My first regular writing gig at the Herald-Leader way back in the early 1990s was covering Kentucky's small colleges.
There were probably about 79 people reading the stories I produced, but I had a blast.
I've been thinking about those days this past week, ever since I read in the paper last weekend that Roland Wierwille, the former, long-time Berea College basketball coach, had died at age 70 on July 18.
It was my good fortune in covering small-college sports in Kentucky when I did to get in on the tail end of a little-appreciated golden era in our state's sports history.
Never miss a local story.
In the 1980s and into the '90s, there were a series of men's basketball coaches in the commonwealth who were so successful and had such long tenures that they were, in many ways, the faces of their schools.
Think Jim Reid at Georgetown; Randy Vernon at what used to be Cumberland College; Don Lane at Transylvania; Lou Cunningham at Campbellsville.
And there was Roland Wierwille at Berea.
In 1995, I spent a good bit of time in Berea for a story on Wierwille's attempt to return to coaching after he suffered a debilitating stroke.
On a November night in 1994, Wierwille had come home from basketball practice with the feeling that something inside him was badly "off."
He'd thrown himself into his bed, then when he tried to call for help, he could only make a series of strange, incoherent noises.
Ultimately, the blood clot that reached his brain cost him movement in his right extremities as well as the full loss of his speech.
Doctors told his family there was no certainty that he would ever regain what he'd lost, much less be able to resume work in the pressurized cauldron of coaching basketball games.
But he did just that, thanks to intense physical and speech therapy that included literally having to relearn how to speak and write.
Not only did Wierwille make it back to the coaching bench after his stroke, he went on to his career pinnacle.
In 1999, he took Berea to the NAIA Division II Tournament (the fourth of five such trips in the course of his career) and made the Final Four for the only time.
Wierwille could be a bit of a character. Before his stroke, he was known for a fiery sideline demeanor that sometimes overshadowed his coaching skill.
Decades before Bob Knight became famous as a furniture pitch man, Wierwille, as a young high school coach in the 1960s, had launched a mid-game chair toss.
After the stroke, Wierwille tried to stay calmer.
But "I still lose it every once in awhile, I have to," Wierwille said in 1995. "If I didn't, the kids would think there was something wrong with me."
By the time Wierwille retired as Berea basketball coach in 2002, he had 464 career wins and a place in the NAIA National Sports Hall of Fame.
He's joined there by Reid, Vernon and Lane, the joke having long been that the NAIA Hall has a "Kentucky wing" among its men's basketball coaching honorees.
Georgetown's Reid (1996) and Campbellsville's Cunningham (1997) had their careers cut short by untimely deaths.
Vernon and Lane have long since retired from coaching.
Nobody gets rich coaching small-college basketball. Other than in the (usually small) town where you're working, there isn't any big celebrity status.
But as a young sportswriter back in the early 1990s, I learned where these guys were concerned that the operative word in the phrase "small-college coach" was the last one.
These guys could flat coach, had every bit the X's and O's acumen of the best to work the sidelines at any level of college basketball.
So while there are plenty of good coaches working in small-college hoops in Kentucky now, it will be hard for them to become the fixtures that the prior coaching generation was on our state's sports landscape.
Which is why, on the week when Roland Wierwille passed, the lyrics from an old George Jones country song kept coming to mind.
I wonder, who's gonna fill their shoes?