‘She’s why I am in the position I’m in’
DAYTON, Ohio -- Kelli Linder kissed her husband, turned back toward the large television screen above and wiped a tear from her left cheek.
Behind her, Wyoming's players and fans were still in the midst of a wild celebration that was sparked when the Cowboys learned they would be traveling to Dayton, Ohio, for the First Four game of the NCAA Tournament and a date with Indiana.
Despite the chaos, there was one special moment that was saved just for Jeff Linder and the woman he calls his "coach."
"She's why I am in the position I'm in," UW's second-year head man said on Selection Sunday inside Laramie's Gateway Center. "She's my better half and she's been through a lot."
This isn't the first time Linder and his wife have experienced this feeling.
As an assistant at Weber State in 2007, Linder's Wildcats made the field of 64. In 2013 and again two years later, Linder, then an assistant coach at Boise State, helped lead the Broncos to the Big Dance. Ironically, both trips began and ended inside UD Arena in the play-in game.
"Hopefully the third time's a charm," he quipped, adding a quick grin Monday evening in Dayton.
That was the furthest thing from this couple's mind roughly 24 hours prior inside a Laramie ballroom.
Linder, who accepted the Wyoming gig on March 17, 2020 after a four-year stint at Northern Colorado, inherited a program that was an afterthought in the Mountain West Conference, winning just 17 games over the previous two seasons.
The fanbase was tuned out. The magic that once resided inside the Arena-Auditorium was long gone.
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Linder entered with the mantra "no excuses."
The past didn't matter. Neither did youth, inexperience or the ongoing pandemic.
"I think over the course of two years that's what these guys have bought into," he said. "I think that's the reason why we're here right now, being 25-8 and getting an at-large bid when probably two years ago people thought that would never be possible."
There was always the woman in his corner. She's been there since the humble beginnings.
"You know, she's been through living in Emporia, Kansas, and Midland, Texas, where we made $25,000 a year and we were living off Subway stamps," Linder said of Kelli. "So, she's been there every step of the way."
Back in early February, less than five minutes into a home meeting with Utah State, he was sent to the showers for arguing a call with officials. It was Linder's second ejection in as many seasons.
In his postgame press conference, in both instances, he mentioned he was sticking up for 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward Graham Ike. He also added he would be in hot water when he got home.
"You might as well sleep on the couch," he joked.
Linder reiterated Monday that he always coaches his players hard. His coach is no different.
"I mean, she's my rock and I love her to death," he said. "In this profession, you have to have somebody like her to be able to do what I do."