Linda Marquis – Photo credit Yan Doublet

Mar 05, 2015

By Donnovan Bennett – Sportsnet TV Personality

Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett

The magnificent Linda Marquis’ glorious coaching career will come to an end next week right where it started – at Université Laval, host of this year’s CIS women’s basketball Final 8.

Long before she was given the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal or named assistant coach of the Canadian Olympic team, Marquis was a recent graduate looking for a venue to educate student-athletes. At the tender age of 25, she became the head coach at Laval. Now, after a legendary 30-year career in the profession, the Quebec City native will be devoting her time to helping twenty somethings find their calling in life.

Marquis was herself a standout player for the Rouge et Or from 1977 to 1980 and was named Laval female athlete of the year following her third campaign with the team. She then moved on to McGill to pursue graduate studies and was a second-team all-Canadian guard with the Martlets in 1981-82. At the conclusion of her playing days, she apprenticed during a one-year stint as an assistant coach at CEGEP Sainte-Foy – a few blocks away from the Laval campus – and two seasons as an assistant with the Martlets.

Basketball was a conduit for Marquis to get her education, but when she assumed a role on the other side of the clipboard, that dynamic remained the same. “When I started 30 years ago, I told myself that my first goal as an educator was to get the student-athlete a degree while we were sharing the passion of basketball,” she said. “I was seeing myself as an educator because I was working in a university and this was the student-athlete’s last step before the “real life”.”

It certainly didn’t hurt her on the recruiting trail as it was an aspect of her approach her players grew to respect. “She really is aware that she is working with humans, not just numbers. She tries to develop the person behind each athlete,” remembers one of the players Marquis managed to recruit, Marie-Michelle Genois, who merited five straight all-Canadian selections from 2006 to 2011 while earning a Master’s in cellular and molecular biology. Genois elaborates, “Yes, she wants to win banners, but beyond that, she wishes that we complete our studies. She always said: Girls don’t come to Laval to acquire a degree in basketball, but to prepare for their careers.”

Marquis was unabashed about her approach. “The first thing that I would tell a student-athlete when I recruited was ‘if you come to Laval, it’s because you want to graduate and I don’t mean to graduate in basketball.’ [But] don’t get me wrong. I want to win when I walk into the gym,” she said. And win she did. During her 16 national championship appearances, she earned a silver medal once and twice came home with bronze. She’s won over 530 games, 14 conference banners and in the process was twice selected as CIS coach of the year, was honoured seven times by her RSEQ peers, and in 2007 became the inaugural recipient of the CIS Jean-Marie De Koninck Coaching Excellence Award. All that has eluded her is CIS gold.

It really isn’t just about winning with Marquis. No better example of this is her response to what her most cherished moments are as a coach. “This is the hardest question. I have so many,” she said. “You always have a special place in your heart for your first provincial championship, the years that we won the silver and the two bronzes at the nationals. The year that we were seeded eighth and beat the team seeded No. 1. Ice breaking activities…” The fact that she values team bonding as much as winning at the highest level lets you know the intensity of the relationships she formed invigorated her as much as the intensity of the competition.

When asked what will be special about hosting nationals at Laval in her final year as a CIS coach, it’s not the fairy tale aspect of riding into the sunset as a national champion for the first time. Her holy grail is the people she’s closest to. “It is very special. I will have the chance to share my last moments as a coach with my family, my friends and colleagues,” she said.

Marquis is so well regarded in La Belle Province that long before Glen Constantin’s football program was the main frame of reference for Laval sports, it was her hoops program that held the distinction. Nobody knows her impact on the school and the province better than former player and assistant coach Geneviève Laporte. “She represents the face of Quebec basketball. She built a dynasty in the 2000s, no one was able to dethrone the Rouge et Or. She was able to carry forward the Université Laval, while football did not yet exist. She is also an excellent teacher. Everything she said in theory applied in practice.”

A multitude of the lessons she taught were around a basketball court but were not limited to the game. It’s why former Rouge et Or coordinator Robert Descheneaux knew he had made a good hire. “Her contribution goes beyond scores and results. She was a big sister for her student-athletes. She had constant concern for the success in studies, for personal problems that her girls met. For me, Linda has always been the ideal model of a coach in an education environment.”

So after you’ve accomplished so much in the game of basketball, what’s next? Well, after years spent selflessly taking care of others, it’s time to turn the tables. Marquis professes, “I will spend more time taking care of me now. I don’t think that I will be able to be away from basketball completely. I will probably get involved and do some mentoring with young coaches.”

In fact, her love for developing the student side of student-athletes is why she is walking away from the bench long before many thought she would. Marquis is staying at Laval to become the Coordinator, Operations and Compliance. A decision that didn’t come easy for the decorated coach. “When I started the new season in the fall, I thought that I would be coaching for five more years at least. Then this job opening came up. That I’d still be working with student-athletes, taking care of their eligibility, working on a tutoring system for some athletes to get a degree, for others to improve their marks. It was that kind of job that would be perfect for me if I’d stopped coaching. The kind of job that would be suitable with my philosophy. I was torn for a month. I changed my mind about 30 times because of the fact that our team was young and talented.”

Laval is in “win now” mode so the Rouge et Or along with the RSEQ and CIS will undoubtedly miss her. But when asked what she’ll miss about coaching, her unconventional answer is, “The adrenaline rush that you feel after a good practice, a good game. All the emotions that you share as a team. The highs, the lows.”

Surprised she doesn’t miss the mentorship, the education, the molding of young women? Don’t forget – she’s not leaving that part behind. Even in retirement, she’ll still be doing that. The educator in her will never leave. Instead of drawing up plays, she’ll now be drawing up career paths. Her ability to teach the value of education, whether on the court or off it, is what makes her a legend.

LINDA MARQUIS’ OVERALL RECORD (as of March 4, 2015): 531-312 (296-148 in regular season, 29-14 in conference playoffs, 9-29 at CIS championships, 197-121 in exhibition play).

Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett

Photo credit Rémy Gendron