Men’s basketball Head Coach Joe Golding made a name for himself last March after the program’s first-ever Southland Conference Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
But his journey to ACU was one that was almost cut short years before playing Kentucky in 2019’s March Madness.
“I’m really fortunate that the administration here stuck with me and gave me time to not only learn how to be a head coach, but also build a program the right way,” Golding said. “I think now we’re reaping the benefits of that.”
In the 2014-15 season, the Wildcats went 10-21. The defending Southland Conference Coach of the Year admit that he was unsure if he would finish the year as the head coach.
Before becoming a coach, Golding accepted a full-ride scholarship to play for ACU, which was a Div. II program at the time. He played all 108 games through 1994-98.
“I wanted to get away from home and experience college, so ACU made a lot of sense to me,” Golding said.
Despite playing in every game of his career, his senior season, he was stripped of his full-ride scholarship and had to take out loans for the last year of college.
Golding finally paid off all his loans 22 years later this January.
“My senior year, they brought in a lot of guys to take my spot, so I had to learn to compete,” Golding said. “There’s two ways to go right there, you can either make excuses and give up, or you can compete. That was probably the most proud year I had and ended up starting over half the games.”
Golding said those years as a player helped him prepare for coaching later down the road in the future.
“I learned about not putting my chin down and competing and handling adversity,” Golding said. “Tough times pass and tough people last. I also learned a lot about myself by not quitting, and I was able to come through on the other side.”
Junior guard Paul Hiepler said Golding sees his players as individuals before athletes.
“I would best describe him as a flaming ball of constant energy,” Hiepler said. “You’ll never see him down or being a ‘drain sucker’. I truly believe he doesn’t see us as players first, he sees us as young men who are trying to get the most out of life, and I think that’s great.”
Upon graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science, Golding accepted a job as the varsity assistant at South Garland High School.
“I got the opportunity to coach at South Garland, which at that time happened to pay $30,000, but seemed like a million bucks,” Golding said. “My first job there was the freshman boys B-team coach. I learned the work ethic there and to appreciate things about the business.”
After his early years moving around as a high school coach, he received a call back to ACU as an assistant coach.
“I had been married for four months, and I don’t recommend this as a married man, but I quit my job as a head coach at Sachse high school,” Golding said. “My wife probably thought I was crazy, but right after that, a job opportunity opened up here, and I took it.”
Three years after returning to ACU in 2005, the Wildcats posted their first 20-win season in over seven years.
Sophomore forward Joe Pleasant said Golding motivates him and the team to be better than its competition and aim for greatness.
“Coach has really emphasized not being average. He said average teams will win one or two in a row, but great ones make championship plays,” Pleasant said. “So he’s just emphasized being great and getting better every game.”
Despite early success at his former college, he decided to accept an assistant job at Arkansas-Little Rock. He helped the Trojans to the Sun Belt Conference title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
However, he still happened to find his way back to ACU. But this time as a head coach.
“Crazy story about that, it was my first day on the job,” Golding said. “I filled out the paperwork and on the religion part, I put Episcopalian. Back then if you weren’t Church of Christ, they weren’t hiring you, but networking was really what helped me get the job.”
In his first three years as the head coach, Golding went 33-57 as ACU made the transition from Div. II to Div. I.
“I remember our first year in division one, and we made half-a-million dollars in guarantees in games and got absolutely drilled all over the country,” Golding said. “One time, I was thinking ‘are we ever going to succeed here, or am I just going to get fired like most people through the transition.’”
Golding realized in time that to be a successful coach, he had to be himself and not someone else.
“In my position, you try to be the people you work for, and I wasn’t trying to be Joe Golding,” he said. “And I knew for a long time in my gut that to win here, you had to sign high school kids. I always thought that was the way to get things done here.”
His hard-work finally paid off in 2019. The Wildcats finished the season with a program best 27-7 record in route to a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. The program’s first taste of tournament play was led by an experienced veteran group, recruited out of high school.
“We have a culture now and an identity we’re set to,” Golding said. “I think this program will continue to compete for championships. A long time ago, that seemed like a pipe dream.”
Golding credits a lot of success elsewhere toward the coaching staff and associate coach Brette Tanner.
“Coach Tanner has been a guy with me from the get-go. I trust him. He’s been in these league for a long time and he knows what works and what doesn’t.”
Tanner even admits that while he and Golding don’t always agree, they believe in each other’s coaching abilities.
“We will fight and disagree, but we have trust in one another and will always have each other’s back,” Tanner said. “We know and understand each other’s strengths and compliment each other really well. I think we have both really grown as coaches over the past few years.”
Golding has been married to Amanda for 14 years. They have two sons, Cason, 13, Chase, 10. He said he wouldn’t be where he is today without them.
“They’ve been everything because there were some long nights and days where you start to doubt yourself, and they were able to support me. I don’t get to see a lot of my sons’ games, but the one thing I’ve been able to do a lot with them is coach little league baseball in the spring.”
He also credits his wife for sticking through the process at ACU. They both just bought their first home six months ago.
“I think I’ve lived in eight different houses since coming back in Abilene,” Golding said. “So my wife has definitely been a big supporter of this, and she’s basically sacrificed her life to follow me around and to be a coach’s wife. She’s the best coach’s wife you could ever have.”
Tanner and Golding have both emphasized family first and promised to be involved with their kids’ lives and sporting events when they came of age. That promise continues to be fulfilled today.
The Wildcats continue their stretch of conference play this season as they look to defend the Southland Conference Championship from a year ago.
“The first step of this process was get to the NCAA Tournament,” Golding said. “The next goal is to be consistent and build the best program in the Southland for years to come.”