Basketball brings bliss to Texas-Rio Grande Valley's coaching couple

Before you ask, yes, they have separate offices. Heck, they even take separate cars to work sometimes. Joined at the hoop doesn’t necessarily mean joined at the hip, you know?

“I guess that would be one perk of it,” Marc Rozanski said with a laugh. “If we were ever limited on space.”

[caption id="attachment_3237" align="alignright" width="150"] THURSDAY ON ASN: CSU Bakersfield at UT Rio Grande Valley, 9 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)[/caption]

If the men’s basketball program at Texas-Rio Grande Valley has a family feel, that’s probably because it has an actual, honest-to-goodness family sitting inside the engine room. Marc is in his first season as an assistant for coach Dan Hipsher; wife Cassi works down the hall, as the Vaqueros’ coordinator of basketball operations. On game days, they’re something of a rare sight: A married couple on the same Division I men’s hoops staff, working the same Division I men’s bench.

“Sometimes we have different things to get done at different times,” said Cassi, whose Vaqueros host CSU Bakersfield in a WAC test Thursday on ASN. “Unless we’re in the office, we’re pretty much (to) ourselves the whole time. Obviously, we see each other often, but it’s not like we’d just be sitting there next to each other all day.”

The Rozanskis entered the UTRGV frame this past fall, when Marc got an offer to join Hipsher’s staff after spending the 2014-15 campaign at West Virginia Wesleyan College. As the newlyweds were getting settled, Hipsher pulled Marc to the side one day and asked about another position he needed to fill.

“(He) asked if I thought Cassi would be interested (in the operations job), what my position was on it,” Marc recalled. “Because he thought she would be a good fit, knowing her personality.

“And it kind of took me off-guard. But I thought, ‘She’d kind of do a great job at it.’ That’s what I conveyed to him. And he took a chance on her here. That kind of speaks to the kind of man he is. There are lots of coaches who, even if she was capable of that job, that they might not take that step, make it a reality. I think it really speaks to what he’s all about.”

For Hipsher, it was a no-brainer: After all, Cassi is the one in the household with the most coaching experience, having worked as an assistant with the women’s basketball program at Division III UT-Dallas, her alma mater, as early as 2006, followed by a run at Division III UT-Tyler. It was with the latter, three years ago, where she met her future husband, then an assistant on the men’s side.

“I think it speaks volumes about Coach Hipsher’s character just to go out on a limb and hire a female,” said Cassi, a standout player at UT-Dallas who still holds the single-season record for field-goal percentage as well as five other career marks.

“It does help that I do understand the game of basketball; when I keep fouls on the bench, I know how important it is to stay on top of it … it’s something I do not take for granted. I was out of the game for a year when we were in West Virginia, and just being a part of the team, I learn every day from Coach Hipsher and the assistants. I’m grateful and thankful for the opportunity.”

Marc hails from a coaching family, having played for his father, Robert, a venerated program-builder at Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport, Pa., for more than three decades. Cassi grew up a basketball savant in Groesbeck, Texas, six hours north of the Vaqueros’ facilities.

“Then when we got serious, we kind had the talk of, ‘You know, who’s going to chase (a basketball job)?’” Cassi said. “It’s almost impossible for both of us to chase it if we want to move. We kind of agreed that whoever got the better offer, we would go (with that).”

A few years ago, that offer was in West Virginia, and off they went. Cassi got certified to teach in case a coaching fit wasn’t immediately in the cards; last season, while Marc coached, she substitute taught and planned their summer wedding.

“It was super hard,” Cassi recalled. “Marc was coaching, so I went to a lot of the games and supported (him) as well, but it was definitely hard. Obviously, this is my passion and this is what I want to do, so when I’m in a classroom with elementary kids, I’m thinking about basketball, all of that stuff. But yeah, it was really hard not being around it.”

As coordinator for basketball ops, Mrs. Rozanski sets the Vaqueros’ logistical calendar, planning all the travel, booking hotels and flights, meals on the road, setting up itineraries and practice times, home and away, stuff she’d been doing on the women’s side for years. Marc cracked that when a shiny new computer came into the program recently, Cassi was the one who got first dibs.

“It’s good,” Mr. Rozanski said of the rest of the staff. “They’ve been (good with) everything. I think we all get along really well together. When Cassi came on board, even though we are married, there is definitely a level of professionalism that we’ve been able to have and we’ve been able to (maintain) that.”

No boundaries on public displays of affection?

“There’s no need for that rule,” Cassi chuckled.

“I think if you did hire a husband-wife couple, if (they don’t) understand each other as well as Marc and I do, maybe it could be a problem. We love the game so much and we love being a part of the team and are loving being around each other so much that it’s just worked out so well.”

If anything, the Rozanskis hope their experience serves as an example for their coaching peers, that perhaps some of the doors that have opened for women at the NBA level — most notably, Becky Hammon with the San Antonio Spurs and Nancy Lieberman with the Sacramento Kings — will open in NCAA men’s basketball.

“I think we’ll be seeing more of it,” Cassi said. “If you know basketball, you know basketball. I think there are some different ways you obviously handle male basketball players and female basketball players, and that’s just an adjustment that any coach would make or any assistant.”

“If you know the game and you’re qualified and, at the end of the day, you have the belief and have the self-confidence,” Marc noted, “you can reach guys or girls.”

Cassi gets it. The long hours. The miles. The video grind. The details. The hamster’s wheel, hour after hour of minutiae. The highs. The lows. The work comes home, more often than not, because the work won’t wait.

“It’s been really good and really easy, and that’s 100% because of her,” Marc said. “She understands how coaching is and how I can get, for sure, from the time we’ve been together.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with understanding — you just understand, if he’s got to do a scout (report), I’m not going to look to go out on a date,” Cassi said. “He’s got to get the scout done, or if he’s on the phone with recruits.

“I understand all the work that he’s got to get done. I just think it’s a huge part of understanding that we both (are in the business) … and it’s not easy. I would miss him so much when he’s on the road, as much as the team travels.”

And she would know. Which is sort of the best advice Marc would offer up to any other basketball coaching couples out there: Make sure you’re with someone who knows.

“I’d tell the husband to make sure his wife is as awesome as mine and as understanding as mine,” Rozanski said.

Then he laughed again. “I’m not sure how much of an impact I’m having.”

Above: UT-Rio Grande Valley;s Marc Rozanski, center left, and Cassi Rozanski, far left, are something of a rare sight: A married couple on the same Division I men’s hoops staff, working the same Division I men’s bench. (Courtesy Roman Madrigal/UTRGV)

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