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2008, March 6: FreeP.com – UDM’s Watson retires after 30-year career

June 24, 2008

March 6, 2008 — It was late November, and Detroit Mercy coach Perry Watson was satisfied.

His team had just come from behind to win at Eastern Michigan, and the
veteran coach was proud of how his team had played and the poise it had
shown in enemy territory.

He was dressed immaculately and shook hands with well-wishers as his wife, Deborah, stood close by.

No one knew it then, but that would be the last time Watson experienced the sweet taste of victory as head coach.

Watson, who took a medical leave of absence in early January, announced Wednesday he was retiring.

He leaves a career that spanned 30 years. It started at Detroit
Southwestern, where he won two state titles and national renown,
extended to a controversial two-year stint at Michigan as an assistant
during the Fab Five era, then ended after 15 seasons at the corner of
McNichols and Livernois.

The Titans went 261-198 under Watson, who had one year left on his contract.

"As I look back over my career, I’m very happy and satisfied with the
opportunity I had to coach some fine young men," Watson said Wednesday.
"As a high school coach … to be able to give young men the
opportunity to play college basketball and graduate was something that
I strove to do."

After telling UDM athletic director Keri Gaither on Monday afternoon he
was retiring, Watson called interim head coach Kevin Mondro on Tuesday
to break the news.

Mondro relayed the information to the team on the bus Tuesday night,
after the Titans’ season ended with a loss to Wright State in the first
round of the Horizon League tournament.

The school waited until Wednesday morning to announce Watson’s
retirement because it didn’t want the news to overshadow the team’s
appearance in the league tournament.

Watson declined to specify why he is retiring, but alluded to his health.

"He has just been a wonderful role model as a coach and has done so
much for the program and done a good job on the academic side," Gaither
said of Watson’s 90% graduation rate. "We didn’t talk specifics, but
since he’s been on medical leave since January, I’m sure that’s a major
factor in his decision."

A Detroit native, Watson was an all-city player at Southwestern in the late ’60s.

He took over the reins at his alma mater in 1978. In 13 years at
Southwestern, he won two Class A state titles, went 302-34 and built a
program that produced NBA players Jalen Rose, Howard Eisley and Voshon
Lenard. He was also a teacher and counselor at Southwestern.

He was hired at Michigan by coach Steve Fisher in 1991, and he was on
the sideline during the Fab Five era of Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan
Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.

Watson was hired at UDM in 1993 and led the Titans to NCAA tournament victories in 1999 and 2000.

But things declined the past two years, culminating in this season’s 7-23 record.

The Titans had a run of bad luck, with player defections and injuries.

But through it all, Watson, 57, always said he was an education-first coach.

"It was always education first and basketball was just a way to open up
some extra doors," said UDM assistant Garland Mance, 36, who played
under Watson at Southwestern. "He always used the term, ‘You use
basketball; don’t you let basketball use you.’ "

Watson said he doesn’t know if he will play any role in the search for his replacement, but said he will help if asked.

UDM plans to name a committee to begin a national search for a new coach.

Watson’s replacement will have large shoes to fill.

"Either you love Coach or you hate him," said Detroit Denby coach Brian
Arnold, who also played under Watson. "He’s more like a father figure
to me. And what he instilled in me is what I instill in players."

Contact VINCE ELLIS at 313-222-6479 or vellis@freepress.com.
BY VINCE ELLIS – FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER