When Dale Layer’s college basketball teammate was facing the possibility of getting kicked out of school because he couldn’t come up with the tuition money, he got an envelope in his locker.
Inside that anonymous envelope was a short Bible verse and $780, enough to cover the player’s tuition for the year.
“I knew it was Dale,” CSU assistant men’s basketball coach Bill Peterson said of Layer, his former Eckerd College teammate and current head coach of the Rams. “I knew he did it, but he never told me, he never owned up to it.”
And that’s only one of the “many” stories Peterson can tell about Layer, who is now in his third season as head coach at CSU. The two were not only co-captains at Eckerd, but also roommates in their college days when Layer held a Bible study in their dorm room.
“About six months later, after that season, I was with Dale one night, and I said, ‘I ain’t stupid. I’ve known you a long time, I know you did it,'” Peterson said. “And finally he showed me this verse in the Bible that said, ‘Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.’ And about a year later he owned up. I brought it up again and I said, ‘I know that was you.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it was.'”
Layer, a man of average height and stature, is anything but average to the people who know him best. The players and assistant coaches of the CSU men’s basketball program describe Layer as a fiery, intense competitor, but also a fair, humble Christian man who walks the walk. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“He’s one of the finest human beings I’ve ever been around,” Peterson said. “He’s a great family man, a strong Christian man who lives by his principles. He’s always looking out for other people and is never really concerned about himself.”
Growing up in Florida, the son of a basketball coach himself, Layer distinguished himself as an all-conference player at St. John’s River Community College for two years, before earning the same honors at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., and setting the school assist record. Upon graduation with a degree in psychology, Layer said he “kicked around” the idea of becoming a preacher before deciding on coaching.
“I took a job where I graduated from and I was three-quarters janitor and a quarter coach,” Layer said. “I had to sweep floors and clean windows and paint buildings just to be able to spend a few hours a day coaching. I was too stupid to have doubts about going into coaching.”
After his stint as assistant coach at his alma mater, Layer spent nine seasons as head coach and athletic director at Queens College in Charlotte, N.C., posting a 167-87 record with two NCAA Tournament appearances. That success led to his hiring as an assistant coach at CSU in 1998. And when former CSU head coach Ritchie McKay left the program in 2000, Layer beat out stiff competition to be named head coach of the Green and Gold.
Talking about the differences between the head coaching position at Queens and his job now, Layer said, “The game is the same. It’s still the same court, the same strategies, but I had to drive the bus there and sweep the floor a lot more often then I have to here. It’s a different level in some of the things you have to do. There’s so many little things that you have support for here that you don’t at a small college.”
But going to a bigger program also meant more intense scrutiny, and of course, better competition. In his first year as head coach at CSU, Layer guided the Rams to a respectable 15-13 record. However, in his second campaign last season, Layer and the Rams struggled with injuries and lost numerous close games on their way to a 12-18 mark, good for seventh in the Mountain West.
“To go through the ups and downs and the thrills and the tragedies is just stimulating more than anything else,” Layer said. “It’s a step-by-step process. You have to recruit well, you’ve got to train the players well, you’ve got to schedule well, you’ve got to execute each game and each practice, and hopefully at the end of the year people think you are deserving of a postseason spot. You can’t just wake up at the end of the year and go.”
The Rams have not been to a postseason tournament since the 1999 NIT, and have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1990. But a remedy could be on the way. At 14-11, a postseason berth this year is most likely out of the equation unless the Rams could put together a miraculous run in the MWC Tournament. But Layer’s team, with only two seniors departing after this season, is both young and talented and has all the pieces necessary to build for the future.
And according to some of the Rams’ more veteran players, Layer has put the team in position to make those strides.
“If I had a kid, I’d want him to have a coach like Dale,” said senior guard Andy
Birley, who happened to make his first recruiting visit the very same day Layer made his first appearance on campus. “He’s a competitor, he’s real intense and he has certain expectations of you and if you don’t meet them he’s going to get on you. He’s tough at times but he also treats you fairly. Not only is he a good coach, but he sets a good example for you off the court.”
The Rams had their first sellout crowd in three years this season, and the team seems to be ready to take the next step towards challenging the conference heavyweights like Utah and Brigham Young, two teams that barely escaped Moby with wins earlier this month.
“Our guys have grown up in the past year,” Layer said. “We’re healthier, we’re more mature, and everybody’s been around the block. We’ve got a long way to go, but at least it’s a real positive turn. I can say the enthusiasm for basketball is back in Fort Collins and on campus, and I think the students have responded really well to our team and that’s been awesome.”
With a “top-40” recruiting class coming to Fort Collins next season, and some of the Rams’ freshmen and sophomores already making major contributions, Layer has proven he can recruit as well as coach. Like Birley, Brian Greene, the Rams’ other veteran senior, gave similar praise of his coach – even after receiving a severe tongue-lashing from Layer at a recent practice.
“As a coach, he’s just a very competitive and very intense person,” Greene said.
“His drive to win is what makes him good. He’s just as competitive as anyone on the team. He’s easy to joke around with and he’s approachable. He has us over to his house all the time.”
Besides his responsibilities on the court, Layer, a father of three children, has taken the time to explore the Rocky Mountain region with his family despite a schedule that leaves little time for non-basketball activities.
“I think it’s been a real neat change,” Layer said of moving to Colorado. “In the five years we’ve been here we’ve been to Rocky Mountain Park about 50 times, Yellowstone twice, the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, and Zion and Bryce Canyon. We’ve done a lot of things that you don’t really get to do on the East Coast. We’ve enjoyed the outdoors and I even tried snowboarding, where I fell about 612 times in two days.
“Fort Collins is about as perfect a city as you can live in. It’s been an awesome experience for us. It’s a unique place and my family has really enjoyed it.”
With all the things he has been through in 25 years of friendship with Layer,
Peterson said he most admires CSU’s head basketball coach because, “he doesn’t talk about stuff, he just does it and he’s done a great job.
“He’s not cheating or taking bad kids. He’s done it the right way.”