Jay Pivec was the men’s basketball coach at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) from 1990 until the athletic program was killed off in 2010. Those 20 seasons included such enormous success that Pivec was the National Junior College Athletic Association Coach of the Year in 2009, and was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 2010.
He coached two seasons at the two-year Dakota County Technical College and in 2013 became an assistant for Johnny Tauer at St. Thomas. Five seasons included the Division III national championship in 2016.
Pivec applied for the Macalester job this spring. The Scots are 33-167 in this decade. Pivec figured that his record of success and recommendations that he could offer would give him a shot.
“The search committee gave me a 15-minute interview on a speaker phone,” Pivec said. “I directed a question to a member of the committee and someone else came on and said, ‘He left.’ When committee members are leaving before the interview ends, it’s not a good sign.”
Pivec contemplated the Macalester blowoff, decided it was time for a 62-year-old coach with four grandkids living in the Twin Cities to re-evaluate, and revealed his retirement from coaching to Tauer in a meeting early this month.
The career around college basketball started as a combination assistant/student manager for Ron Lievense at Normandale Community College. He was a student or grad assistant for Butch Raymond at Mankato State, Rees Johnson at Augsburg and Jim Dutcher at the University of Minnesota.
The litany of coaching mentors includes Jimmy Williams, Stu Starner and Flip Saunders, the assistants on Dutcher’s coaching staff with the 1981-82 Gophers.
“That was the most fun of my life, and we won the Big Ten title,” Pivec said. “The grad assistants didn’t get a ring, and the university didn’t pay for grad school, but it was great.”
Pivec also was being mentored in shoes sales by Warren Engberg, who leased the shoe corner in the Marvin Oreck’s store in Southdale.
“I sold women’s fashion shoes for a year,” he said. “The Northwest stewardesses — they were called stewardesses then — would come in and buy Town & Country low, blue pumps, three pairs at a time.”
Pivec was hired for the part-time job as the basketball coach at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in the spring of 1982. Before his team was assembled, Jamestown College in North Dakota offered him a full-time position to coach basketball.
“I was going to get paid an actual salary to coach,” Pivec said. “Mary and I packed up the Ford Fiesta and headed for North Dakota.”
Mary is Pivec’s wife, and gets a frequent mention as Jay talks about the stops and the wacky moments encountered in his four decades as a basketball coach.
Pivec spent three seasons at Jamestown, coaching Mike Roeser and Calvin Crenshaw, both legends for the Jimmies. He then moved on to Northern Montana, in the city of Havre near the Canadian border.
“The closest game we had in our conference was 187 miles away,” he said. “My booster club was the guy who owned the Gallery Lounge, the guy who had the gambling machines that were legal in Montana bars, and the beer distributor.
“I had the first-ever stretch forward: Doug Murphy, a 6-foot-11 kid from Wyoming. Except, this was 1985, and nobody had heard of a ‘Stretch 4.’ I also had Richie Willis from St. Martin de Porres in Detroit … Willie Burton’s school.
“We wouldn’t get visits from recruits. We would get them by sending photos of the beautiful vistas. Richie got to Havre, in the snow, and he called his mom and said he had to come home.
“I got on the phone and Mom said, ‘Are you going to take care of my boy?’ I said yes, then put Richie on the phone and Mom said, ‘You’re staying,’ and he started crying like a baby. He was a good player for us.”
After four seasons, Pivec was summoned to the office of school President Bill Merwin and informed he was being fired.
“I said, ‘Bill, you can’t fire me. I have a contract that states I have to be informed by April 1 if I’m being terminated, and it’s May 1.’ Bill yelled, ‘Debbie, bring that contract in here.’
“He looked through it and said, ‘I guess you’re right. We have you for another year. You need a ride home.’ ”
Pivec coached the one more year and came back to Minnesota with Mary and the two kids. He started working in the Northwest Health Club in the lower level of the new Target Center.
“I was walking to catch the bus and decided to stop in to see Ralph Powell, the athletic director at MCTC. He said, ‘Jay Pivec … this might be your lucky day. We were 0-22 this winter and our coach just quit this morning.’ ”
Pivec was hired before the afternoon was over, found the wise Ron Gates as an assistant, and two decades of JUCO basketball history followed in that wonderful pit of a gym in downtown Minneapolis.
And now Pivec’s retired. Which means you’re done coaching basketball forever?
“No, but I have good intentions,” he said.