LARAMIE, Wyo. — Whenever she drives by a Popeyes restaurant, Liv Roberts can’t help but think of Joe Legerski, her former women’s basketball coach at the University of Wyoming.
Legerski announced his retirement on Wednesday, wrapping up a 16-year tenure with the Cowgirls where he won 314 games. After many of the road wins, Legerski would take his team to his favorite restaurant.
“My best coach Joe story: What always comes to mind, because everyone loves winning, and every time after we would win on the road he would always say, ‘Girls, we’re going to Popeyes.’ And none of us would be excited, because we didn’t care about Popeyes,” Roberts said with a laugh. “But he would always get his Popeyes and get back on the bus, and he would be just thrilled and sit and eat his chicken and his biscuit. We always knew, ‘Oh gosh, when he gets home, his wife is going to kill him.’ It’s just so funny. Every time I go by Popeyes now, that’s all I think about now, is coach Joe.”
Roberts spent her college basketball career playing under Legerski at Wyoming and is still learning from the nationally respected coach. Roberts, who is working on her master’s degree, is currently Legerski’s graduate assistant.
After a standout career at Missoula Sentinel High School, Roberts had a bevy of options to play college basketball, including right there in Missoula at the University of Montana, where her mom previously played.
“He kind of has that accent. I remember actually when he first called me when he was recruiting me, and I was like, ‘I don’t even need to ask where this coach is from. This guy is from Wyoming.’ He was just so sweet. He mentioned, ‘I understand if you want to go to Montana, but just know that we are interested,'” Roberts recalled. “Every coach around the nation respects him and has heard of his name. That says a lot about his character.”
When Roberts talks about Legerski, the wins and accolades — and there are many — don’t immediately come up. She uses words like “humble,” “respectful,” “welcoming” and “home.” Make no mistake, though, Legerski had an impressive coaching career. During his 16 seasons with the Cowgirls, Legerski brought unprecedented success to Laramie. UW won at least 20 games in 10 seasons and notched a school-record 27 wins during the 2006-07 season, which ultimately ended in a WNIT championship.
Legerski was thrice the Mountain West coach of the year, and he coached five all-Americans.
“The past 16 years have been an amazing journey for the Wyoming women’s basketball program and for me, personally,” Legerski said in a UW media release. “In May of 2003, I was appointed the head basketball coach for the University of Wyoming. The years have seen more highs than lows, and we were able to move from playing in front of a few hundred Wyoming fans to thousands over that time. The highlight being the WNIT Championship and a ‘sellout’ of the (Arena-Auditorium).”
Legerski also coached two Mountain West players of the year, three league defensive players of the year, three newcomers of the year, two sixth players of the year and 21 all-conference players. Roberts was his most recent Mountain West player of the year, winning the honor for her efforts during the 2017-18 season.
Roberts finished her career with more than 1,000 total points and 500 total rebounds.
“I always, and all of the girls felt this way, you always wanted to go to war for him,” Roberts said. “He was just always on your side and it was like, ‘I want to win for coach.’ There’s not a lot of programs that have that respect from their coach and through on to their players. Of course we want to win for ourselves, but he prepares you so well, he put so much time and effort in. He’s always had winning programs, and so playing for him, you just had that level of respect.”