Robert Key spent a lot of time second-guessing himself. For 14 years, he'd been an assistant basketball coach at Cleveland High School, very interested in moving into a head coaching job.
But he could never get one. Six times he interviewed for head basketball coaching jobs in the PIL, six times he didn't get hired. He'd ask himself, 'Did I not interview well? Is someone saying bad things about me? What's wrong?'
He never found out. But the rest of the local basketball world found out a lot about Robert Key this season, as he led the Roosevelt Roughriders from out of nowhere into the championship game of the Class 5A tournament in Eugene.
Oh yeah, Key can coach. And he's a better guy than he is a coach.
Full disclosure here, my son was a part of the Cleveland basketball program during Key's stint there, and loved him. Used to rave about him, in fact.
I always assumed Key was one of those guys who didn't want the time commitment or pressure of being the head man. An outstanding player in his day and a quality assistant coach, Key certainly could get a head coaching job if he wanted it, couldn't he?
'I got to the point where I didn't even want to apply for jobs,' he says. 'But Tom Beatty over at Cleveland continued to encourage me. He'd say, 'If you don't get it, look at the flip side. You're always welcome here.' And that did make a lot of sense. I was happy there.'
But there is nothing like having your own team. And Key is so proud of how far Roosevelt has come in his three seasons there. Key grew up in North Portland and was one of those kids who spurned Roosevelt after middle school to attend high school across town at Marshall.
'There were only two black kids in my class at Marshall,' he says. 'It was good for me to go, because it helped my social skills and I got an opportunity to play. But now, we have kids transferring from outside the area into Roosevelt. It's on the rise here.'
The school benefited from the OSAA's reclassification, just as Cleveland did in football. But there is nothing wrong with playing against schools your own size. And the kind of lift that some smaller schools are getting is very special.
'I've waited 18 years to be a part of what I was around this year,' he says. 'It was so awesome. It's amazing the way it happened for us. These kids have been so great.'
Key has old-fashioned values and is a builder. He wants good kids, he wants them to do the work in the classroom and he wants them to succeed outside basketball. The Robert Keys of the world are the people who make prep sports an integral part of education.
And by the way, the last time around, he didn't have to apply for this job. Roosevelt approached him with an offer.
'For once, they came to me,' he says. 'That was nice.'