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Former star seeks to extend UWRF legacy

March 1, 2007

After 12 years of being an assistant coach to former UWRF head men’s basketball coach Rick Bowen, Jeff Berkhof finally had his chance to be the head coach this past basketball season. On April 1, Berkhof was officially named Interim Head Coach for the 2006-07 UWRF men’s basketball team.

“I was extremely excited,” Berkhof said. “I have a lot of ownership in this program, being a player for two years and being Coach Bowen’s assistant coach in different capacities for 12 seasons. That’s 14 years, and I was ready to be a head coach.”

With Berkhof being named an interim head coach, UWRF is required to go through a search process for the 2007-08 position of head men’s basketball coach, Search and Screen Committee chair Patti Ford said.

“Our job is to sift through and bring in the best possible array of applicants,” Ford said. “We are accepting applications. We will have a review date March 19. From there we do phone interviews; from there we do reference checks and then we bring candidates on campus.”

There is no deadline for the decision to be made, except that the decision will need to be made by the position’s start date in August, Ford said.

Bowen, the athletic director for UWRF, who appointed Ford as the chair of the Search and Screen Committee, said the committee will recommend candidates to be considered, and that Chancellor Don Betz will ultimately make the decision.

Junior forward Scott Kelly, who is also on the Search and Screen Committee, said this year’s transition from Bowen to Berkhof was not too hard because of the similarities between the two coaches.

“… Being a basketball player, [Berkhof] knows what we’re going through and he knows how to act with us,” Kelly said. “He’s younger so he’s also a friend as well as a coach.”

In high school, Berkhof was recruited, not only as a basketball player, but also as a football player. He attended South Dakota State University, where he played quarterback for the Jackrabbits.

“I just kind of got burnt out playing football and I knew that my true love was playing basketball,” Berkhof said.

Worthington Junior College was the next stop for Berkhof, where he was recruited by Bowen as a basketball player. Berkhof said he remembers scoring 44 points in a tournament game on a Thursday, and having a letter in his mailbox by the time he got home that Sunday.

“I was impressed that he sent me a letter so quickly,” Berkhof said. “That showed me that he was very serious about the recruitment of me.”

The recruiting paid off, as Berkhof led the Falcons in scoring in 1994 with 17.4 points per game. That year, Berkhof graduated from UWRF with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in physical education and a minor in athletic coaching. While playing basketball for River Falls his senior year, Berkhof said he knew he wanted to become a coach.

Even though the Falcons top three scorers chose to leave the team after the 2005-06 season, Berkhof was able to lead the Falcons to a 10-16 overall record, impressing a lot of people around the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“He’s done a great job up there this year,” UW-Whitewater head coach Pat Miller said. “I think he’s exceeded probably anybody’s expectations and he should be happy with the job he’s done. People who have been around our league understand how difficult it is to win with young players and he’s done that this year.”

Berkhof used his recruiting ability to replace the loss of the 2005-06 leading scorers, with this year’s top three scorers all being first year Falcons. Recruiting is one of the best parts of being a coach, and coaching is a job that is fun to come to every day, Berkhof said.

“My wife is used to me not being around too much because I’ve been very active in recruiting the last few years for Coach Bowen,” Berkhof said. “Jill’s been very supportive of everything. It’s tough not seeing my family at times, but that’s part of it, and I enjoy every aspect of my job.”

After 20 years as head coach, Bowen made a point to allow Berkhof to fully take over the basketball team this year.

“Jeff was my assistant for 12 years, so I went out of my way to stay out of his way, because the last thing he needed was me looking over his shoulder,” Bowen said.

Recently, contact between Bowen and Berkhof has included a reminder for Berkhof to submit his application and résumé for the 2007-08 head men’s basketball coaching position, Berkhof said.

“I was excited about the opportunity I received last year, and I believe I did a good job,” Berkhof said. “I think the program has a bright future and I would love the opportunity to put my stamp on this program as the head coach at UW-River Falls.”