St. Ben’s coach going for landmark win tonight with women’s basketball team

In his 23rd season at St. Ben's, coach Mike Durbin goes for win No. 500 tonight.
Courtesy of the College of St. Benedict
In his 23rd season at St. Ben’s, coach Mike Durbin goes for win No. 500 tonight.

Usually, the sports information director at the College of St. Benedict is more reliable than this.

Although Mike Durbin, believed to be the winningest active women’s college basketball coach in Minnesota, goes for his 500th career victory tonight at home against Macalaster, the S.I.D. never put the word out. Somebody else at the school gave us a heads-up about it.

So who, exactly, is this deadbeat who didn’t do his job?

That would be … Mike Durbin.

Yep. In the Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, coaches are often asked to do more than one job. Durbin, the women’s hoops coach at St. Ben’s since 1986, doubles as the S.I.D., a job he assumed after six seasons as an assistant softball coach. Promoting a personal milestone seemed unseemly for a self-styled “Midwest kind of guy” who, at 49, should have many more years of coaching ahead of him.

“I hope there’s a bigger number than 500 in my career, which is why I’m uncomfortable with the attention,” said Durbin, who won No. 499 on Monday night at St. Kate’s. “I plan on doing this for awhile yet.” All but four of his victories have come at St. Ben’s, where he is 495-113.

Durbin also knows that Macalaster (5-1), which is off to its best start since 1992-93 and shares the MIAC lead with his Blazers at 3-0, is more than capable of postponing the party. After tonight’s game at Claire Lynch Hall, the Blazers don’t play again until Jan. 3, at St. Mary in Winona.  School spokeswoman Diane Hageman said any postgame celebration would be low-key — cake, balloons, that kind of thing. She said a dinner honoring Durbin will be held Jan. 31.

For someone who originally considered this gig a temporary stop on the way back home to Ohio, Durbin fit in so well at St. Ben’s that he can’t see himself coaching anywhere else. His record has been remarkable. The Blazers have won at least 20 games in each of his last 12 seasons and 20 of 22 altogether. He fell short only his first season — 1986-87 (17) — and again, barely, in 1995-96 (19).

A two-time national Division III Coach of the Year, Durbin led the Blazers to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, two Final Fours, and a national runner-up finish in 1999. He has won more MIAC games (395) than any basketball coach, male or female. And he’s done it with assistant coach Denny Johnson beside him for every season. Johnson doubles as St. Ben’s softball coach; he and Durbin were hired together, and Durbin served as Johnson’s assistant. Durbin credits the Blazers’ success to that continuity.

The modest trappings of a D-3 coach appeal to Durbin. He’s on his 23rd consecutive one-year contract, with no shoe-company deal to augment his salary, like the big-shot Division I coaches. “I always tell people I have a Hush Puppies shoe contract,” Durbin said with a laugh. “It doesn’t pay big bucks.”

So why is Durbin still here?

He met his wife, Teri, at St. Ben’s, where she worked in admissions. Athletic director Carol Howe-Veenstra, who arrived at the school one year before Durbin, admits she was thrilled when the two started dating, hoping it might keep Durbin from moving on. “Not that we were monitoring his social life, but we were thinking, ‘This could be fun,’ ” she said. “They’re a pretty special family.”

The Durbins live with their daughter, Morgan, 12, about an hour’s drive from Teri’s mother in Loretto. Proximity to grandparents is big for Durbin, who hasn’t interviewed for another job in more than a decade.

“It’s always been a comfortable fit,” he said. “I count my blessings. I feel fortunate to be in the place that I am, and I don’t have the impetus to move on. I love the people I work with and the people I work for. I’m in a good place here, and I’m supported here.”

So when the S.I.D. dropped the ball, his colleagues had his back. “I’m sure it was awkward for him,” Howe-Veenstra said. “It’s like, let me just coach.”

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Al Schoch on 12/11/2008 - 07:12 am.

    Jim Smith has been coaching men’s basketball at Saint John’s since 1964 and has 520 MIAC wins. That seems to be more than the Mike Durban’s 395 quoted in your article.

  2. Submitted by J.C. M on 12/11/2008 - 10:56 am.

    Al -Mike is the WOMEN’s Basketball Coach and that’s the category in which his record resides.

  3. Submitted by Pat Borzi on 12/11/2008 - 03:21 pm.

    An update: St. Benedict’s won, 66-61, for Durbin’s 500th.

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