By Greg Gulas
Fans of Youngstown State basketball can argue at great length about the 1970’s being the heyday of the once-proud hoops program.
The late Dom Rosselli, who served as Penguin head coach from 1940-82 and led the Penguins to 589 victories, had a unique way of hitting the recruiting trail in order to seek out and sign the right players to fit his system.
In 1973, he didn’t have to look any further than Gibson Street on the South Side in order to convince former Woodrow Wilson standout Bob Carlson to join his team.
He guaranteed the Redmen’s two-time City Series first-team selection absolutely nothing except an education and the opportunity to be part of something very special that he was cultivating.
His recruit would have it no other way.
Carlson, 61, died Thursday of an apparent heart attack after playing a round of golf while on vacation in Sarasota, Fla.
His friends remember a guy who was loyal to a fault and always there for everyone, enjoying golf as a way to spend more time with friends and teammates since retiring as a teacher from the Campbell City Schools several years ago.
“I lost not only a classmate, but a lifelong friend and overall great guy who treated me like a brother for over 50 years,” said Mark Cherol, a 1973 Woodrow Wilson graduate and former YSU baseball player.
“Our birthdays were a day apart – mine being on Halloween and his November 1 – and there are just so many stories that I can share. When he was the basketball coach at Campbell Memorial, I served as his ninth- grade coach. I then got the head job at our alma mater and during my first year, we played each other and the game went into overtime. Memorial finally won, but there were many of our friends at the game which made it just so very special for both of us. He’d have it no other way”
Carlson played for Rosselli from 1973-77, was a starter early in his career before coming off the bench as Rosselli’s trusted sixth man.
A four-year letterwinner, Carlson helped the Penguins to a 68-41 overall mark and two playoff appearances.
Former Struthers, Liberty and Youngstown Pride head coach Bob Patton was the YSU freshman coach at the time of his recruitment and instrumental in securing Carlson’s look-see from Rosselli.
“I had seen Bob play, but because I was the freshman coach and wasn’t allowed to do any recruiting I mentioned his name to coach Rosselli. He turned out to be everything advertised and then some,” Patton said.
“Years later, we were all sitting at a game when Bob mentioned to coach that he felt he should have been allowed to shoot more when he had the ball. Coach Rosselli looked at him and immediately responded by saying that Bob was without a doubt his best outside shooter. Unfortunately, coach added, the games were played inside Beeghly Center.”
Former Penguin assistant coach Roger Lyons, who also served as an assistant coach of the Youngstown Pride and was the head coach of the Calgary 88’s of the World Basketball league, recently retired as the all-time winningest coach at Ashland University.
He called Carlson the one player who could take anything and everything that was dished his way.
“Not only was Bob a great guy, but he was great to coach,” Lyons said. “He practiced just as hard as he played because he felt that if he didn’t then he’d be gone. That was the farthest thing from the truth. You could crack on him and push him, but he took it and came back twice as strong. He never made excuses.”
Carlson assisted teammate Terry Moore with wheelchair-bound Doc Hill, who was a fixture on the YSU bench dating to the days when sharpshooting guard Billy Johnson brought him to games.
It was Moore and Carlson who succeeded Johnson upon his graduation to make sure that Hill arrived safely at home games.
“Bob was everybody’s best friend and someone who never said a bad word about anyone,” Moore said. “He was best man in my wedding and I know that he has served as best man in many other weddings. The funniest thing with Bob, and there were many, was the time it was snowing outside after one of our games and we were taking Doc back home. I pushed too hard and the wheelchair tipped over with Doc landing on top of Bob. Bob couldn’t move and Doc couldn’t help but laugh with Bob taking the brunt of the fall.
“You got calls regularly from Bob because it was his way of staying in touch and his way of showing how much he cared. That’s what really made him so special and those calls are what I am truly going to miss.”
Ray Hernan, a former YSU football and an assistant basketball coach at both Akron and YSU, was also a high school classmate.
“When you talk about the nicest person you could ever meet or have in your life as a friend, Bob was that person and the one at the top of my list,” Hernan said.
“I went to St. Matthias School; he went to Adams Elementary School. We all heard of this hot-shot shooter coming to Woodrow Wilson to play basketball. I’m proud to say that he was every bit that and then some.”
Rick Gozur, Campbell Memorial principal during Carlson’s tenure as teacher and coach, recalls his classroom demeanor as impeccable.
“Bob was our computer technology teacher and well-respected by his peers because of how he conducted himself,” Gozur said. “He always chose to take the high road and was the employee you bounced ideas off of, confiding in him as well. I don’t know of anyone that didn’t like him.”
Perhaps Brian Meenachan, a 1975 Woodrow Wilson graduate summed it up best:
“Bob Carlson was the one person that everyone looked up to in my class. He was the one person who worked extra hard at making everyone that he came in contact with feel special and the reason he was my idol back in high school. I always wanted to be like Bob Carlson.”