Tovani’s illustrious coaching career spanned seven decades

  • LARKSPUR CA – FEBRUARY 12: Archie Williams head coach Bret Tovani talks to his team during a break late in the fourth quarter in their MCAL boys basketball final against Redwood at Redwood High in Larkspur, Calif. on Saturday February 12, 2022. Redwood won the game 42-32. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

  • KENTFIELD CA – FEBRUARY 5: Archie Williams boys basketball coach Bret Tovani talks to his team during a late game time out in their regular season finale against Marin Catholic in Kentfield, NL Calif., Saturday, February 5, 2022. Marin Catholic won the game 58-53. Tovani has been training hoops in Marin for nearly five decades. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

  • KENTFIELD CA – FEBRUARY 5: Archie Williams boys basketball coach Bret Tovani watches as his wingman Jack Wuthnow (11) shoots a header to the basket during their regular season finale against Marin Catholic at Kentfield , Calif. on Saturday, February 5, 2022. Marin Catholic won the game 58-53. Tovani has been training hoops in Marin for nearly five decades. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

  • KENTFIELD CA – FEBRUARY 5: Archie Williams boys basketball coach Bret Tovani looks at the scoreboard late in the game during their final regular season game against Marin Catholic in Kentfield, Calif. on Saturday 5th February 2022. Marin Catholic won the match 58-53. Tovani has been training hoops in Marin for nearly five decades. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

In 1968, with a kid on the way, Bret Tovani decided to supplement his income as a teacher by coaching the San Rafael High boys’ basketball C team, bringing home an extra $400 for the season.

There wasn’t much more to the decision than that of Tovani, who graduated from San Rafael a decade earlier.

Now that kid is nearly 54 and Tovani has just ended an illustrious and legendary coaching career that spanned seven decades in Marin County as the 77-year-old announced his retirement after last season of hoops.

“At some point you realize it’s just about time,” Tovani said. “In some cases, it’s a lack of energy, or you realize that your skills or your attitude change a bit. But I think in my case, by doing this for as long as I’ve been doing it, it’s time for me to do something else. What is it, I don’t know. But basketball will always be part of my life.

What some outside of the prep hoops world may not realize, Tovani said, is that the sport is so much more than a three-month endeavor. Ten months a year is much more accurate, taking into account open gyms, summer training, and scheduling.

“I’m going to miss it all,” Tovani said. “I’m going to miss training, I’m going to miss getting ready for a game, I’m going to miss seeing the kids improve, improve and excel. I will miss it all.

“I have been very lucky.”

But it was more than luck that propelled Tovani into Marin’s coaching tradition.

A long resume

After returning to academic work at San Rafael in 1973, Tovani resigned in 2001, when he retired from teaching after 33 years. He led his alma mater to six MCAL championships and five North Coast Section titles, compiling a record of 255-152 (62.7%), good for the most managerial wins in history. of MCAL at the time, according to

The San Francisco State University alum served as an assistant coach at Dominican University for two years before using a two-year hiatus to write the book Defending the Middle Half: An Approach to Basketball. defensive ball”, which was published in 2014.

He then took charge of the Dominican men’s program as head coach, guiding the Penguins to a conference championship while earning Coach of the Year honors. The Penguins won another conference title a few seasons later, and Tovani won another Coach of the Year award.

“It was a really fun time in my life,” Tovani said. “I really enjoyed being there on campus, working with college-aged kids.”

Following his tenure at Dominican, which ended with Tovani being released for the first time in his career, Tovani spent five years coaching Branson, winning three league titles and a runner-up finish in an NCS final that ended in ended with a call from an official which Tovani, to this day, is stunned by.

Branson eventually let Tovani go despite his outstanding record with the Bulls, a sour end to an otherwise enjoyable Ross moment.

It wouldn’t be the end of his coaching career, however. Tovani has returned to the Archie Williams program, where he spent the past five seasons before retiring this winter.

On the sidelines

“It was a privilege to coach with him,” said Andre Demian, Archie Williams’ golf coach who also served as an assistant on Tovani’s staff. “He’s a master teacher, a brilliant basketball mind and he’s a super compassionate and rightly demanding coach. The way he leads is to get people to think, see and believe in them. He always sets the right vision.

“I learned so much about basketball from him. Bret has the remarkable ability to understand, both from a tactical and strategic point of view, all the variations that are part of managing a team in game or in season. I will miss training with him a lot.

Demian, whose son Aidan was their team’s ball boy before eventually playing Branson, said he wasn’t sure what his own basketball future held for him.

“He’s a great guy and it was so important for me to have him,” Tovani said of Demian. “He provided a different perspective and that was so valuable to me.

“I’ve been lucky to have good people with me throughout my career. It’s still very important because it takes more than one voice to make good things happen on a basketball court.

Tovani said that if Demian or his other assistant, Lee Chrétien, took over the program at Archie Williams or elsewhere and wanted his help, he would have a hard time turning down a less involved assistant role.

Respect for the community

In his final game at Marin Catholic, Tovani was honored by Wildcats coach Mike Saia and the school with a small tribute.

“He didn’t want any kind of fanfare,” Saia said. “After 50 years he deserves a lot more, but that’s not his style.”

Saia is grateful for her unique relationship with Tovani. Saia, a star of Archie Williams in the 70s, played against the Bulldogs coached by Tovani. He later refereed matches that Tovani coached in and eventually the two became coaching counterparts and friends.

As an official, “When he had something to say, you better write it down because he was always very fair and had the respect of the entire basketball community,” Saia said. “But he wasn’t a guy who was going to work you. He would say what needed to be said. You know, if it was coming from him, he was probably right.

“One thing I realized, as a player, official and coach, if you’re going up against one of Bret’s teams, you better bring your ‘A’ game because that team will be well prepared and ready to go. .”

Teaching in the field

Tovani viewed his coaching as teaching from the classroom to the hardwood. Instead of social studies, the lessons became Xs and O’s, but he took the same approach.

“You have a captive audience and you have the ability to speak to these kids,” he said. “I never thought in 1968 that it could be a career; I just wanted a few extra bucks.

“What we always try to do as coaches is recognize that we do a lot more than just teach dribbling, shooting and everything that goes into the skills of the game. You teach kids how to do in the face of adversity, how to be better teammates, how to develop chemistry as they become dads and husbands and all those things. I’m going to miss seeing that happen. I’m going to miss the game. I think it reveals character as much as it creates. I don’t know what my next passionate adventure will be, but I need something that inspires me.

From now on, Tovani will have more time to spend with his wife, children and grandchildren – whom he is delighted to see in person playing sports in high school – his dogs, fishing and the gym.

He will miss the daily grind of training, but he looks forward to his next chapter.

“A constant throughout my career has been that I’ve always had great kids. Social media and other things have changed so much, and there’s more pressure on kids today than ever before, but the kids are still the same as they were back then, they’re what makes the job so great.

“Talking about this brings back so many good memories, and I will miss it very much. I have been very lucky in my coaching career.

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