The thought first entered C.J. Woollum's head not long after his name entered the record books.
As he stood in a confetti shower on a Tuesday night in late February after becoming the first Division III men's coach in Virginia to win 500 games, it crossed his mind.
When his players cut down the nets a few days later, after he'd won his 13th conference championship and clinched his 17th NCAA appearance, it returned.
"That was like, 'OK, that just seals the deal,' " Woollum said. " 'Your program has won 500, and now you're going back (to the postseason). This would be a good time.' "
A good time, that is, to call it a career.
Woollum, 502-221 in 26 years as head men's basketball coach at Christopher Newport, announced his retirement on Wednesday. Woollum will remain as CNU's athletic director, a position he's held since 1987.
"The good news is, I have not second-guessed my decision at all," Woollum said. "I actually went away after the Final Four (in Indianapolis earlier this month) for a few days to kind of really sort everything out in my head, and I haven't wavered in saying, 'Hey, this is time. This is the right thing to do.' "
Woollum's announcement took others by surprise, however.
"It's kind of unbelievable to me," said Davon Barton, a former star at Bethel High who started at point guard from 2005-2009 for the Captains and ranks second in CNU history with 770 assists. "Ever since I've known CNU, I've seen and heard of Coach Woollum. To know that he's not going to be coaching the team anymore is just shocking. He's been a pioneer of the program for so long."
"I thought coach had a lot more years left in him," said Steve Artis, the second-leading scorer in CNU history with 1,977 points. "I thought maybe Coach would keep going. That's a big announcement for their program, because Coach Woollum has brought the program to another level, and it's going to be hard to replace him."
That job falls to Woollum, who, as AD, will lead a committee to nominate a candidate for approval by CNU president Paul Trible.
"Whoever gets the job, I'm going to be right there to help them in every way I can to be successful," said Woollum, who was already fielding calls and emails just hours after his coaching job became vacant. "I want to hire somebody that's a better coach than me. That's my goal. If he stays 20 years and wins 600 games, that would be great."
Woollum, who was a CNU assistant for two years before he spent nine years as an assistant at Marshall, returned to the Captains in 1984. His first conference championship came in his second season, and after missing the NCAA tournament in his third, Woollum guided his teams to the postseason in 13 of the next 14 years.
Woollum, the 27th D-III coach to win 500 games, reached the D-III Sweet 16 four times (1991, 1993, 1996 and 1998) and the Elite Eight in 2001. His teams finished either first or second in conference play for 15 consecutive seasons.
As AD, Woollum who was also CNU's golf coach for 13 years - has overseen an athletic program that has won the USA South President's Cup, given to the league's top overall program, for 13 straight years. CNU has also won the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame Achievement Award, given to the program with the best won-loss record in all sports among all Virginia D-II and D-III schools, seven times in the last 12 years.
"When you've been a part of something as long as we have and had the success that we've had, and you feel like you've influenced so many young people yeah, it's hard," Woollum said. "Right now I'm thinking, I'm going to be fine. On October 15th (the first day of practice), I'm going to be fine. First game, I'll be fine. I think all that in my mind, but who knows how I'll feel when we get there."
The future of longtime assistants Jon Waters and Roland Ross, whose contributions Woollum made a point to mention in an email to his staff, remains to be seen. While Woollum is already imagining more time on the golf course, "I don't think I'm a golfer," Ross, the Captains' associate head coach, said on Wednesday. "I'm going to see. I think I've still got a lot of coaching left in me."
Woollum coached nine players who won 13 all-America honors. His 1997-98 team won a school-record 26 straight games, and his teams from 1997-2001 went 98-14 and won four consecutive conference championships.
"I think we all should be proud of the success the basketball program has had for the last 26 years, and I feel very confident that we won't skip a beat," Woollum said. "We'll make a good hire, and we'll keep rolling."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun