Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Whipple keeping Irmo in championship form

Irmo principal Kaaren Hampton, head coach Tim Whipple, and athletic director Ray Canady celebrating the latest boys’ basketball championship. Photo by Mike Maddock

Irmo principal Kaaren Hampton, head coach Tim Whipple, and athletic director Ray Canady celebrating the latest boys’ basketball championship. Photo by Mike Maddock

Irmo head coach Tim Whipple just concluded his 42nd season on the sideline by winning his sixth state championship when his Yellow Jackets beat Lancaster 58-45 in the final Thursday, March 2.

Along with those six state championships, Whipple has won 843 games and 21 region titles. He has also coached in 11 state championship games since taking over at Irmo in 1981.

“ There are people who work hard, are talented coaches, and do everything the right way and don’t make it to a championship game,” Whipple said. “It’s a tremendous blessing to be able to experience what I’ve been able to experience here at Irmo High School during my tenure.”

Whipple’s desire to coach came at a young age.

“I really got into motivating my teammates and being a coach on the floor,” Whipple said. “I grew up playing basketball and baseball. I tried to play football but wasn’t big enough. Baseball was my best sport, but I leaned toward basketball because I felt I would have more of an impact. I enjoy being hands on and having a challenge.”

Irmo’s Tim Whipple Photo by Mike Maddock

Irmo’s Tim Whipple Photo by Mike Maddock

Whipple’s coaching career began as an assistant for Ken Long at Lexington High School. After a year, he joined Hall-of-Fame head coach Eddie Raines’s staff at Winnsboro.

“I can’t say enough about how important it was to be in those two situations before I got an opportunity to be a head coach,” Whipple said. “Both men weren’t just great head coaches, but unbelievable people as well. I learned how to handle situations on the floor and off. I picked and chose what worked for me. A lot of what we do defensively comes from Winnsboro. Offensively, it’s not quite the same.”

After a year in Winnsboro, he and his wife, Valerie, decided to move to Columbia. At that time, Whipple chose to take a coaching job with the Irmo junior varsity. Two years later he took over the varsity following the departure of head coach Earl Lovelace.

“It was a pretty good situation,” Whipple said. “Irmo was a rapidly growing school in the late 1970s/early 1980s. All I needed to do was to carry on what was being done. There was some rebuilding that needed to be done, but it wasn’t broken. My job was to continue the success they had.”

Whipple felt Irmo was the perfect fit for him. The teams he had were disciplined, which fit his style of coaching.

While the Yellow Jackets made it to the postseason frequently in the 1980s, they were unable to get over the hump, usually losing in the second round. That changed during the 1989-1990 season, when Irmo made it to the state championship game, losing to George Glymph’s Eau Claire Shamrocks.

Irmo went on to six championship games in a seven year span. The Yellow Jackets won titles in 1991, 1994, and 1995.

“You have to be good. You have to have good players and a good program. You also have to be lucky to win a state championship,” Whipple said. “You have to be lucky in the draws you get in the playoffs whether you are at home or on the road, whether the matchup you get is a good one or not. There is a lot of luck involved with getting there. What has enabled us to be successful in the playoffs is leveling out the highs and lows. We take every game as it is. We don’t look ahead or behind. I believe it keeps the guys focused on what is at hand, not just now but what they need to do in the coming days.”

While there are a lot of things out of a team’s control in the postseason, one thing a team can control is its playoff seeding. During Whipple’s 42-year coaching career, Irmo has won the region championship half of those times, guaranteeing home-court advantage at least through the first two rounds.

“Winning a region puts you in a situation where you are seen as a little higher,” Whipple said. “This year, because the region fell the way it did, our region winner was going to be the No. 1 overall seed. It made the road to the state title game, at least on paper, a little easier. We’ve made it before without winning the region, but in most years it is one of the single most important things. This year, especially, if we don’t win the region, we wouldn’t have won the state championship. That’s how important it is.”

That home court advantage for Irmo means the opponents must visit “The Temple of Doom.” Senator Mike Fanning first coined the term when he was an Irmo student in the 1980s. The moniker went away for a while but came back, particularly when the school had a mural painted in the gym.

It never hurts to have the easiest path possible to a state championship, but the players are important as well. For Irmo, there has been no shortage of very talented players. In the early-to-mid 1990s there was BJ McKie. In the early 2010s there was Jordan Roper. Following Roper there was Justin McKie, B.J.’s son.

“Usually I just get out of the way,” Whipple laughs. “I let the guys do what they do. One of my mantras is ‘My job is to find out what the guys do well, and once we figure it out, let them do it and not put them in a situation to fail.’ I want to put them in a situation where they can be successful.”

Following a state championship loss in 1996, Irmo did return to the title game until the end of the 2010-2011 season.

“I was concerned. I didn’t think we would ever get back,” Whipple said. “I didn’t think we would have the talent in place to be able to do that. Then it started over. We went through a time where we had good players and good people who understood what they needed to do to be successful.”

Roper helped Irmo win state championships in 2011 and 2013.

The Yellow Jackets have made it to three more state championship games, losing in 2016 and 2018 before winning the 4A State Title this past season.

The 2022-2023 team featured another star in Brandon Crawford.

“I have never coached a player that has the impact on a game that Brandon Crawford has,” Whipple said. “He literally changed the approach of our opponents. Offensively, you have days where things aren’t clicking. That’s why they talk about defenses winning championships. If you are a good defensive team, you are all the time. Brandon made us a good defensive team all the time. He’s irreplaceable. The impact he had is incredible. I don’t think I’ve seen a player, especially in a high school situation, that has changed the game that much.”

Along with wins and titles, Whipple has helped numerous players go on to play at the collegiate level. While one stat says it’s at least 40 players, Whipple said he got to a point where he stopped counting.

“One of the things I want the guys to know is that I didn’t just care about them when they were at Irmo and played here,” Whipple said. “Every player I’ve coached I’ve gone to watch them practice and play in college. I try to do it every year. In October I hit the road. It’s one of my biggest joys.”

This past year circumstances prevented him from continuing that tradition, but he still found a way to visit the players later on.

At the end of his 42nd season, there are plenty of questions remaining for Whipple. One is whether he can catch former Great Falls head coach John Smith’s record of 943 wins. Currently, Whipple is 100 short.

“It is absolutely not an issue when I think about my future,” Whipple said. “I know John Smith well. A lot of my friends bring this up to me. That’s not what it’s about. The success is gratifying. I know how many people are involved in that success: the assistant coaches, managers, administrations at schools, district level administrations, players, and parents. So many people share in all of that.

“All I try to do is appreciate the success we’ve had. I understand in the grand scheme of things of being a coach that winning championships and games is certainly a goal, but it’s about the relationships I have with the young men. We have guys who come back for games. That warms my heart. It makes me feel like I’ve been successful in helping young men become men and be successful in their lives. I can say in no way, form, or manner am I worried about that record. It’s not a goal for me.”

The next question is how much longer Whipple will coach?

“That’s a tough one,” Whipple said. “I have said, and I evaluate every year, if I have players that share my passion for the game of basketball and doing the right way on and off the court, that’s in the classroom and in the community, then I feel like I want to be here to work with them. There will be a time, when that is I’m not sure, that I will say that it is time. I have to do it for myself or for whatever reason. I know when it’ll be the right time. It’ll be hard. You don’t do something for 40-something years and give it up and it be easy. It’s a process right now that we’re going through and I’ll be making my decision pretty soon.”

Regardless of whether Whipple decides to come back for another season or not, the legacy he’s built at Irmo is undeniable.

“When I think about the things that have transpired over the last 40 years it’s incredible,” Whipple said. “People coach their entire careers and never get a chance to have the success we’ve had. It’s special. I smile a lot these days. I reflect and think about those things. I realize how lucky and blessed I am.”

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