Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo
Expect a strange sight on the sidelines Friday night at Fort Lewis College.
Much less of the familiar foot-stomping floor general of the Skyhawks. None, in fact.
Fort Lewis head men’s basketball coach Bob Hofman’s familiar face won’t be present for the first time in a long time.
Hofman, currently in his 16th season with the Skyhawks, will take a medical leave of absence from the Skyhawks, pending approval from the school’s human resources department, for an undetermined amount of time.
Fortunately, the absence has nothing to do with his heart, which he had problems with within the last 18 months. The issue is with his left shoulder, which he’s had surgery on in the last year, and his ear.
It was a decision made after discussions over the course of the last several weeks with FLC athletic director Gary Hunter, who voiced his support for the move. Hofman’s return date will be determined by how quickly he can overcome those two issues, so the hiatus could last as little as a couple weeks or as long as the rest of the season.
The goal, regardless of how long it takes, is to ensure Hofman’s health.
“I need to, as quickly as possible, go away and get better,” Hofman said. “Meaning finding various doctors that can diagnose the correlation with the shoulder and my ear.”
In the meantime, associate head coach Bob Pietrack will assume head coaching duties on an interim basis. Pietrack played for Hofman at Fort Lewis and currently is in his ninth season as an assistant with the Skyhawks.
And while these aren’t the circumstances under which he wanted to assume the head coaching role, Pietrack said he’s confident both he and the team will be able to adjust ahead of today’s game with New Mexico Highlands.
“Just like anything, we have a slogan in our program that the great ones adjust,” Pietrack said. “It’s one of Coach Hofman’s favorites. And this is just an example of having to adjust, and we plan on adjusting.”
Senior center Torrey Udall echoed the same sentiments. And Udall, Pietrack and Hofman all pointed out that this year’s senior leadership is strong enough to help shoulder the burden.
“I think with our senior leadership – a lot of guys have spent a good amount of time here – we’re not going to miss a beat,” Udall said.
Hunter said he has plenty of confidence in Pietrack’s ability to keep the team on an upward trajectory and in contention for a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title, no matter how long Hofman is sidelined.
“Our first concern and our first obligation is to Bob and his health, and it’s convenient that we have an experienced assistant coach in Bob Pietrack, who I have a tremendous amount of confidence in, and Dan Steffensen is coming along very nicely as an assistant,” Hunter said.
The timing of the maladies is unfortunate, as the No. 25 Skyhawks are in the midst of the best start in program history at 9-1, and they sit just one game behind in the loss column in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
To foster the easiest transition possible, Hofman will remove himself entirely from the situation to focus on his health. No dropping in on practice; no watching games from the bleachers. Only getting healthy as soon as possible.
“You can’t be half in and half out. I’m going to be seeing various doctors at various places at various times as soon as possible,” Hofman said. “So it’s not fair to the program to be a little bit here and a little bit not. And it’s been basically mandated, and I totally concur, that I have to get better and get back. But I can’t do both while I’m doing the job.”
A complete break is key for another reason. It’ll help determine whether coaching is exacerbating any of the issues.
If that isn’t the case, don’t expect this move to be permanent. If he’s physically able to resume his duties, Hofman, owner of a 424-273 overall record as a college coach, has no plans to retire anytime soon.
After all, he’s been involved with basketball for nearly 50 years. That kind of basketball jones isn’t easy to kick overnight.
“To be determined. Hopefully sooner rather than later,” Hofman said.