With tears running down his cheeks and 32 of his former players seated at tables in front of him in the Alvamar Country Club bar area Saturday evening, Kansas University men's golf coach Ross Randall told the room assistant athletic director Sean Lester had an announcement to make.
Randall, effective immediately, would be stepping back from the duties he had performed for 28 years and taking a newly created position as director of golf operations at the school, making room for Kit Grove, his hand-picked successor, to become head coach.
Grove, 32, played for Randall at Kansas and spent several years playing on the mini-tour. He moved from Phoenix to serve as Randall's assistant this past season. Randall will in essence serve as Grove's assistant, might help with the women's team and will be involved in fundraising efforts for a proposed indoor practice facility that is in the works. He said he will stay in that role until he thinks Grove is ready to stand on his own.
"I don't know how long that will be," Randall said. "It might be a year or two, possibly three."
When the announcement was made, Randall, 62, instantly received a standing ovation. Later, Randall said KU athletic director Lew Perkins asked him "about a year ago" how much longer he wanted to coach the Jayhawks. Randall said he told him he still enjoyed coaching, but would prefer to cut back on travel.
"Lew's been really supportive," Randall said.
The announcement came after the players finished an 18-hole tournament as part of their reunion weekend organized by Randall's wife, Linda, a local real estate agent.
The rumor that the shakeup would be announced began spreading to the players as they made their way around Alvamar Public, said former KU player Heath Mayor, a college teammate of Grove's.
"I just remember him more as a friend," Mayor said of Randall. "He was one of those coaches you could always go to when you were looking for help and you were young, trying to figure things out. I was surprised. He looks happy. That's important, but I was surprised. He did a great job. Kit's got some big shoes to fill. Ross knew a lot about the game. He knew a lot about talent. I hope Kit can do the job. I think he'll be a good coach. He's a character, lot of personality. I think he'll relate well to the kids."
During his playing days, Grove was noted for a fashion sense that could be placed into three categories: loud, louder, loudest. The moment Randall passed the torch to Grove, the new coach was wearing bright-colored shorts that sported wall-to-wall Jayhawks.
"When you're not allowed to talk to recruits, you can still show up to see them play," Grove said. "I show up in these shorts and a Jayhawk shirt, they're going to remember who the KU guy is."
Grove said his mother, Linda, makes his clothes.
"My mother had a quilting business for years," Grove said. "I've always dressed pretty loud. Couple, three years ago I could always get loud shirts, but I could never get funky pants. She whipped up a couple of pairs of shorts. Every time I'd go home, we'd go to the fabric store. The ladies' fabric store started holding stuff back for 'the golfer guy.' Sesame Street stuff, flowered stuff, polka dots, stripes, blue-based camouflage bell bottoms, leopard pants. That was part of my deal. We've been trying to run down KU fabrics."
Despite their divergent fashion sense and personality types, Randall said he and Grove are more alike than one might suspect at first glance.
"Kit's been a close friend of mine for a long time," Randall said. "Everybody likes him at KU. He's a good player and a good teacher. He's got a good eye, can see what people need to do with swings. Also, he has a golf philosophy similar to mine. We base it on fundamentals and hard work and not mystical, magical teaching aids. Not weird stuff. It's all just based on what works under pressure."
Randall called Grove "bright and ambitious." Lester noted how well Grove still plays. Grove did not have a bogey on his card Saturday until he played his final hole.
John Sinovic, the first All-American under Randall, came in from Carmel, Calif., for the weekend.
"I've known Ross now more than 20 years," Sinovic said. "The golf aside, he's been a great friend of mine, and he is an absolutely wonderful man. When I played here (1987-89), we would go to all these tournaments, and everybody would say, 'Ross, great to see you.' We'd go to a restaurant, the course, anywhere, Ross knew somebody, and they were all genuinely happy to see them. You could see this man endeared good will to everyone he met. To me personally, he's one of the most valuable people in my life."
Sinovic said he first heard of Randall taking the first step in the direction of retirement while on the course.
"That's OK," Sinovic said of the move. "He's entitled to a soft landing. He's served this university with great distinction, and he's represented it very, very well."