It seems that Jeff Reinland is more comfortable in his own skin these days than at any time during his 34-year coaching career.
Winning the Northwest Athletic Conference championship in 2017 swatted a giant monkey off the back of the Walla Walla men’s head basketball coach.
Three consecutive 20-win seasons, an East Region championship in 2018, three straight appearances to the NWACs and another trip to the tourney finals last weekend in Everett are likewise significant and satisfying achievements for the old coach.
“I think I would be lying if I said it didn’t matter,” Reinland said, speaking specifically of the 2017 NWAC championship run. “I coached 32 years before making it to the finals, and winning the championship is always the goal.
“It’s kind of funny because a while back I was wondering to my wife if I would ever make it back to the championship game, and here two years later we get back. It’s funny how it all works out.”
The Warriors lost the title game to East Region rival North Idaho 104-73 and finished the season with a 22-11 record. Still, Walla Walla’s 69-27 record over the past three seasons is the third best in the entire NWAC.
North Idaho’s 81-15 record during that same period ranks No. 1 and South Puget Sound of the West Region is second at 71-19.
“It’s not easy to win 20 games in a season in men’s basketball at this level,” Reinland said. “So I feel pretty good about that.”
But there’s another reason why Reinland has found the sweet spot in his coaching career. He’s at a place where losses don’t hurt quite as much as they once did and where success can be savored to a greater degree.
Choose your cliche, but the Warriors coach is no longer interested in climbing the ladder. He has lost the desire to jump on that college coaching carousel.
“A few things in my life have changed,” Reinland said. “I’m not looking at job postings anymore, or watching the final four and seeing what jobs are opening up. I couldn’t care less.”
It wasn’t always that way, he conceded.
“I have had a few opportunities here and there, jobs that I have looked at,” Reinland said. “The problem was, also being the athletic director here, financially it didn’t make sense.
“A lot of those assistant coaching jobs at the (NCAA) Division I level don’t pay that much and I would have had to take a pay cut. I can’t afford that at my age.”
Reinland, who coached eight years in the prep ranks before returning to his alma mater in the fall of 1993, is now 57 years old. He originally planned to coach until he was 50, now he plans to ride it out in Warriors Black and Gold.
“I can’t really retire until I am 65,” he said. “I still feel good, I’m trying to exercise and do the things I need to do. And I think I am doing well.”
Most importantly, he said, he hasn’t lost the desire to win.
“I’m not complacent, I think that is evident in how well we have done these last three years,” Reinland said. “I still like working with the guys and I still have a burning desire to win, but I feel like I keep the games in better perspective.
“You have to do that as you get older because you don’t want to be one of those guys where your brain explodes in your head.”
Reinland grew up in Pomeroy and led the Pirates to a second-place finish in the 1980 Washington Class B boys state basketball tournament in Spokane. He then played for two seasons under coach Art Wilmore at WWCC and led the Warriors’ to a second-place finish in the 1982 NWAC tourney.
Reinland finished up his playing career at Eastern Washington in Cheney, then spent four seasons each coaching boys basketball at Cascade-Leavenworth and at Kelso High in Longview. He guided Cascade to its first state tournament appearance in school history in 1989 and four years later took Kelso to state.
In his 26 seasons at WWCC, Reinland’s teams have won a school-record 433 games, qualified for 14 NWAC tournaments and placed eight times. Three of his teams won East Region titles, and Reinland was voted East Region Coach of the Year following each of those championship seasons.
The future is always a mystery, but Reinland seems ready for whatever it holds.
“Right now I am just trying to enjoy the kids and however many years I have left in coaching,” Reinland said. “Coachingwise I am probably in a better place than I have ever been.
“I believe things have worked out the way they were intended with me, and I am at peace with it.”