Kurt Budke stood there a month ago at Big 12 Media Day, talking Kansas City Royals baseball.
Who talks Royals baseball in October?
Except the Cardinals and Rangers were playing Game 1 of the World Series that night, taking Budke back fondly to 1985, when he was there in Royals Stadium, reveling in his favorite ball team beating St. Louis for the world championship.
Budke talked about jumping the wall to race onto the field following the final out, only to be corralled by security guards and literally thrown back into the stands. Not easily discouraged, he found another leaping point, made it successfully down for the celebration and started stuffing dirt from the playing field into his pants pockets.
Budke was 24 then. He died at 50 Thursday, lost in a plane crash while on a recruiting trip in Arkansas, still every bit as passionate about the Royals and everything else in his life.
That's the way Budke lived, ever smiling and always filled with purpose, whether it was family or coaching or recruiting or mentoring.
“Our coaches guide their students in developing the skills they need in life,” said Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis. “I know of no one that did that better than Kurt.”
Budke hoisted up women's basketball at OSU, transforming a team that couldn't win any of 16 Big 12 games in his debut season into an NCAA Tournament team by Year 2. He recruited a program-changer in Andrea Riley, guided the Cowgirls to the Sweet 16 and even a top-10 place in the polls for the first time in history.
“He was a great basketball coach,” said Jim Littell, Budke's assistant now charged with guiding what will be a challenging and emotional season ahead as interim coach. “But he was a better husband and a better dad and a better friend.”
Friday, similar words flowed from across the country in an outpouring of support. Over the airwaves, in statements issued from rival universities and across social media, Budke was remembered for his coaching, yes, but also the way he lived.
“Kurt was not only a great basketball coach, but an even better husband and dad,” said Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry. “I have learned a lot through the years from Kurt on keeping the game in perspective.
“Any time we saw each other, sent a text or called, the first thing he would ask me is how (husband) Kelly and the girls were doing. He loved his family and treated his players and staff as a family.”
Oral Roberts women's basketball coach Jerry Finkbeiner said he has five references on his resume, and only one of them is an NCAA Division I coach.
“I could have a whole assortment on that references list, but I chose to have Kurt Budke exclusively on my resume,” Finkbeiner said. “It just shows what I thought of him as a man and a coach.”
Perhaps the best way to describe Budke is the simplest way: good guy.
And consider that the utmost of compliments. Those who encountered Budke, whether rarely or routinely, say he was consistently warm and engaging and inviting. And, they say he never grew into the big-time coach with the equally big-sized ego.
A small-town Kansas man with small-school coaching roots, his buddies in the business back home once ribbed him for coaching “girls,” then celebrated him when he rose through the ranks to enjoy major success.
At Trinity Valley Community College, he led the Lady Cardinals to four national championships and two national runner-up finishes in seven seasons. His six straight national title game appearances are an NJCAA record.
At the junior college level, Budke's .898 winning percentage (273-31) is the highest in NJCAA history. He's the youngest coach ever inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
At OSU, he took over a program that had sunk to the bottom of the Big 12 and quickly made it relevant.
Hired off the coaching staff at Louisiana Tech, Budke hailed his return home to the Midwest. And while he wasn't an original member of the OSU family, they adopted him and he adopted them.
For the biggest of games, Budke proudly wore a bright orange blazer provided by an OSU fan, breaking it out for the first time for the Cowgirls' memorable win over Oklahoma in 2008.
“Seven years ago when we walked through these doors and coach walked into the press conference,” to announce his hiring, Littell said, “his zeal for Oklahoma State was incomparable. He loves this place and loved coming in here every day.
“Everybody here loved the man. He was far more than just a basketball coach. Talk about being a loving husband and tremendous dad; we would sit around and brag about our kids and how much we love them and watching them grow up in a great community.
“This was his dream situation. Every day we would bring a recruit in, he would walk them on the court and say, ‘Look at this place. Look at this place. I love this place.' And he meant it from the heart.”