Wes Pifer was attracted to the head coaching position for the mens basketball team at Western Oregon University because of its winning tradition.
“The tradition, it’s the biggest thing that drew me to the job, and it’s what I’m excited for,” Pifer said. “A place that really bleeds Wolves basketball. I was out for our auction and I was also out for our Wolfies (event), and every person’s hand that I shook, you could feel their energy and passion they had for this university’s basketball, and that even gets me more excited. I’m already an energy on 11/10 type of person, but it just gets you more excited for it because they have high expectations for it and I have high expectations too.”
Pifer, who was officially hired mid-May, comes to WOU with over 10 years of coaching experience under his belt. For the past six years, he was an associate head coach at Northern Arizona University. He spent two years at North Carolina Central University, and before that was at Saint Andrews University as an assistant coach. He also spent time coaching at his high school for two years.
He is excited to dive right in and build off what former head coach James Shaw has created.
“What coach Shaw and coach Brady have done here over the last nine years has been something that I’ve watched from the outside in,” Pifer said. “And I put a lot of pressure on myself to show up and do a great job, and I don’t think I could coach at a place with low expectations, and the expectations here are championships. To win championships and to graduate our student athletes, and those are two things I’m one hundred percent about.”
Even throughout the interview process for the position, Pifer knew WOU was a place he wanted to coach at.
“One of my players was on the search committee and I’m asking him, why do you think the team has been so successful, and one of the things that he said that stuck out to me was because they’re all so close, they’re like family, and that’s me, that’s who I am at the core. So, I think everything fit together well, and everything fit together for me to come here.”
Now it’s a matter of Pifer and the team finding and establishing a rhythm together to make sure that familial culture doesn’t disintegrate.
Pifer said he isn’t worried about it at all.
“The culture is in place, and now they have to learn my terminology,” Pifer said. “They already understand how hard you have to play in practice, you have to communicate at an elite level, you have to have great leadership in the locker room, and now it’s more so just learning how I talk and communicate.”
Going into the 2019-20 season, Pifer is staying true to keeping up high expectations for his team.
“We fully expect to compete for a GNAC (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) championship year in and year out,” he said. “I told the guys, a standard is a standard and it is not to be compromised. We will handle ourselves as champions, on the court off the court, but that’s the expectation.”
He may be hard on his team, as far as expectations go, but he’s just as hard on himself.
“The expectations of a championship, as the leader, starts with me every day and the kind of energy that you need to bring,” Pifer said. “We must show up every day to do the job. You don’t always have to be excited about the work, but it must be done. If you want to be a great team, you have to be a great practicing team. You have to show up every single day and practice hard, and it’s not for everybody.”
Pifer was born in Cremo, North Carolina, and attended college at Penn State University of Altoona. After college, he played professional basketball in Germany for a year for BBG Herford in the Germany 2 Regionalliga.
“It was an unbelievable experience, but my dream was always to make it to the NBA and I felt like I wasn’t going to make it,” Pifer said.
After he signed another contract to go back to Germany, Pifer started working out at his old high school. His former high school basketball coach allowed it on one condition.
“His only deal with me was for the young guys in his program to come in with me and see how I worked out, and crazy enough I loved it. I loved having 16 and 17-year-olds tag along with me. So I called, canceled my contract to play professionally and got into coaching at my high school, for free.
“I come from a tougher neighborhood, and at that time I had already graduated from Penn State, I had played professionally, so it was almost like I just wanted people to see that we can make it out of where we’re from, and be positive and do positive things. So that’s how I fell into coaching. I poured all my energy into it. I’m a huge believer that if you treat people the right way, then you’re also going to get to success, especially if you work hard.”