Le Force leaves behind lasting legacy for Lady Chants

Coastal Carolina said hello to new head coach Jaida Williams on Friday, and I realized that I never got to say goodbye to her predecessor, Alan LeForce.

The 78-year-old Le Force stepped down after 55 seasons on the sidelines, leaving a lasting mark on every level he coached – from high school here at defunct Coastal Academy in Myrtle Beach to the college women’s game at CCU.

But LeForce’s career strayed far from the Grand Strand and touched hundreds of players along his long hoops journey. LeForce cut his coaching teeth in his native Kentucky and worked his way to the men’s college ranks in the Palmetto State.

After serving as an assistant at Furman, LeForce got his first crack as a head college coach at College of Charleston in 1971. Posting five consecutive winning seasons, Le Force laid the foundation for the program John Kresse built into a national power.

Also serving as athletics director at C of C, Le Force appeared ready to get out of coaching in 1980. But basketball was in his blood, and he moved to Myrtle Beach to coach Coastal Academy to a pair of state private school titles.

But his tenure proved to be a stepping stone back to the big-time as the head coach at East Tennessee State, which he carried to national status. His Bucs were the first No. 15 seed to unseat a No. 2 in the NCAA Tournament with an upset of Arizona.

Having coached and won at every level, there was still one feat LeForce hadn’t tackled – women’s basketball. Then CCU AD Buddy Sasser asked Le Force to take over a program that had never had a winning season and set it straight.

I still remember meeting LeForce back in 1997 and wondering why this accomplished coach in his 60s would tackle a new frontier. He told me just missed coaching, and that he would probably stay a couple of years and turn the whistle over to an assistant.

A couple of years turned into 16 seasons, and although he leaves with a winning record (barely at 228-227), the CCU job always seemed to be bittersweet to him – one he loved but a challenge he never could fully master. Each forward leap was followed by a bizarre setback.

In the end, it was his health that helped him make the decision to walk away from the game he dedicated his life to teaching. His dream of being the first coach to take a men’s and women’s team to the NCAA Tournament was repeatedlt dashed by the Liberty Flames.

Le Force leaves with all kinds of records that may never be broken, especially his status as the only coach to win 100 games at virtually every level of basketball. But LeForce doesn’t treasure the wins as much as the relationships he made along the way.

Lots of coaches give lip service about caring for their players, then cut them loose the moment they step out of line. Le Force was a father figure to many of the boys and men he coached, and like a loving grandfather to his players at CCU. He leaves the program in much better shape than he found it, and he did it the right way.

So now we welcome Coach Williams and wish her well in her opportunity to take the Lady Chants to the next level. She has big shoes to fill, and a class act to follow. May Le Force be with her.

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