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University of Missouri

Norm’s Wisdom

Former Tiger basketball team manager climbs the administrative ladder.

Preston Cole and Norm Stewart

As an MU student, Preston Cole, left, worked for basketball coach Norm Stewart. Photo courtesy of Preston Cole.

Being Mizzou’s first African-American graduate in forestry management opened doors for Preston Cole, BSF ’87. But, he says, it was his part-time job as the Tiger basketball team manager that opened his eyes to leadership models that helped him climb the administrative ladder. Cole, who leads about 2,000 employees as director of operations for the city of Milwaukee and shapes statewide policies as chair of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, worked for Coach Norm Stewart, BS Ed ’56, M Ed ’60, and observed his methods up close in practices and games.

Cole got the manager job his freshman year by presenting himself, unannounced, to the late Gary Filbert, BS Ed ’55, then assistant coach. That first year, Cole kept statistics in the stands, among other jobs. The following year he set up the court for practices, traveled with the team and sat on the bench during games. Eventually, Stewart even trusted Cole to show around recruits. He fondly remembers the closing seconds of a tight game at Colorado. “We’re in the huddle during a timeout. Our ball. We know they will press us when we put the ball in play. Norm puts the clipboard on ground. And he just paused. He blinked. So I jump in and say, ‘Let’s run the box and get the ball to Derrick [Chievous, BGS ’00] going long.’ As soon as I said it, I felt guilty, and said to myself, ‘Shut up!’ ”

It all worked out. The Tigers won, and Stewart never complained to Cole about that moment. On the contrary, Cole says, “He gave me a lot of opportunities, as well as a scholarship for books.”

Cole says watching Stewart motivate players helps him lead his staff members, who remove snow and leaves, plant trees, and maintain landscaped boulevards. “No matter who I’m talking to, I’m always talking about the public trust we have and how we are held to a high standard. That’s directly related to Norm’s talks in the huddle. He’d tell the guys, ‘This is a team sport. We have to pick each other up.’ And the players would look around and say, ‘Norm can only get us so far. We have to do the rest.’ ”