the other half is this is an amazing opportunity for me to step in."

Benton is right. This is kind of rough. McKinstry was completely devoted to high school coaching. He's a proud Colorado native who has attended the state tournament for nearly his entire life.

He had a simple goal:

He wanted to rule his home state.

And just before he rode into the sunset, that's exactly what he did.

Twitter: @davidramz

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