LARAMIE — Shaun Vandiver’s wife said it was a “sign from a higher power.”
When Wyoming head men’s basketball coach Allen Edwards gave Vandiver, then the head coach at Emporia State, the opportunity to return to Laramie, Vandiver said it felt right.
“I thought that this would be a great time to get back to this region,” said Vandiver, who was an assistant at Wyoming from 2005-10. “My wife and kids love this region. Naturally, there’s history between my three oldest, all either being a part of the University of Wyoming or Laramie High School, and the program is in a great position right now.
“Back-to-back 20-win seasons, and just seeing the growth and development just in Laramie. And the biggest thing I’m trying to do is just to help whatever way I can to keep our brand, not only men’s basketball, going in the right direction, but the overall university. Connecting with Laramie. Connecting with all the surrounding communities and towns. From Gillette to Cheyenne and on. So I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
Vandiver went 87-112 in his time as the coach of the Division-II Hornets. Emporia State went 9-19 last season and had one season above .500 in Vandiver’s seven years, but he said he wasn’t looking to move on from his head coaching role until the Wyoming opportunity arose.
“I worked for a great boss in Kent Weiser, a great administrative staff, a great president in president (Allison) Garrett,” he said. “I had a great bunch of young men coming back. Yes, this past year was not a great year for us, but I was excited about the future. And like I tell everyone, the hardest thing to do was telling those young men in that room goodbye. It broke my heart, and there were a lot of hugs. There were a lot of tears. But I’m here now, and I’ve got to move forward and look forward. I’m just excited.”
Vandiver played college basketball at Colorado, where he was the Big Eight’s newcomer of the year in 1989. The Golden State Warriors drafted the 6-foot-10 forward 25th overall in 1991, and he spent the next decade playing overseas.
He began his coaching career as a Wyoming graduate assistant in 2002 and made stops in Northern Colorado and Bowling Green before returning to Laramie. He coached for one year at Boise State as an assistant before being hired as the Hornets’ head coach.
“I met him when I first got into the business, so going on 18 years now, and we’ve always been cordial with one another,” Edwards said. “We always, when we see each other, we speak, we talk. Even when he’s passing through town to reconnect with some relationships that he’s had here, he would always stop in and we would talk. We would talk basketball, because obviously, he was running his own program at Emporia State.
“... So when it went down, I didn’t even open it up. I know who I wanted, and I don’t know if I could have hired a better guy to come in with his relationships and contacts. And he’s been in it a very long time as well. But what I also love about him is the head-coaching experience.”
Vandiver said that his time as a head coach will make him a better assistant to one.
“I didn’t know as much as I thought I did,” he said, “and each year I got better at my craft, and each year I learned a lot of different things. Except at my level, I wore a jack-of-all-trades type of hat. Fundraiser. P.R. work. Administrative work. Human resources. Everything that embodies what I think a good assistant coach should be at this level, I think I learned by baptism by fire. Because once you sit in that chair, it’s a wrap. It starts and stops with you.”
Vandiver replaces Tony Pujol, whom Edwards hired in 2016, before his first season as Wyoming’s head coach.
“I had a call the other day from one of our guys back in our days at Richmond in VCU,” Edwards said, “and his thing was, ‘You’ve only been a head coach two years, and the tree is already branching off.’ But he deserves it. And I told him that. Coach P. was already having those head-coaching tendencies, so he kind of needed to get his own program to run.”
Pujol left Wyoming to become the head coach at North Alabama.
“Ironic, the first job I interviewed with was with the old coach at North Alabama from 10 years ago,” Vandiver said. “Small world. Is that a sign? I don’t know.”