Ben Finkbeiner was the coach’s kid.
When Ben was in third grade, his father, Jerry, coached at Southern Nazarene University. As Jerry oversaw the Redskin’s practices, Ben would hang on his father’s pants pocket as the two marched around the court. He observed the schemes and the systems. The rotations and plays. The defensive and offensive gameplans.
When asked, and even when not, Ben would offer his own coaching advice from time to time.
“One of my earliest memories was at SNU,” Jerry Finkbeiner said. “He was pretty young, but he sat on the bench with me then. I remember there was a couple times during games when he would say, ‘Dad, that’s the wrong sub to make,’ or ‘You should run this play.’”
To this day, Ben still offers the same kind of advice, but now he does it as Jerry’s assistant coach at Utah State University.
Over the years, the two have grown accustomed to sharing the same sideline.
At Jerry’s third head-coaching stop — Oral Roberts University — the bench discussions that initially began in Ben’s childhood, proved to be crucial.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ben had assumed the director of basketball operations position for the Golden Eagles’ women’s basketball team, the very same team his father now coached.
The two now sat on the same bench for Jerry’s first year at the Golden Eagles’ helm. In that year, the team made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in the school’s history.
After graduating from ORU in 2006, Ben went on to the University of Central Oklahoma to earn his master’s degree and work as a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team there. He then joined the staff at the New Mexico Junior College women’s basketball team where he worked as an assistant coach.
Following his time at NMJC, he spent three seasons at conference opponent to USU, Boise State University. He coached several Broncos to postseason All-Mountain West honors while coaching there. When the job position opened up at Utah State under his father, Ben wasn’t in a position to look for a job, but realized an opportunity greater than a career move for both him and his family.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Ben Finkbeiner said. “I had a great thing going on at Boise State, but it was definitely an opportunity to have my boys here around grandparents and to be able to work with my dad.”
That was 2014, just two years after Jerry was hired as head coach.
“I really appreciate him leaving a really stable situation to come to a program that’s in building stages,” Jerry Finkbeiner said.
John Hartwell, the athletics director of Utah State, sees a rare value in this father-son coaching combination
“While family combinations don’t always work from a coaching perspective,” Hartwell said, “I think their relationship really brings an overall family feel to our women’s basketball program which I think is really helpful.”
The two have found an interesting dynamic in working together, where they are learning from each other’s past coaching opportunities.
For Ben, his father’s temperament has rubbed off on him through the years, which is something he said is priceless.
“Usually your coaching temperament can be set by who you learn from early in your career,” Ben said. “But long before I started my career mine was already set because I have observed him as a coach my whole life.”
Jerry has seen an equally influential difference in his coaching from his son.
“I’m typically a zone guy,” Jerry said. “But I’ve sold out our zone and we’ve committed to man and that’s really a reflection of Ben’s ability to teach it.”
Both of their adjustments seem to be working.
This past season marks the third year the father and son have coached together for Utah State. The team set a new record for most overall and home wins in school history. Jerry said the success they’ve witnessed was in large part due to recruitment — the function overseen by his son.
The Aggies started the season with the youngest roster and starting lineup in the conference. It was comprised of the athletes recruited by Ben Finkbeiner.
“College coaching is all about talent around you, you can only coach-up so much,” Jerry said. “You’ve got to have kids who can make shots and make good decisions. So it’s a testament to the quality of recruiting that Ben has shown leadership in.”
Hartwell said it’s much more than just skill that Ben and the recruitment staff he oversees have brought to the program.
“Ultimately coaches are judged on their wins and losses on the court,” Hartwell said. “But what they’ve been able to do in terms of the high character of young women they’ve recruited into this program is a reflection of the entire staff. I think they’re real assets, not just for Utah State athletics but for Cache Valley as well.”
Between recruitment, individual games, practices and building up a winning program, both Finkbeiners find enough time for family.
When they get together as a family, Jerry said it’s all about the kids. The conversation revolves around the grandkids — as long as the team is winning.
One grandkid in particular — Ben’s oldest son — shows potential to continue to Finkbeiner coaching legacy through a fourth generation.
“He’s kind of like I was as a kid,” Ben said. “He just loves to be at the basketball games and following me around the court.”
Whether or not it will continue into a fourth generation, the time the Finkbeiners have together with the Aggie women’s basketball team is an opportunity of a lifetime, as respected coaches and family, one they’re happy to take while they still have the time.
“I’ve heard that when you’re on your deathbed you don’t wish you made more money, you wish you had spent more time with somebody,” Jerry said. “We both make a living that supports our family, but that’s the value of this living right now — between father and son.”