Adversity strengthens new Western hoops coach
WWU Men's Basketball Coach
By Jim Carberry
If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then you won’t find many people stronger than Tony Dominguez (’94, Communication), who has faced hardships that not only killed his dreams but nearly killed him.
Yet now the man who never played college ball or coached even a high school team, is the interim head coach of the Western Washington University men’s basketball team, the Division II national champion.
“It’s pretty amazing to get the chance,” says Dominguez, who started at Western 17 years ago as a volunteer assistant to friend and mentor Brad Jackson.
“We’re lucky that we kept him this long,” says Athletic Director Lynda Goodrich. “We always felt he was going to be a good head coach. He had his opportunities to go somewhere else. Now he has his opportunity here, and I think he’s ready for it.”
Growing up, basketball was Dominguez’s intense passion. Then in high school he was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, an illness that nearly killed him and permanently damaged his heart valves. Doctors told him he had to give up basketball.
“That’s not happening,” Dominguez remembers thinking. “I was so obstinate that they let me on varsity as a junior.”
But two tragic, high-profile deaths of basketball players to heart problems -- All-America college player Hank Gathers in 1990 and Western’s Duke Wallenborn 1992 -- eventually kept Dominguez off the court for good.
He turned his passion to coaching and dreamed of leading a Division I team. After coaching high school and AAU teams, he offered to work at Western for free. “He basically worked full-time for two years,” Jackson says. “That was impressive.”
Soon Dominguez became an assistant whose responsibilities would grow to include scheduling, scouting, budgeting and, especially, recruiting. He became an integral part of Western’s basketball operations.
Finally, after Western’s historic 2012 season and national championship, Dominguez thought his time had arrived. But after another unsuccessful job search, he took his family on vacation “to figure life out,” he says.
While Dominguez was visiting New York City, he learned Jackson had taken an assistant coaching position at the University of Washington. Standing in Times Square, surrounded by his family, Dominguez got the call from Goodrich called offering him the top coaching job.
“Some of the adversity that he’s gone through has strengthened him in a lot of ways,” Goodrich says. “It gives him a little more empathy with the player that’s struggling.”
Empathy, yes. But great expectations, too.
“I don’t expect anything less than the national title,” says Dominguez, who recruited most of the national championship players. “It’s going to be hard, but it’s always a coach’s goal.”