Robert Hale spent 42 years coaching Texas high school basketball, 36 as a head coach.
The 74-year-old’s message through the years was a straightforward one; do what’s right, and then do it all the time.
“That was our motto no matter the school or team,” Hale said.
“Because of that, we learned how to believe. We learned to believe, no matter what set of skills we had, that we could use them and if we believed hard enough, we had a chance to go as far as anyone or go all the way.”
That mentality landed Hale, the owner of an 864-409 career record, in the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame last weekend in San Antonio, something Hale himself said he never dreamed of when he first picked up basketball as a boy.
“I grew up in West Texas in a single-parent home,” Hale said.
“My mom was a terrific person and so very smart. She got me involved in everything, and one of the things was sports. I ended up falling in love with the game of basketball. I loved everything and played everything, football, baseball, etc., but basketball was what I really liked. I never even dreamed about being in the hall of fame or even knew what it was.”
While he did not know it at the time, Hale was destined for greatness on the hardwood, piling up accolades including 1996 TABC State Coach of the Year, TSWA State Coach of the Year, 1997 Texas Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame Coach of the Year, 2004 Star-Telegram Super Team Coach of the year, 1991 and 1996 Amarillo Globe News Super Team Coach of the Year, 1982 FCA Ft. Worth Area Coach of the Year, 2002 Oil Bowl Classic All-Star Came Coach, 1993 TABC All-Star Game Coach, THSCA Basketball Advisory Committee from 1996-1998 and 1992 THSCA All-Star Game Coach.
Hale was even honored with Congressional recognition by Roger Williams in 2015, with an excerpt reading, ‘Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor Coach Robert Hale, a Texas coaching legend in his own right, for his exemplary achievements and positive impact on his students, players, community and the great state of Texas... Coach Hale has been influential both on and off the basketball court. He taught his students and players life lessons that they could carry with them into adulthood. He took the time to truly influence those around him, and his admirable service has left a lasting mark on his community. I speak on behalf of his son, Colby, when I say he is looked up to by his family and those closest to him.”
Hale’s head coaching journey led him all over the state, with stops at Seymour (1971-72), Dalhart (1975-76), Lewisville (1976-79), Burleson (1979-82), Everman (1982-86), Pampa (1986-1999), Weatherford (1999-2001), Azle (2001-04) and Crowley (2004-2010).
At each stop, Hale left a legacy which went far beyond wins and losses.
One such individual Hale left a lasting, positive mark on was Fort Worth ISD Assistant Athletic Director Dr. Troy Bell, who met the hall of fame coach at Everman High School in 1982, when the latter was only a freshman.
Bell not only played for Hale but later coached with him as well, two distinct experiences which each left a lasting mark on the now assistant AD’s life.
“He was always composed,” Bell said.
“He always kept a real cool, calm demeanor. We played like he coaches, and that’s why we were so successful.
“The thing about what he taught us then, all of us that stuck with him, we’re still winning at life. It didn’t stop when the ball stopped bouncing. A lot of those little lessons made a big difference in the ones that stuck with Coach Hale.
“He would say, ‘You’re never as good as you think are, you’re never as bad as you think you are. Most of us are pretty much in the middle, but it’s how you work at it which determines how high you go.’
“He was a godsend for me. I’m in education, now 26 years in the business, because of Coach Hale, and it started with a phone call from him asking, ‘Would you come coach basketball with me?’”
Bell said Hale’s induction into the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame was only a matter of time.
“He was a hall of fame coach when I played for him,” Bell said.
“I love everything about him. He had all the characteristics and the qualities that a hall of famer would have.”
Even long after his official retirement in 2010, Hale’s storied career remained well known in the basketball community.
Asked to come work with Weatherford Express Homeschool’s boys’ basketball team several years ago, Hale’s ability to lead quickly became apparent to Michelle Birdwell, who worked with the home school program.
“I saw him work with our boys and just decided that he was such a great basketball coach that we should bring him into our program,” Birdwell said.
“I had just heard about him.Everywhere you would go, there was always somebody that knew who Coach Hale was. One of our board members had an uncle who lived in Pampa, and he called his uncle and said, ‘What do you think about Coach Hale coming to join our program?’ and his uncle said, ‘If you have the opportunity to have him join your program, I suggest you do it.’”
The long-time high school basketball coach was the first to admit his accomplishments were not solely his own or that they came immediately.
Married to his wife of 37 years, Robin, who recently passed away this spring, Hale stressed that his spouse’s support was instrumental in his own success.
“My first 12 years I didn’t win a district or anything,” Hale said.
“Things changed after that. I got married and I got smarter.
“My wife was so supportive of me, and allowed me to be me and I flourished with her support. It’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got a good partner.
“My career was really our career. She was just my partner in everything I did. She was my partner in my career.
“When they called and said I was gonna be inducted, my wife had a great attitude about it. She was not big on getting awards and she got her share. She was a registered nurse and very successful in her field. I don’t know how many awards she got, I want to say about nine. But she never talked about it or even put the awards out for people to see. She just felt like, you do your job and you do what your’re supposed to do and the reward is knowing you did it well. She taught me that, and when I told her they had called, she was really happy but she said, ‘Oh great, well that’s just what you need, one more plaque to hang on the wall,” Hale said with a chuckle.
While his numbers speak for themselves, the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame inductee said he worked hard to instill much more in his players over the years than simply how to make buckets.
“I think two of the things that I really taught my kids were how to play hard, and to believe,” Hale said.
“I used to talk to my kids about playing hard and I would say, ‘You’re not really doing it.’ And they’d say, ‘Well coach, I’m trying to hustle like you said.’ And I’d reply, ‘I’m not trying to get you to hustle, everybody that plays hustles. What I’m trying to get you to do is play hard. And playing hard is giving everything you’ve got and putting your whole heart into it.’
“For some reason, my kids and it didn’t matter what school I was at, they were able to grasp that concept and do it. Not every kid, and that’s why it was kind of hard to play for us, because if you didn’t play hard, you didn’t get to play much. You’ve got to have great kids to do that, and we were blessed with great young men.
“The other thing I really emphasized was getting my kids to believe. And there’s so many facets to it, especially sports-wise. You’ve got to get those kids to believe in themselves first of all. And believing in yourself, you’re not born with it, you have to learn that. And you have to learn to believe in each other. You have to learn to believe in what we did.
“I used to tell our kids three things. Do what’s right, do everything your coach asks you to do to the best of your ability, [and] some kids are better players than others, and certain kids can do things that other kids can’t do. But we can all do what we do to the best of our ability, and the third thing was simply be unselfish. That was the hardest of all. Being unselfish is one of the toughest things kids have to learn. Because we’re innately selfish. So you have to learn to be unselfish. Those were the things that were really important in my philosophy.”
Although he has not officially coached since retirement in 2010, Hale said he has not yet shot down the idea outright on another opportunity to lead a team, although he is still up in the air about whether that is what he wants to do next.
“I’ve had several people ask me if I’m gonna coach again,” Hale said.
“I’m not gonna close the door but it would have to be the right thing. I don’t want to cloud out my good memories with a bad experience.”
If his time coaching is truly behind him, Hale said he has no qualms with where that journey has ended.
“It’s been a great life for me and a great career,” Hale said.
“I was very blessed and honored that a lot of good things happened to us through the game.”