|Former SSU basketball coach Walker dies at 77
Former Sonoma State men's basketball head coach Dick Walker, who earned 190 victories over 18 seasons at the helm of the SSU men's basketball program between 1978 and 1994, passed away on Dec. 19. He was 77 years old.
"Dick Walker was a pioneer for Sonoma State University basketball," said Bill Fusco, senior director of Intercollegiate Athletics at Sonoma State University. "He brought the program back to life in the late 70s and established the foundation for SSU men’s basketball as we know it today. The university and the SSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics extends its condolences to the Walker family on their loss of a wonderful person.”
Walker revived the men's basketball program at Sonoma State that had been cut four years earlier, leading the way for continued success on the hardwood of what is now called The Wolves' Den. When Walker retired after the 1993-94 season with a 190-243 record at SSU (and a 208-257 mark overall that included one season as the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown), he had steered SSU to five appearances in the Northern California Athletic Conference (NCAC) Tournament and two showings in the NCAA West Regional.
Walker's lone conference title came in 1988-89 when he guided his squad to a 11-3 record in the NCAC. He also owns the only win over a Div. I program in SSU men's basketball history, a 62-60 upset of Fresno State on Dec. 8, 1989 in Fresno.
In 2005, 11 years after retiring from the university, Walker was inducted into the Sonoma State University Athletics Hall of Fame, one of 70 individuals to earn the SSU athletics' Hall of Fame distinction thus far.
Prior to coaching at the college level, Walker saw unprecedented success as the head coach at Northeast Maryland High School, compiling a 126-28 record over six seasons.
He also spent two seasons at Chestertown High School, where he began his coaching career in 1961, before taking over the reigns at Northeast Maryland.
"He was always there for his players, on and off the court," said former SSU student-athlete and assistant coach Jim Feeney in the press release on Dec. 13, 1993 that announced Walker's retirement. "His door was always open to his players and he always instilled confidence in the kids."
Tom Wood, who recently stepped down from the head coaching position at Humboldt State after 29 seasons, said in 1994 when Walker retired that "Dick is one of my good friends, and I'm certainly going to miss having him around. Our teams (Humboldt State and Sonoma State) had tremendous games, and he was always terrific at getting the most out of his players."
Walker retired in 1994 to spend more time with his family, who were living on the East Coast. At the time, he said, "I've got two grandchildren that I've seen twice in my life, and I've got daughters that I haven't seen in four years. My health is a concern, and it just seems like it's the right time to do this."
Upon Walker’s retirement, Dr. Ruben Armiñana, president of the university, issued a statement that read: “We appreciate Coach Walker’s contributions to the Sonoma State University men’s basketball program throughout his 16 years here as the head coach. We wish him and his wife, Virginia, the very best in the coming years. We are especially indebted to Coach Walker for the support he has given to his players in areas of life beyond the court and, in particular, his efforts to ensure their academic success and their progress towards graduation.”
Although Walker stepped away from the job after 16 seasons, he remained in close contact with Sonoma State and his predecessor, current SSU head men's basketball coach Pat Fuscaldo.
"Dick supported me from the X's and O's all the way down to what I should do to work towards retirement," Fuscaldo said. “He was supportive in every aspect of what we (as a program) have done in each of the past 18 years here at Sonoma State. He was a confidant; I could always call him and ask him for his advice."
His wife, Ginny, and two daughters, Julie and Heidi, survive Walker. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.
Tyler Lobe is the sports information director at Sonoma State University.