I first learned of Coach Herrin when I was about 4-5 years old. My family had chair seats in Thomas Gym in the front row behind the opponents bench. I was blessed to sit behind Coach when the Rangers came to town.
I am forever indebted to Coach for giving me a chance to fulfill my childhood dream of being a Division I basketball player. Being a marginal D-I player, he took a chance on me and continued to put me in situations in which I could be successful. He was a coach who continued to build you up with positivity and wanted nothing but the best for his players.
My best memories are of him and his brother Ron arguing about the greatest teams and players throughout the history of Illinois high school basketball. The number of players, coaches and teams they could rattle off was astonishing.
-- Shane Hawkins, Carterville head coach and former SIU player
We were playing at Illinois State and this was probably the end of January or the first of February in 1995 and I don't know if you know this or not, but Bloomington is not a vacation destination. It was cold and I mean it was COLD. Coach stopped me before we were going to load up on the bus and said we are going to get some exercise and I asked him what he meant and he told me we were going to walk back to the hotel. I looked at him and said: "Coach, it's two miles back to the hotel." He looked and me and just said: "You better walk fast then!" We walked back to hotel and just now looking back at it, what 19-year-old kid can say they had the chance to have a walk with Coach Herrin. I got to pick his brain about coaching and about life and he told the best stories.
Those are the times I think we take for granted. You didn't realize it, but he was making time for you and being intentional and he didn't have to.
I've been reading things about his legacy the last 24 hours and for me his legacy needs to be taking young guys under his wing and I think that's what we coaches of today have to do. We have to pass on that kind of legacy to the next generation of basketball players.
-- Ron Winemiller, Benton head basketball coach and former SIU manager (1994-1997)
Coach Herrin was not just a coach. He cared deeply for his players. He won a tremendous amount of games, but the word integrity describes Coach. Timeouts and halftime speeches were also eventful, but you knew he wanted to win. I am very grateful that I played for him.
-- Scott Burzynski, Johnston City head basketball coach and former SIU player (1993-1997)
Coach Rich Herrin -- where to begin! Coach touched so many lives, directly and indirectly, over the course of his life. All of the titles that have been used to reference Coach - legend, icon, winner, fierce competitor, gentleman - are all fitting but still do not capture the essence of the man. I jokingly called him The Godfather because of his never ending reach and impact on southern Illinois basketball. There are very few coaches in the area who weren't influenced by him, either playing for him, competing against him, attending his camps and clinics, or just speaking to him. As the news of his passing began to set in, I realized without a doubt Coach changed my life by taking a chance and offering me a scholarship as a 6-foot-3 150-pound senior in 1986. I had the opportunity to play close to home, allowing my family to attend nearly all of our home games. I had teammates who ended up becoming like brothers. Along with Coach Herrin, I played for great men like Ron Smith, Rodney Watson, Sam Weaver, and Tim Wills, who today I am proud to call my friends and mentors. Most importantly, that scholarship provided me five years of free education (saving my parents a great deal of money) that ended up with me getting my degree. Coach had an unbridled passion for the game and was insistent on playing it the right way. I believe if you ask any of his former players who became coaches, each will say that is probably the biggest thing we took from him. I enjoyed our talks, his history lessons on basketball, and his support of me throughout my coaching career. Coach saw my teams win some games and saw us get the brakes beat off of us, but was never critical. I remember after one of our games while I was at Meridian, Coach said as only he could say "Gosh dang it Griff, if you had played as hard as you coached, you would've been pretty good!" I will always fondly recall the next to last conversation I had with Coach. It was after a game in the 2018 BIT and we had played exceptionally well. The Godfather motioned me over and I took a seat next to him - like I had a choice. He complimented me on how hard and well the team played, and joked that my assistant must've been in charge of the offense. Coach asked if any of my seniors were on the 2015 team and jokingly said "I tell you what gang, with some coaching you might've pulled that one out," referring to the state championship game. But what Coach said next will always resonate with me. After rehashing key moments in that game (his memory was like a steel trap), he tells me "Big guy you did something the old man couldn't do. You went up there and won one. I'm proud of you." To hear Coach say that, sitting in the gym named after him, made up for any failures I may have had as a player for him. Looking back, it had the same affect on me as when my late father told me he was proud of me. I don't think it matters how old any of his former players are, making Rich (as he was affectionately known) proud still means something to all of us. The man may be gone but his legend will certainly continue to live on.
Erik Griffin, Former Carrier Mills-Standout and SIU player (1986-1991)
Two years ago I was to receive a coaching award up in Bloomington. The ceremony took forever ... probably five or six hours. I ended up being the very last person called of the whole night. I was literally walking by waiters bussing tables to get my award because everyone had already left. I was a little embarrassed at the time. There were only four people still in the whole Illinois State gymnasium -- my parents and Sue and Rich Herrin. Coach and Sue could have left a long time ago, but they were nice enough to stay. That meant a lot and I'll never forget that moment!
-- Sayler Shurtz, Herrin head coach and Benton High School graduate (2008)
It was myself, my preacher Gene Fox, Coach Herrin and his grandson, Britton -- I was driving and Britton was up front with me. Coach and Gene were in the back. We were coming back from a minor league baseball game in Jackson, Tennessee and at the time, Coach was (working) at Morthland. We reached Martin, Tennessee, when a monsoon rolled in and for about seven or eight miles I literally couldn't see anything in front of me. I'm pretty sure we drove through a tornado, but the entire time, Coach Herrin and Gene had no idea what was going on because they were talking about some game in the 1960s about Robinson playing Mt. Carmel and who had the most points, or arguing about who was the better player.
At the time, Britton had to have been 7 or 8 years old. We were both scared to death, I'm driving with white knuckles and these two guys in the back are talking about what Rich loved most -- basketball.
No one will ever realize the lives that man has touched.
-- Jimmy Dean, Friend