After 10 seasons at Cleveland State, Gary Waters can look back on his coaching tenure with the Vikings, knowing that he has achieved his goal of turning around a program that had posted winning seasons in just three of the previous 13 campaigns into the one that brought a much-desired championship to the City of Cleveland.
The accomplishments for Waters and the Vikings in his first 10 seasons have been significant:
• Back-to-back 20-win seasons (2007-08, 2008-09) for the first time since 1986-88, including 26 wins in 2008-09, the third highest win total in program history.
• Five 20-win seasons, including 27 wins in 2010-11, tied for the second most in CSU history.
• Six post-season appearances in the last nine years; an NIT invitation in 2008, the school’s second NCAA bid in 2009, an NIT appearance in 2011 when CSU advanced to the second round, an NIT bid in 2012 and a CBI berths in 2014 and 2015 when CSU advanced to the second round.
• The first two trips to the Horizon League Championship game in school history, including the league title and NCAA bid in 2009.
• An 84-69 victory over No. 4 seed and 12th-ranked Wake Forest in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.
• The 2011 Horizon League regular season title, a first in program history.
• Five wins against nationally-ranked opponents, including three victories in 2008-09. (CSU was just 1-24 against ranked teams before Waters arrived at CSU).
• A 71-58 win at No. 7 Vanderbilt in the 2011-12 season opener, the highest ranked opponent CSU has ever defeated.
• Two NBA players, including 2011 first round pick, Norris Cole, who won two NBA Championship teams with the Miami Heat.
• All 36 seniors who have been in the program have graduated with their degree.
• A 109-40 (.732) record in the Wolstein Center, including a building record 17 wins in 2010-11.
Waters will enter the 2016-17 campaign with a 20-year head coaching record of 356-285, including a 185-150 mark in 10 seasons at CSU, making him the winningest coach in program history.
His .561 winning percentage at CSU is second all-time in program history.
Although the accomplishments to date have been appealing, Waters has his eyes set on achieving his biggest goal, namely, sustaining the success the program has found so that year in and year out, the Vikings are championship contenders, and doing it on a national stage.
The nation has taken note of not only what Waters has accomplished, but more importantly, the manner that he has done it, with recognitions in national awards.
This past summer, Waters was named to a pair of prestigious positions with the National Association of Basketball Coaches. In June, Waters was selected to the NABC ad hoc committee on NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection. In September, Waters was appointed to the NABC Board of Directors.
Waters’ inclusion on the two NABC committees gives him an opportunity to provide the perspective of men’s basketball coaches as well as a team perspective to NCAA Division I membership.
At the conclusion of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Waters was named a finalist for the Ben Jobe Award, which is presented annually to the top minority coach in Division I men’s basketball.
Waters was presented with the John Lotz “Barnabas” Award by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the end of the 2009-10 season, an award which is presented annually to honor a basketball coach who best exhibits commitment to Christ, integrity, encouragement to others and lives a balanced life.
In the spring of 2015, Waters received the Master Coach Award from the Nations of Coaches, presented to a coach who is outstanding for his commitment to coach like the Master Coach.
Waters has also been inducted into two different Hall of Fames. He was a 2002 inductee into the Ferris State Athletic Hall of Fame and a 2006 member of the Kent State Varsity “K” Hall of Fame.
In the 10 years since being named the head coach at Cleveland State, Waters has systematically gone about building a new program.
First and foremost, Waters put together a staff that stayed together for the first seven years of his tenure. The group was the longest tenured staff in the country during the 2012-13 season.
When coaches took new opportunities, Waters replaced them with highly-regarded assistants who had years of experience to make a smooth transition in the program.
When Waters arrived at CSU, he painstakingly put together a recruiting plan, knowing that he needed to build the program with a solid foundation and evenly spread resources in order to help assure that success would be constant.
The time and efforts that Waters and his staff have put in have paid big dividends.
The Vikings have recorded upper-division finishes in the Horizon League in seven of the last nine seasons, including a title in 2010-11 and runner-up finishes in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
In fact, you would need to go back to the mid to late 1980’s to find a time when CSU finished in the upper half of any league four straight years.
Last year, Waters guided one of the youngest teams in Division I through the season, using it to mold and prepare the young players for the future as they became adjusted to the collegiate life.
Two years ago, Waters led the Vikings to a 19-15 record and a 12-4 mark in the Horizon League. Two players earned first team all-league honors, the first time since 1993 that CSU had two players on the all-league first team.
Despite a loss in the Horizon League semifinals to eventual champion Valparaiso, the Vikings received an bid to the CollegeInsider.com tournament, the sixth postseason bid in the last eight years for Waters. CSU earned a first round win at Western Michigan before falling at NJIT in round two.
In 2013-14, Waters led the Vikings to a 21-12 mark, including a 12-4 record and second place finish in the Horizon League.
That group got an early start to the season as Waters led the program on a 10-day European tour through Amsterdam, Belgium and France. He led the Vikings to a 5-0 mark on the tour, while also allowing the student-athletes to soak in the cultue of the countries.
The season continued in the postseason when CSU appeared in the CBI.
In 2011-12, Waters led the Vikings to the second best start in program history, winning 10 of their first 11 games en route to finishing the season with 22 wins and a postseason berth to the NIT. Included in the win total was a victory at No. 7 Vanderbilt in the season opener, the highest-ranked team CSU has ever defeated.
The best start in program history came in 2010-11 as CSU won its first 12 contests en route to 27 victories, the second most in school history.
The 12 wins to open the season gave the Vikings momentum going forward as CSU captured its first-ever Horizon League regular season crown with a 13-5 mark in league play.
CSU also advanced to postseason play for the sixth time in school history and the third time under Waters, earning a No. 2 seed in the National Invitational Tournament. The Vikings defeated Vermont at home in the first round before bowing out to the College of Charleston.
The season concluded with Norris Cole ranking 12th in the nation in scoring and also becoming the first player in Horizon League history to earn Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the same season.
He was a first round pick in the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls (28th overall), being traded to Minnesota who dealt him to the Miami Heat where he went on to win NBA titles in 2012 and 2013.
More importantly, Waters saw some of the most important building blocks - fan attendance and exposure - improve as well. Attendance at home games was up over 26-percent, with the average crowd size being the largest since 2000-01.
In addition, the total home attendance was the highest ever in the 17-year history of the Wolstein Center, including a sellout crowd of 8,490 for the Butler contest.
The break-through season that the Vikings enjoyed in 2008-09 allowed Waters to put the exclamation point on his first three seasons. By winning the 2009 Horizon League Championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Championship that went with it on Butler’s home floor, Waters sent a message to the rest of the league that CSU was here to stay.
By dominating fourth-seeded and 12th-ranked Wake Forest in the opening round of the NCAA Championship, Waters captured the attention of the nation and woke up the college basketball fans in northeast Ohio.
With a 26-11 record, the 2008-09 Vikings recorded the third-highest win total in school history. It was the seventh 20-win season for the program and second straight.
As he worked his way through the his first three Viking seasons, Waters individually crossed off the goals accomplished with each one leading him closer and closer to a championship.
Heading into his second season, he said that he needed to have a home court advantage. CSU responded by setting a then Wolstein Center record with 12 wins in 2007-08 and improved on that with a 13-2 mark in 2008-09, a 17-3 mark in 2010-11 and a 12-3 home mark in 2013-14 and a 12-4 record in 2014-15.
All told, the Vikings are 109-40 on campus over the last 10 years, quite an improvement over the 25-42 record compiled over the previous five seasons before Waters arrived.
Waters likes to say that to be the best, you have to play the best and he hasn’t been afraid to put together a challenging schedule.
Despite owning just one win over a ranked opponent in school history when he arrived at CSU, Waters did not shy away from playing ranked opponents.
Consequently, the 26 wins in 2008-09 included a spectacular 72-69 win at Syracuse, the Horizon League title game victory over Butler and the NCAA first round rout of Wake Forest.
In 2009-10, CSU played four teams that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Championship, facing West Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas State, and national runner-up Butler. In addition CSU played games against NCAA participants Ohio State, Robert Morris, and Sam Houston State.
Waters has also taken his Vikings into Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Virginia, VCU, Maryland, Rhode Island and will travel to Purdue this year.
Ever the teacher, Waters also used the end of the 2008-09 preseason to take the Vikings on an 11-day tour of Spain, going 3-1 against club and professional teams in the country while more importantly, giving the CSU players a bonding and cultural experience that he hopes will be remembered for the rest of their lives.
In 2007-08, CSU became one of at least 18 teams in NCAA Division I history to go from winning 10 games or fewer in one season to 20 or more in the next.
And yes, it was planned.
Waters sent CSU into the season with the goal of “Flipping The Script”, or taking the 10-21 mark of 2006-07 and turning it around.
The Vikings, who were picked to finish ninth in the Horizon League the season before, accomplished their goal, shocking the league by winning their first seven conference games en route to a second place finish.
Included in that opening run was a 56-52 win over 12th-ranked Butler that gave the Vikings only their second victory ever over a ranked opponent.
CSU recorded 21 wins during the year, marking the sixth 20-win campaign in school history and the first since 1992-93.
The 12-6 league mark allowed the Vikings to set the school standard for league wins in a season and by beating Valparaiso in the semifinals of the league tournament, CSU advanced to the championship game for the first time since joining the Horizon League.
Despite falling in the league title game at 12th-ranked Butler, Cleveland State was rewarded for its performance during the season by receiving a bid to play in the National Invitational Tournament, marking the program’s fourth postseason appearance and first since the 1987-88 campaign.
CSU accomplished the turnaround with hard work.
The Vikings finished among the top three teams in the league in every hustle statistic - scoring defense, rebounding, offensive rebounding, steals and blocks - and became the first team in league history from finishing last in rebounding one season to first the next.
Waters was rewarded for his effort by being tabbed as the Horizon League Co-Coach of the Year, marking the third time that he received the honor during his career.
A 20-year head coaching veteran, he has amassed 347 wins and led teams to post-season play 12 times during that span.
Named the 15th head coach in Cleveland State University history on April 6, 2006, Waters gave a little insight into his plan for the program at his hiring press conference.
“Cleveland is a great city and has great resources,” he told the media. “To get this done, we need to make a commitment to the City of Cleveland and let it be part of this program. We have to build this program around players from this area so that we can give our fans something that they truly can be proud of.”
Waters is quick to point out the three characteristics that a successful program must have to find success…a vision, a plan and quality people. Every decision that he has made has kept those three points in mind as he began the process of building the Viking program.
“Part of the foundation was already in place here at Cleveland State,” Waters said. “We had quality people - both in the program and supporting the program - already here and ready to take this team to the next level.”
Using the insight of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, Waters personally taught a class in success to the CSU players in 2006-07, using Wooden’s Pyramid of Success as the textbook for the class. Waters used the course to instill upon the Viking players what it necessary to become a winner, both on the court and in life. He challenged them to build their own pyramid, identifying the traits and qualities that are needed to bring the CSU program to national prominence.
Year two of the success class had Waters using John Maxwell’s manuscript, Talent Is Never Enough, and he turned to former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy and his book, Quiet Strength, as his inspiration in 2008-09.
Waters returned to Maxwell in 2009-10, using 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player as the course text and again in 2010-11, using Maxwell’s Winning With People. In 2011-12 and 2012-13, Waters utilized the book Think Like a Champion by Dave Dinunzio.
In 2013-14, Waters used two books for the class, calling on Maxwell again with Teamwork 101 to go along with The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do by Mark Miller.
Waters used Jay Bilas’ Toughness for his class in 2014-15.
Waters is also known for his personal style, annually ranking among the nation’s top dressers on the sidelines.
In fact, he edged Villanova’s Jay Wright to win the national title in the 2008 Runway To The Fashionable Four, an online fashion rankings similar to the NCAA tournament that is conducted annually by CollegeInsider.com. In 2007, he lost in the national semifinals.
A Gary Waters-led basketball program places a strong emphasis on character and discipline and his family-oriented approach, combined with an up-tempo game that relies on fundamentals and relentless defensive pressure have paid huge dividends during his coaching career.
Waters, who has coached at the collegiate level for the last 40 years, first came to northeast Ohio in the spring of 1996 when he took over at the head coach at Kent State. He led the Golden Flashes to a 92-60 record in five seasons from 1996-2001, including a 70-25 mark over his final three campaigns.
Inheriting a program that has managed just one winning season in the previous seven years in its first 80 seasons, Waters went to work rebuilding a program that continues to win even after he left the campus eight seasons ago.
Waters impact on the Kent State program became evident in his third season (1998-99) when he guided the Golden Flashes to a school-record 23 wins (23-7), winning the Mid American Conference tournament championship for the first time and receiving its first-ever NCAA tournament bid. The Flashes went on to drop a 61-54 decision to 20th ranked Temple in a first round game in Boston.
Kent State matched the program record for wins in 1999-00, posting a 23-8 record that included a trip to the NIT quarterfinal round.
Waters is one of only three coaches in the history of the Mid-American Conference to earn MAC Coach of the Year honors in successive seasons, receiving the award in both 1999 and 2000.
Waters made his last season at Kent State (2000-01) a memorable one, leading the Flashes to a school record 24 wins (24-10 overall) and the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament championships. KSU provided the NCAA Tournament with one of its biggest upsets that year as the 13th seeded Flashes upended the fourth-seeded Indiana, 77-73. KSU fell to No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.
Waters moved to Rutgers for the 2001-02 season and the Scarlet Knights made a quick improvement, going 18-13 in his first season, making only their third post-season appearance in 11 seasons when they faced Yale in the first round of the NIT.
Two years later (2003-04), Rutgers won 20 games for the first time since 1981-82, claiming wins over Temple, West Virginia, Villanova and Iowa State to advance to the championship game of the NIT.
In his final season in Piscataway (2005-06), Waters led Rutgers to 19 wins and its third NIT appearance in his five seasons, upending Penn State in the first round before falling to Saint Joseph’s in the second round.
With Quincy Douby ranking sixth in the nation in scoring, (25.4 ppg), the Scarlet Knights claimed four wins over NCAA-bound teams (Marquette, Seton Hall twice & Kent State) and when they knocked off No. 22 Louisville, it marked the eighth time that a Rutgers team coached by Waters defeated a ranked opponent.
Douby would go on to become a first round selection (19th pick) of the Sacramento Kings in the 2006 NBA draft.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Waters received honorable mention All-America as well as all-region and all-conference honors while playing two seasons from 1970-72 at Oakland (Mich.) Community College. He transferred to Ferris State in 1972, becoming an NAIA all-district selection and first team all-league in 1973-74.
In his two seasons at Ferris State, he helped the team to a 47-10 record, winning a pair of Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic (GLIAC) titles.
Waters attended the preseason camp of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons in 1974 before eventually playing professionally overseas in Spain that year.
He returned to Ferris State to earn his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1975. He later earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Central Michigan in 1976 and a second bachelor’s degree in business education from Ferris State in 1978.
Waters returned to Ferris State in 1974-75 to begin his coaching career, starting a 15-year tenure as an assistant under head coaches Jim Wink (1974-78) and Tom Ludwig (1979-89).
The Bulldogs amassed a 267-144 record with Waters as an assistant coach, making four NCAA appearances, earning six GLIAC titles and winning 20 or more games six times. Waters also coached the FCS junior varsity team from 1975-78.
Waters moved across the state in the spring of 1989 to join the staff of Ben Braun at Eastern Michigan, serving as the assistant head coach from 1989-93, and was associate head coach for the final three seasons.
During that time, the Eagles compiled a 127-87 record and captured two Mid-American Conference titles. EMU earned two NCAA Tournament bids during his tenure, defeating Mississippi State and Penn State to advance to the Sweet 16 in 1991 and knocking off Duke in the opening round in 1996.
Kent State beckoned shortly after the Eagles were eliminated by top-seeded Connecticut in the second round, giving the 22-year assistant coach his first head coaching opportunity.
In June, 2001, Waters had the distinction of serving as one of eight court coaches for the 2001 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Trials at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The following year, Waters also served as an assistant coach for the 2002 USA Junior World Championship Qualifying Team.
Waters is a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Black Coaches Association and is involved with many charitable organizations, including Coaches vs. Cancer. He represents the Horizon League on the NABC Congress, serving as the liaison between the NABC and the league head coaches.
Waters and his wife, Bernadette, have two grown children, son Sean and daughter, Seena, and eight grandchildren.
The couple resides in Westlake.