He remembers the losses more than the wins.
Even now, in his 45th season, Madison-Ridgeland Academy head boys basketball coach Richard Duease can’t immediately shake defeat. If his Patriots lose on the road, he will sit on the bus while his team and assistant coaches eat at a fast-food joint. He might ask someone to bring him back a sweet tea while he replays the game in his mind, wondering what he could’ve done differently to reverse the outcome.
Such is the mindset of the man who, in all probability, is about to become the winningest high school basketball coach in Mississippi history.
His 1,693 wins trail the retired Norris Ashley by four. The earliest Duease could break the record would be in the MAIS 5A state tournament at Parklane Academy in McComb, beginning Feb. 18.
While the record has to be on his mind, “he never brings it up, never talks about it unless someone asks him about it,” says assistant coach Mark Alexander.
“The record isn’t about me,” explains Duease, 67, sitting in his spacious office located upstairs in the MRA gymnasium and overlooking the football field. “It’s about my guys who have played for me, coaches who have worked with me.”
His numbers are astounding:
*38 state championships as a boys and girls coach. (He coached both from 1982-2002.)
*14 Overall titles (12 boys, 2 girls).
*His teams have been on a dominant run, winning 10 of the past 15 Overall tournaments.
*According to MaxPreps, Duease is the third-winningest active coach in the nation.
*He has won games all over the country — from California to Washington, D.C.
*In November 2017, Duease became the winningest boys coach in Mississippi history, surpassing Ashley’s 1,023 mark.
He has given little, if any, thought to retirement.
“He points out that nowhere in the Bible does it mention retirement,” Alexander says.
“I still love to coach,” Duease says, then breaks into a wide grin. “I want to be on the sideline in a big game that we win and then die right there on the bench. No pain. I just drop.”
Of course, there are specific reasons Duease has won so many games, and we’ll touch on some of those. But one stands out, he says, and it happened nowhere near a basketball court.
Two decades ago, Duease took a hard look at his faith.
“I thought I was a Christian, but I wasn’t living a Christian life,” he says quietly. “But thank goodness I have some really good friends and my wife (Kim) knows me better than I know myself.”
They encouraged him to attend the Central Mississippi Walk to Emmaus, a 72-hour spiritual renewal program in Gallman.
“I asked them, ‘Do I have to get up and talk because if I do, I’m not going?’ ” he says. “They told me I didn’t have to say a word the entire 72 hours. So I agreed to go.
“First morning we were there, we talked about priorities and were asked to list them in order. My faith and my family were not at the top. Work was No. 1. I mean, you could lie about it, but that’s the way my priorities were. That’s when it hit me that I needed to change.
“Back then, every game was do or die. My philosophy now — and I tell my guys this once a week — is that I want you to play as hard as you can, play as smart as you can. And if that’s not good enough at the end of the day, then it’s not. Yeah, I still take losses hard. But if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to win our share.”
Duease admits his new outlook has taken a lot of pressure off him. “I think it’s made it a lot more fun,” he says. “And my priorities are where they should be.”
He played five sports at Indianola Academy in the late 1960s and early ’70s: football, baseball, basketball, track and tennis. He was a stringbean his senior year at 6-foot-2, 152 pounds.
“Mississippi State came and talked to me about playing football,” he recalls. “I could throw it 70 yards, but I ran like a 5-flat 40. So I wound up playing at Delta (Community College) in Moorhead.
“But one of the funny things about my high school days is that I contributed to Coach Ashley’s winning record. He was at his first job, at Coahoma County. I was in the 10th or 11th grade, and (the late Jackson Academy coach) Sherard Shaw hit a shot at the buzzer to beat us.”
As a quarterback at Delta CC, a knee injury ended his freshman season, and while leading the state in passing his sophomore year he suffered a broken arm. “That’s when I decided to just be a student at State,” he says.
His first coaching job was in 1975 at Manchester Academy in Yazoo City. He worked as offensive coordinator in football, and served as head coach in girls junior high and high school track and boys and girls junior high and varsity basketball.
He won 48 games in three seasons before moving to Clarksdale Lee, where his varsity girls team won a state championship.
By that time, Duease had realized coaching high school basketball was his passion.
“I almost wasn’t a coach,” he says. “I was six hours from graduating with a degree in business. Both my parents owned stores and I was going to go to work with them. But I was walked out of a statistics class one day and went to my advisor. I said, ‘I want to become a coach.’ I just knew that was what I was supposed to do.”
He arrived at MRA in 1982.
“They called and said they would like me to coach the boys and the girls, and they offered me $17,000 a year,” Duease says. “I was only making $11,500 at Clarksdale, so when I heard MRA’s offer I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”
Alexander has been around some great coaches.
He was team manager at MSU under Richard Williams. As a sports writer at the Clarion Ledger, he covered guys like Dave Whitney at Alcorn State and Lafayette Stribling at Mississippi Valley.
When Alexander came to MRA six years ago from Starkville Academy, he was anxious to learn Duease’s secret to winning.
“The biggest thing is how hard he pushes his players,” says Alexander, whose junior high boys team is 20-0 this season and 81-13 over the past four seasons. “He’s going to break them down to build them back up — but not in a bad way. What he does really brings the team together.
“And in the postseason, he has a way of pushing the right buttons. It may not be Xs and Os. It might be something he says at practice or during pregame that might be just what the team needs to hear at that time.”
His practices are demanding. “Tougher than games,” Alexander says.
Michael Kirschten, 33, played for Duease from 2003-2005. MRA won an Overall title his senior year.
“Practices were so competitive,” says Kirschten, a project manager for an oil company in Wheeling, West Virginia. “During the summer, we would go and play some of the best teams around. He wasn’t scared and neither were we. And we beat a lot of those teams. It made us so much better and really brought us closer together as a team.
“He’s definitely the hardest coach I ever played for. He was demanding. If you messed up in class or on the weekends, you were going to pay for it. You’d more than likely be in the gym at 5 a.m., running while carrying a chair over your head.
“But that was character building, and I think that’s important. He never held a grudge. He dealt with it and we all moved on.”
Kirschten experienced first-hand Duease’s ability to push the right button.
“In the Overall championship game my senior year against (Jackson Academy), I shot an air ball early in the game,” he says. “Their fans were really letting me have it. Coach Duease called me over and said, ‘Shoot it again. You’re going to have to do this.’ ”
Kirschten hit a jump shot in the final seconds to send the game into overtime. MRA prevailed.
“I’m so proud of him,” Kirschten says. “He deserves this record. It’s incredible that he’s still going at it so hard and still producing. But it doesn’t surprise me.”
Age takes a toll on everyone, and Duease is no exception. He has battled glaucoma for 35 years.
“At one point last summer, I looked at Kim — and I couldn’t see her. I told her, ‘I think this is it.’ But Kim and our daughter (Anne Taylor) got online and found three specialists that deal in hard contacts, which is what I needed. Mayo Clinic couldn’t help me, but we went to a guy in Jasper, Alabama who made a huge difference in my life.”
He doesn’t see well enough to drive anymore.
“I sorta enjoy my wife driving me around,” he says.
And how does she like it?
“She doesn’t,” he says with a laugh.
But he can still see his players, can still push them to limits they never thought they could reach.
And he’s still winning. This year’s team is 24-6.
“The mindset, the standard of excellence that he’s established around here is amazing,” Alexander says. “Players are expected to win, and they adopt that attitude.
“It’s really something to be around it every day. It’s certainly no accident that he’s won all these games.”