NWAACC coaching alum Jim Sollars retires from University of Portland Women's Basketball
Jim Sollars previously coached at Wenatchee Valley College (1976-83) and Portland State University (1983-86). His Wenatchee program won six Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) regional championships, the first three NWAACC women's titles and compiled a 154-25 record (.860). Besides building a basketball dynasty, Sollars was also the dean of WVC’s social sciences department for two years and its athletics director for one year. At Centralia College, Sollars was a letterwinner in basketball and baseball.
|Portland coach Jim Sollars waves to a crowd of 6,000 at Gonzaga while sitting in a rocking chair presented to him by Bulldogs coach Kelly Graves prior to a Feb. 22 game in Spokane.Torrey Vail, Gonzaga athletics|
For the final time of his 28-year women’s basketball coaching career at University of Portland, Jim Sollars will walk the sidelines Saturday afternoon at Chiles Center when the Pilots play Saint Mary’s.
Sollars, 71, isn’t certain if he’ll get emotional. What Sollars doesn’t want is his last home game to be about himself. As has been the case since the 1986-87 season, Sollars wants Saturday to be about the Pilots’ outgoing senior class.
This wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Sollars. He’s never been above the game.
“What we do isn’t rocket science. Obviously, we affect the lives of people we coach, but Jim never took himself too seriously,” said Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves, who assisted Sollars from 1993-98. “Sometimes in this profession we all take ourselves way too seriously. We coach college basketball. I mean, really? He always had great perspective.”
Basketball enriched Sollars, and it gave him a competitive outlet, but the sport never defined him. At his core, Sollars is a teacher. He started his working life as a history professor at the University of Washington, and for 11 years, taught that subject at Portland.
Sollars and his wife, Pam, love to travel. He lives on a five-acre farm in Washougal where the couple raises market lambs. Sollars says he’ll continue to farm as long as he’s healthy and “my tractor still runs.”
Sollars coached more than 900 games at Portland, and at the apex of his Pilots’ tenure took four consecutive teams to the NCAA tournament from 1994-97. Sollars, a five-time West Coast Conference coach of the year, has a 38-year career collegiate record of 565-510, which includes stints at Portland State and Wenatchee Valley Community College.
“The thing I like to say about Jim, and it’s totally complimentary, is that they don’t quite make people like you any more. Jim is the consummate teacher … every student-athlete that competes for him now, or 10 to 20 years ago, has the utmost respect for him as a coach and an individual,” UP athletic director Scott Leykam said.
Sollars said he’s known the end was near for a while, and wanted to pick a year where he wasn’t leaving his successor with an empty cupboard. That’s the case with UP’s 2013-14 roster, as six juniors plan to return what is currently a 14-13 team.
“My wife told me to go out with a group of kids that you like. This is as good a group as I’ve had in 20 years,” Sollars said.
True to his nature as someone not caught up with success, Sollars says his favorite team wasn’t the 1996-97 squad that won a UP-record 27 games, or one of the NCAA tourney teams. Rather, it was the 2005-06 team, his worst from a record standpoint of 4-24.
“They never gave up. We lost 15 games on basically the last shot. We weren’t good enough to win, but it wasn’t for lack of heart or effort. It was a quality group of kids,” Sollars said.
Graves, who has led Gonzaga to 10 consecutive WCC titles and one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in the West, says he’s indebted to Sollars. They talk often by phone during the season.
“I don’t think I would be where I’m at without him,” Graves said. “I was at Big Bend Community College, and he took a chance and gave me a Division I job.”
Graves made sure Sollars properly went out when the Pilots visited Gonzaga on Feb. 22. Prior to the game, Graves went to mid-court and presented Sollars with a rocking chair, as a crowd of 6,000 stood and cheered for the visiting coach.
“Hopefully it means something to him,” said Graves, “because he meant something to me.”
As for a successor, Sollars is pushing his long-time assistant Sean Kelly, but admits he probably won’t have much say in the eventual hire. Leykam says he’ll look at internal and external candidates, and hopes to hire a coach in April.
Sollars will step away from basketball, but isn’t the retiring type. Sollars says he’ll continue to farm, do some coaching at international basketball camps to help pay for travel. He’d like to learn Spanish, and eat a little better. In June, Sollars says he and Pam will put a trailer behind their car and travel to Omaha for the College World Series.
One thing Sollars says he won’t do is coach another team. Should Sollars change his mind, there’s already an offer.
“I told him if you ever get bored,” said Graves, “you’re welcome to sit on my bench.”