The timing just wasn’t sitting right with Freddie Roland, LBJ Early College High School boys basketball coach, who recently retired after 25 years of service. Just days into his retirement, Roland announced his plan to return as head coach of the Jaguars.
Boasting over 600 career wins, three trips to the State Championships, 25 district titles and numerous Coach of the Year awards, Roland feels he still has some unfinished business. Coming off a school year marked by a global pandemic, he has his sights set on a state championship, which would be a first in Austin ISD boys basketball history.
“My goal was to get as many young kids graduating as possible and that’s done,” Roland said. “I’ve won just about every award a coach can win except a state championship and we’ve got some boys who can get us there this year.”
Cementing a Legacy
Now that he’s back in the game, Coach Roland may be leading his players to success on a court named in honor of his legacy.
Roland’s contributions to the LBJ students and community have earned him consideration for the naming of the school’s main practice court. The school’s Campus Advisory Council voted to initiate the naming process back in January and out of nearly 100 submissions from LBJ students, parents, staff, alumni and community members, all but one nominated Roland.
Roland’s positive influence on the young men he has coached runs deep. He has served as a mentor and role model insisting students earn their playing time by coming to practice, working hard and staying on top of their academics. He gives his time freely and has personally funded the costs of athletic shoes, meals and travel to support his students.
“Individuals across generations will tell you about his talents and how he supported the growth of so many students, not just in athletics but academically,” says LBJ ECHS Principal Jon Bailey. “The fact that so many, from generation to generation, can speak to the things he’s done, speaks to his impact.”
In a letter written by the community voicing support for Roland receiving this honor, Roland was credited for the robust fan base at LBJ boys basketball games due to his engagement of former players and other fans.
“LBJ boys basketball always draws a crowd, wherever they play,” the letter states. “Coach Roland is also a fan favorite for his sartorial splendor, most notably his purple suit and cowboy boots.”
The Austin ISD Board of Trustees are scheduled to vote on naming the gym floor in his honor at the June 24 Regular Board Voting Meeting.
In search of Coach Roland’s successor, the school began the hiring process in May with tough shoes to fill.
As any great leader would do, Roland made sure Assistant Coach Antoine Thompson was up for the task. While some in the community felt Thompson was the obvious choice, others were concerned the position might be handed over too readily and expressed the need for a competitive, community-driven process.
The district pressed pause on the hiring process after a first round of interviews to host two community meetings. The meetings gave the district an opportunity to collect feedback on a head coach profile to better understand the qualities the community was looking for in the next coach.
Feedback from those meetings described someone with a winning record in varsity basketball, who prioritizes relationships, holds players accountable on and off the court, is respectful and fair. One individual summed it up as someone who is “bigger than basketball.”
Austin ISD Executive Director of High Schools and former LBJ ECHS Principal, Sheila Henry noted that the community is basically describing Coach Roland. “He is always thinking how can we help to solve some of the challenges that students—mainly African American males—face,” says Henry. “Finishing strong is who Coach Roland is. I can clearly see how he felt he left something on the table that he needed to complete.”
In light of Roland’s return, the district has taken down the posting for the head coach position but will keep the community input on file to build a profile for the position the next time around. Given Roland’s love for LBJ, it’s too soon to say when that input will come in handy again.