Boise State Basketball

Boise State coach Leon Rice has a passion for basketball, and dogs

What makes Leon Rice tick?

Boise State men's coach Leon Rice discusses his path to Boise State, his family and the beauty of basketball's ability to bring both together.
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Boise State men's coach Leon Rice discusses his path to Boise State, his family and the beauty of basketball's ability to bring both together.

Leon Rice would prefer that people be more like dogs.

The 52-year-old Boise State basketball coach has always had a soft spot for canines.

His two most recent dogs, Roscoe Commander Fluffy Paws and Frodo Doggins, were rescues from Spokane and Boise, respectively. Roscoe passed away in the spring, leaving Frodo as the clear man of the house.

 
6:05 a.m. — Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice walks into practice with player Robin Jorch on Oct. 11. Rice tries to time things in increments of five. If he is supposed to wake up at 5 a.m., he shoots for 4:55. Why? “That was my number. I always liked that number. Just lucky No. 5. I even put five pieces of gum in my pocket.”

There’s something about a four-legged companion that puts a smile on Rice’s face, even after a hard day of work.

“There’s a loyalty and an unconditional love. There’s just something special about the way they are every day,” said Rice, who noted that he would run a doggie day care or work for the Humane Society if he ever stepped away from coaching.

“You can go away for 20 minutes and they’ll act like they haven’t seen you for two years. I think there’s a lot to be learned from a dog.”

 
6:27 a.m. — Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice paces around a practice Oct. 11. Assistants such as Mike Burns do much of the coaching and fundamental work in each practice. Rice serves as more of a CEO, taking notes in his journal and stepping in when a point needs to be made. Rice hardly stands still for more than a few minutes at a time, or his surgically repaired back begins to ache.

Rice has other interests beyond basketball, dogs and family. If you ask him to pick a favorite movie or TV show, you’re in for a discussion of at least 10 minutes.

It starts with sports, of course. Rice loves watching ESPN College GameDay each Saturday morning during football season.

He naturally gravitates toward basketball on TV, rooting for players he coached at Gonzaga, where he was an assistant for 11 years prior to taking over at Boise State in March 2010.

 
12:22 p.m. — Leon Rice does some sort of workout every day in the gym just steps away from his office. Because of a back surgery years ago, Rice is constantly in motion to prevent it from stiffening up, even at practice. “Working out saved my life,” he said.

Rice loves comedies, and opts for “Modern Family” when it’s television time, and for comedy classics such as “Caddyshack,” “Stripes” and “Animal House” when it comes to movies. He also enjoys edgy movies such as “Pulp Fiction”; they make him think outside the box. Rice likes to have no idea where the plot is taking him.

 
12:34 p.m. — Basketball coach Leon Rice talks with Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey during a workout with players. Rice has worked for three athletic directors as he enters his seventh season with the Broncos: Gene Bleymaier, who hired him before departing for San Jose State, and Mark Coyle, now at Minnesota.

As far as superheroes are concerned, he hesitates before opting for Batman over Superman.

“That is a hard journalist question,” Rice says. “I appreciate Batman more because he’s just a guy.”

 
1:06 p.m. — Leon Rice watches an NCAA-mandated rules video in his office. Each year, the NCAA sends its coaches a film with changes to officiating for the upcoming season. This year, play in the post and screening is being emphasized. “I’m going to be yelling at officials a lot,” Rice said. “We need to learn how we can get these calls for us.”

Then there’s the wild card and a confession: Every Sunday for as long as he can remember, Rice and his wife, Robin, watch Oprah’s “SuperSoul Sunday.” He couldn’t tell you what channel it’s on, but he knows where to find it on his DVR. He loves the interview portion of the show.

“You don’t know SuperSoul Sunday?” Rice asks. “That’s awesome. It’s a great show.”

 
3:29 p.m. — Leon Rice throws a stick to his dog, Frodo Doggins, on the Boise River near his home. Frodo was a rescue from an animal shelter in Boise and came up through the Inmate Dog Alliance Project of Idaho, which pairs inmates from correctional facilities with dogs for socialization and training. Frodo, who came with his Lord of the Rings name, knew roughly 30 commands when the Rice family adopted him.

Yes, he’s a little unconventional, highly friendly and maybe a bit atypical for a coach in the intense world of big-time college basketball. His first foray into coaching after graduating from Washington State was at middle and high schools in Washington; it coincided with student teaching, night school and managing a local bar until 2 a.m.

That evolved into coaching stops at the University of Oregon, Northern Colorado, Yakima Valley Community College, Gonzaga and Boise State.

 
4 p.m. — Leon Rice is 122-75 in six years as the Broncos’ basketball coach. His 61.9 winning percentage is the best in school history. Rice has led the Broncos to a pair of NCAA Tournaments; the program has been to seven total. He led Boise State to its first ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll in 2015 (No. 25).

Leaving Yakima for Gonzaga was difficult, he said.

Same for the Gonzaga-to-Boise State move.

At his core, Rice conducts himself as a man of loyalty.

“I really thought long and hard about leaving, because that’s kind of who I’ve been. It’s the same thing when I left Gonzaga. It took me a long time to leave,” Rice said. “I think that’s kind of always been my thing, bloom where you’re planted.”

Michael Katz: 208-377-6444

Special video

Leon Rice spent 12 hours with the Idaho Statesman on Oct. 11. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., reporter Michael Katz and photographer Kyle Green followed Rice from practice to meetings to the weight room and to his home, all to profile a day in the life of Boise State’s basketball coach. IdahoStatesman.com

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