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Unconventional Climb

By Ken Rodrugez

The book on Rampage coach Chuck Weber could be written in two words.

He wins.

He won two Kelly Cups as coach of the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL. He won a Turner Cup as an assistant with the Orlando Solar Bears in the International Hockey League. He won 41 games in his first regular season with the Rampage, and guided the team to its first playoff series triumph.

The winning pedigree began before Weber got his first head coaching gig. He once enjoyed success selling ticket packages for a minor league hockey team. "Fortunately," Weber says, "I was the No. 1 sales guy for a couple of years."

The man cuts an unusual profile. He coaches with the feel and knowledge of an NHL veteran but never played pro hockey. In college, he played NCAA Division III soccer -- "I was a goalie" -- and was a defenseman for a club hockey team at the University of Albany.

"I went to a couple of pro training camps after college," he says. "I had a non-playing career."

In Lockport, N.Y., Weber did not grow up in a hockey-loving family. "My father played football and ran track," he says, noting an irony: The kid picked a sport his dad knew little about.

Did Weber develop a love for hockey from a brother? "I'm an only child," he says.

There is nothing in Weber's background to suggest he'd become a hockey coach, a teacher and tactician who would win more playoff games in one four year stretch -- 45 -- than any coach in ECHL history. So how did he go from selling tickets to winning games?

The story of Weber's rise begins with a moment from his youth, perhaps in a game on a frozen pond. An idea came to him from somewhere deep, a knowing that as much as he loved to play, he really wanted to coach.

He didn't know the when, the where or at what level. Weber just knew, from his early teens, that he wanted to lead his own team. In high school and college, he was a sponge, absorbing strategies and techniques, learning the nuances of the game, sharing what he knew with teammates.

As a junior and senior captain at Albany, Weber pulled guys aside after practice and worked with them on skill drills. His hockey IQ shined bright in team meetings.

"My coach, Bruce Pomakoy, would ask my opinion on different team concepts that he was implementing so I got to give my input," Weber says. "He would always have final say, but I was able to give suggestions."

The coach inside Weber remained hidden for a while after college. He sold ticket packages for the Buffalo Sabres and then for a roller hockey team in Florida, the Orlando Jackals, before catching a break.

A minor league ice hockey team -- the Orlando Solar Bears -- needed someone to sell tickets and double as a video coach. Weber got the job and the first taste of his dream: scouting opponents, compiling team and individual video clips and sharing them with the head coach and fellow assistants.

In his second season, the Solar Bears won the Turner Cup. Five years later, Weber became head coach of the Cyclones, and soon won his first Kelly Cup and was named ECHL Coach of the Year.

One day he's selling tickets, he blinks and then he's celebrating championships. The rise has been as sudden as it's been surprising.

"I've got 14 years coaching experience and I'm not even 40," says Weber, 39. "I've been fortunate to win three championships."

Dale Tallon, general manager of the Rampage's parent club, the Florida Panthers, made a bold declaration in July 2011: "... San Antonio is going to win the Calder Cup."

Tallon did not set a date. But it was understood the prediction was not for next year. The Rampage had never won a playoff series. But then along comes a new coach, Weber, and the Rampage advance to the second round.

It should not surprise, then, that Weber draws inspiration from a model franchise. "We'd like to become the Spurs of the American Hockey League," he says, "and create an expectation of winning."

The Spurs win in ways that run against convention with coaches who rose from obscurity. Gregg Popovich coached at Division III Pomona Pitzer and never played in the NBA. Mike Budenholzer played at Pomona and began his climb to lead NBA assistant as a video coordinator.

Sound familiar?

There's a touch of Pop and a dash of Bud in young Chuck Weber.

If the Rampage coach brings an unconventional pedigree to the job, that's the norm at Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

After 14 seasons in the business, the books show Weber is good for the bottom line. All he does is win.



Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.


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