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July 17, 2020

Conexon – Helping Electric Co-ops Build Fiber Networks

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch

Craig:

Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of the Broadband Bunch. I’m Craig Corbin, alongside my colleague, Brad Hine, Product Director for GIS & Analytics Solutions at ETI Software. Our guest today is Steve Collier, Vice President of Business Development at Conexon, an organization working with rural electric cooperatives, embarking on the next great endeavor of bringing fiber optic internet to rural America. Steve is an experienced energy industry expert and thought leader who writes, speaks, and consults on emerging trends, new technologies and innovative business models for a better energy future. He has served in many capacities within energy, telecommunications, and technology companies both domestically and abroad. He has been an executive, a consultant, and a board member for various organizations.  He earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (B.S.E.E.) from the University of Houston and a M.S.E.E. from Purdue University. In addition, Steve is a smart grid expert with The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity, where he has also served as the past chair of the Rural Electric Power Committee.

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Craig:

First question, how does a guy who is also known as the Smart Grid Man begin his post-secondary education with an appointment to West Point? That’s quite a journey.

Journey to Electric Utility Industry

Steve Collier:

I grew up during the time of the Vietnam war, and you could either get drafted or enlist. So, I competed for an appointment to a service academy and got to have my choice of any of the four, and I really wanted to go to Air Force. I wanted to fly planes. But I was six foot three and I wear glasses. In those days, you could get a waiver for one or the other, but not both. I could go to West Point and be a grunt, and I thought, well, if I’m going to be a grunt, I’ll just go to West Point, where everybody is. I went to West Point and I didn’t finish there, but it was one of the great events of my young life. My appointment was from President Richard Nixon, and that was such an honor.

Craig:

You probably had some interesting colleagues while you were there at West Point.

Steve Collier:

I was in the same class as David Petraeus. He was just down the hall, in Beast Barracks (which is what we called where we lived), during the summer before the first term begins which is the West Point equivalent of a bootcamp. David Petraeus was down the hall and right next door to me was a Frank Borman Jr, the astronaut’s son. That was quite an experience. We know about Frank Borman, but nobody knew what David Petraeus would become, and he turned out to be truly an amazing individual both at West Point and subsequently.

Brad Hine:

You’ve definitely done some traveling in terms of your schooling from West Point to New Mexico and then onto Purdue in Indiana. How did you get started in this industry, the energy industry after graduating from Purdue?

Steve Collier:

I didn’t grow up wanting to work in the electric utility business, but after I had played out my eligibility in basketball, I got married to a lady from Houston, and so I moved to Houston. And I actually finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Houston. My career really started when I was at New Mexico State when I participated in what was called a cooperative education program.  I went to work at Houston Lighting and Power, and I would work for a term, fall or spring term, and then I would go back to school for a term to finish out my degree, and that set the stage. Since then, it was all energy business, either as an employee of a utility like Houston Lighting and Power or Caprock Electric Co-op, or as a consultant or a vendor in that industry. I just fell into it, it wasn’t something I dreamed about doing, but it’s turned out to be a really wonderful career so far.

Brad Hine:

You mentioned basketball and that you played, and I will get back to that because I want to hear some stories about that. After Houston, where did that take you in your travels in the energy business?

Steve Collier:

I left Houston Lighting and Power after I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I left to go to graduate school at Purdue University in the Electric Power Center. I was fortunate enough to be granted a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship in engineering. It was a full paid ticket at Purdue, and it was in the Purdue Electric Power Center, where a whole bunch of us guys specialized in getting ready to work in the electric utility business, and now we’re all spread all over the country. One of my classmates is a professor at the University of Illinois, a number of us just ended up in the utility business.

Brad Hine:

In your first jobs, what were you tasked with? What was your introduction to that industry in terms of your job and maybe in your daily work?

Steve Collier:

At Houston Lighting and Power, I had terms in most of the areas that an electric utility operates. I worked in power plants for a couple of terms, it was called Plant Betterment Engineering, we basically tested the new equipment and the efficiency of the plant. I worked in systems engineering, which was planning and building the grid. I worked in system planning, that’s what we did, was planned in the outlying years, and I worked in substation engineering where we actually wired up things in the substations to monitor and control. From Purdue, I went to work for a consulting firm in Upstate New York called Power Technologies Inc. They still exist, but they’re a subset of Siemens, Siemens bought them a long while ago. At Power Technologies, we did two things – we did consulting for electric utilities in the United States and abroad, and we also created software for electric utilities to look at how the grid was performing and helping folks do planning and operations better in the electric utility using software.

Steve Collier:

I mentioned to you guys before we started this recording today that I lived in Schenectady, New York and lived there in the winter of 1977. My wife then had grown up in Houston and there were two problems in Schenectady, one being that it’s an old gray industrial town and the other was that it was “GE central”. In that weather, I faced either a divorce or move, so we left New York and I joined a consulting firm called CH Guernsey & Co in Oklahoma City.  I was still doing consulting work with electric utilities, but with a little bit of a twist. Guernsey tended not to work for the big investor owned utilities, they worked for electric co-ops, municipally owned electric utilities, and state and federal agencies. Basically, that wing of the electric utility industry that is either government owned and operated or nonprofit.

From Technical to Regulatory Electrical Utility Expertise

Brad Hine:

That was your tech introduction into the coop side of the business. At some point you ended up at a state capitol office as a lobbyist?

Steve Collier:

At Guernsey, I had a number of clients and I did a lot of work in the regulatory area and in the judicial and legislative areas, as an expert witness and a case manager. One of my clients was Caprock Electric Cooperative out in West Texas, out in the Midland Odessa, the Permian basin oil and gas area. They recruited me, the CEO, a guy named David Pruitt recruited me to open a state capitol office for them. We were doing a lot of unusual things that most electric cooperatives weren’t doing. We purchased an oil and gas company, we did several mergers with other co-ops and we felt it important to have a presence in the state capitol, so I opened and ran that state capitol office. I was their lobbyist and their regulatory specialist and then also managed the oil and gas subsidiary, the oil and gas company that we purchased.

Brad Hine:

What were the things that were happening in that time in the industry when you worked as a lobbyist?  Were the challenges different than they are today?

Steve Collier:

Well, it is a drastic difference. I mean, the electric utility industry back in the ’70s suffered from a couple of really big sea changes. The biggest one was the OPEC oil embargo. That happened when I was working at Houston Lighting and Power, and the price of oil went up, we had several power plants at HL&P that burned oil and the price of electricity went up. And so, the business which, for years and years and years had been a cost plus monopoly business basically driven by the big utilities, began to deteriorate a little bit because prices began to go up and people began to buy less electricity. I don’t know if you remember back in those days, but that was during Jimmy Carter’s tenure as president, and we had the National Energy Policy Act, and one of the things that it mandated was conservation energy efficiency. Electric utilities went from a really charmed existence as a cost plus monopoly, selling something that everybody wanted and guaranteed that you would be able to recover your costs, plus a profit to where the foundations began to crack a little bit as folks bought less electricity, and the cost of doing business went up.

Steve Collier:

That was a corner that the industry turned, and today, we have a much more competitive, much more diverse business with people that are generating electricity that aren’t electric utilities, customers generating their own electricity with rooftop solar, or a big industrial complex having a bunch of batteries. I was lucky to get involved in the business at a time when a major revolutionary change occurred. It’s just been an exciting ride ever since then. I think a lot of electric utility employees feel badly about it because it changed things and required new expertise and new ways of thinking about the business.

Brad Hine:

For the last few years, you’ve been with Conexon and over the years prior you’ve communicated and established relationships with a lot of folks along the way.  Who are some of the guys that you had known before actually getting into Conexon, that ended up starting this business with you?

Steve Collier:

I got to know the guys at Enron pretty well. When I was at Caprock, we did a little bit of business with Enron. We had a number of their executives, (who became infamous when Enron unwound), that we did a lot of work with.  We did some projects with them and tried to do some power supply with Enron. There were a number of companies that emerged from that oil embargo, energy crisis, National Energy Policy Act, including renewable energy. One of the things that I did when we left New York, I got to work at Sandia National Labs for a couple of years in the solar PV program. And of course, as you well know, solar is a big deal now and across the industry around the world, and I worked on projects where they were sort of demonstrating solar energy here and there around the country. I’ve always found myself at the edges of the business, not in the core business, just building and operating power plants and running the monopoly, but working in those things that were eating away at the edges of the business.

Steve Collier:

Today in the electric grid, in the United States, we have 20,000 generating plants – coal fired, gas fired, nuclear – 20,000 of those in about 7,000 power stations, places where there might be more than one generating plant. And for years, we thought that was the most complex machine that man had ever built. This grid with 20,000 generators and 7,000 power stations and 75,000 transmission substations and millions and millions of miles of line. But today, we have millions of endpoints now on that grid, most of which are not owned and operated by the electric utility like rooftop solar arrays, electric vehicles wandering around, folks with batteries, etc.  And so, what we thought was the most complex machine that men had ever built, looks like tinker toys today compared to where we are with what we call distributed energy resources.

Electric Grid Reliability – Old Age and Bad Weather

Craig:

And with those millions of additional end points, the reliability of our grid is going down. I think everyone just assumes that the power grid is always going to be there and work fine, but the number of outages every year that affects thousands upon thousands of customers is growing at a huge rate. Would you talk to that please?

Steve Collier:

There are several things happening there. The two most prominent ones are that the grid is getting old. The average age of components of the grid can be measured in decades, and because of this unwinding of the business where costs began to go up, sales began to go down, people didn’t want coal fired plants, they didn’t want gas fired plants, they didn’t want oil fired plants, they wanted what we called in those days, renewable energy, today, we call it sustainable. And so, the business really did change substantially as we moved along, and so not only is the grid old, the weather has gotten worse. The single most prominent cause of outages in the electric grid is bad weather. Because you’ve got these power poles and power lines hanging out in the open, all across the country, millions and millions of miles of them, and the combination of more weather events happening more often that are more severe and last longer. And then there are natural disasters, like the fires in Northern California that have really put Pacific Gas and Electric out of business – they’re on the ropes and they’re in bankruptcy.

Steve Collier:

The industry fundamentally changed. Due to old age and weather, the number of major outages on the electric grid in the United States is practically doubling every five to 10 years. It’s not caused by solar, it’s not caused by wind, it’s caused by an aging grid, worsening weather and the need for the grid to operate in a different fashion. Because much of the generation, much of the kilowatt hours that we consume in our toasters and computers and stuff in the country now is not coming from coal plants and nuclear plants and gas plants, and oil plants, it’s coming from solar and wind. That really got it started as we were talking a little bit earlier about the National Energy Act and Jimmy Carter, and those days, we were going to do renewable because we didn’t want to import oil from countries that didn’t like us. So, renewable energy was a part of national security.

Steve Collier:

Today, interestingly enough, while there’s still a large group of people who want sustainable because of climate change, et cetera, the fact is if you’re going to build a new power plant in the United States of America or in the world, it’s cheaper to build solar or wind than it is to build a coal plant or a nuclear plant or a gas plant. The kilowatt hours coming out of those devices is cheaper today, and that cost is still going down while the cost of building traditional power plants is continuing to go up. And so, we moved from a political reason to do solar and wind, to a very basic economic reason that’s just cheaper to do solar and wind than it is to do business the way we did for the first 100 years.

Internet Access as Important as Electricity

Craig:

You’re talking about a big transition there with regard to the focus on solar. There’s also another huge transition in the mission for many of the co-ops around the country that you work with, and that’s the world of broadband and bringing internet access to their members. Talk about that.

Steve Collier:

If you live in a city and you have the privilege of having broadband internet and you have kids in school or you have doctors that now do telemedicine, and especially in the age of the pandemic where doctor’s visits aren’t there – the internet has become as important to people as electricity. When the power goes out at my house, guess what the uproar is? It’s not that the lights aren’t on and the refrigerator isn’t working, it’s they can’t get on the internet. I try to tell them, “Well, girls, guess what, if there’s no electricity, there’s no internet.” If you gave them the choice to turn something off, whether to turn off the internet, or turn off the electricity? They’ll say, “Turn off the electricity. We can’t live without the internet.” They don’t make that linkage, that without the electricity, batteries are going to run out in your computers and you’re not going to be able to use them.

Steve Collier:

Access to the internet has become as important to commerce and quality of life as electricity was. Electric co-ops, it’s interesting, they’re the ones that brought electricity to the areas that the big utilities wouldn’t reach to, simply because they couldn’t earn enough return on investment. If you operate in a city, you can build a line and you will have 60 customers per mile of line in a typical municipal electric utility environment. You go to the investor owned utility as opposed to a city utility, it’s probably 30 customers per mile of line because the big investor owned utilities serve both in town and in the countryside. If you go to the co-ops, it’s seven customers per mile of line. They had to be subsidized, co-ops really began to form in the ’30s, under Truman and others, if I’ve got my timeframe right. We had the Rural Electrification Act, which says we want to make it possible for people in rural America who don’t have electricity to have electricity. So, let’s form an organization called the Rural Electrification Administration, and let’s make some low interest loans available to folks who are willing to build lines and serve seven customers per mile of line. That’s the way rural America got electricity, and that looks a lot like what we’re doing today, where a number of co-ops, a growing number of co-ops are now saying, well, we’ve got poles and wires, we’ve got conduit, why don’t we, in the same way that we brought electricity to rural America, let’s bring them the internet? That’s really how our company got founded, Conexon. One of our founders, Randy Klindt worked at a co-op in central Missouri, that decided that their constituents needed the internet.

Steve Collier:

And so, they built out to their rural customers, hanging fiber on the existing poles and wires. Randy did that, and that was at Como Electric in central Missouri. Then a coop in Arkansas whose CEO is Mitch Johnson, a real visionary in the business, he recruited Randy to come and do the same thing at Ozarks Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas. During this process, Randy got to know a fellow named Jonathan Chambers at the FCC. Jonathan is one of the giants of telecommunications, especially in the legislative and regulatory arena. Jonathan joined Randy and they formed Conexon. What we do is help co-ops do everything from investigation into is this something that you might be interested in, all the way to building it out, helping them build out fiber to the premises.

Rural Electric Coops Building Broadband Infrastructure

Brad Hine:

About how many rural electric co-ops do you think are out there seeking broadband infrastructure, and what is the average number of members these co-ops have?

Steve Collier:

Two good questions, I’ll take the second one first. These co-ops that are serving seven customers per mile of line, on the average serve 20,000 customers, so they’re relatively small utilities. If you look at a large investor owned utility, they may serve several million customers. Take the City of Austin, which has a municipally owned electric utility, they serve nearly a million members. The rural co-ops are serving about 20,000. The other utilities serve a lot more. There are 834 electric co-ops in the United States, most of them are not doing fiber, most of them are entrenched. This is tough, the business is changing, we’re losing sales, we need to hunker down. There’s a minority of them who though are branching out doing things like fiber, doing things like solar, doing things like wind, battery storage. We have about 180 clients, that’s about a fifth of all the electric utilities that we have helped or are helping evaluate whether or not they want to be in the fiber business, doing the feasibility study, if it proves feasible doing the financing.

Steve Collier:

When Como and Ozarks did this, there weren’t large federal or state or local subsidies, they just did it by borrowing money from their usual banker. There are some things that are happening though in the US, the federal government has recognized that just like was in the ’30s, people didn’t have electricity in rural America, here in the 2020s, rural Americans don’t have internet. So, they’ve made some funds available through the FCC and it operates as an auction. There was one called The Connect America Fund, and there’s one right now called The Rural Development Opportunity Fund, and the idea is to make it easier for these rural folks to get internet like they did in the ’30s to get electricity. The way the auction works is the FCC identify census blocks that they consider to be underserved or unserved. In other words, they don’t have internet at all, or they don’t have broadband internet.

Steve Collier:

A co-op will look in its service area and say, okay, here’s the census blocks that we serve with electricity, we’re going to go and bid for some of the funding from the federal government through the FCC. And the folks who bid to cover the most area for the least amount of money are the ones that win, so it’s like a reverse auction. We helped co-ops in the CAF auction, and now in the RDOF auction, through what we call a bidding consortium, we get a bunch of co-ops together in a consortium, and they bid together as a block for their various areas. We have more than 80 co-ops in our current consortium for the RDOF and still adding a few. That’s 80 out of the 830 co-ops, about 10% of them. Co-ops that aren’t getting some kind of help are probably not going to be extending fiber in the near future. There are other entities that are collecting co-ops together to bid, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), for example in Herndon, Virginia is building a consortium too.

Steve Collier:

This is an amazing time that we’re bringing to rural America the same dramatic improvement in quality of life and productivity of business that electricity brought them back in the ’30s and ’40s.

Funding Rural Broadband Infrastructure

Brad Hine:

More than 80 rural electrical co-ops that you’ve supported already and in such a short time – within the last four or five years since Conexon was founded. Can you share approximately how much you’ve raised within that time for these rural co-ops?

Steve Collier:

If all of the co-ops in our consortium get every area that they’re bidding on – which may or may not be the case, depending on what they’re willing to bid and what they think their costs are – but if all of the co-ops in our consortium got all of the funding that could be possible then that’s on the order of $3  to $5 billion in funding.

Steve Collier:

That builds a lot of miles of fiber to the premises. Now, they won’t get all of that, the census blocks that the FCC has identified, many of those have some kind of internet, maybe a copper wire on the ground, what we call DSL, (direct subscriber line from a telephone company), or it might be a fixed wireless, and even though those tend to not be as high bandwidth and as low latency as fiber, they are internet and they are still considered broadband. And so, they may challenge some of those areas and the co-ops may not be able to bid on them. There’s a variety of reasons that we probably won’t get the entire $3 to $5 billion for this consortium. There are other co-ops and other groups that are bidding as well. We’re talking about more than a billion dollars in funding to extend fiber to the premises, which is very expensive to do. That by itself, doesn’t pay for every rural American to get fiber or even to get broadband, but it sure helps.

Brad Hine:

These co-ops have to appreciate all the work you’ve done in trying to simplify this whole process and draw more funds into their coffers, so that they can invest in high-speed broadband fiber. Let me ask you about the pandemic that has forced everybody to be connected for school and jobs, and like you said earlier, tele-health, things that are crucial to us on a daily basis. How has this impacted your partner co-ops who have already received some of this funding? Are you seeing a positive impact that maybe would not have happened without the assistance of Conexon?

Broadband Applications – Internet Access & Smart Grid Electricity

Steve Collier:

I think we have helped a number of co-ops to receive funding and build broadband infrastructure. We’re not the only ones doing that, there’s NRTC, there are other blocks of folks that are putting co-ops together in bidding consortia, and it’s not just for fiber. These broadband initiatives, the CAF and the RDORF, were for broadband internet, not specifically for fiber. We happen to think, and Randy and John certainly think because of their history and what they’ve done, that fiber is where we’re going to need to be. There are really two applications here that I would mention. The first one that we’ve been talking about is making the internet available to rural Americans, and that is crucial. That is crucial to quality of life. In my household, we have broadband, at least by the definition officially, but it’s 50 megabits per second. And that’s what I pay for. I get my internet from one of the large investor owned telecom companies. On the average, I probably get about 30 megabits per second.

Steve Collier:

If I’ve got fiber internet, I’m getting gigabits per second, I’m getting an order of magnitude faster. Of all the complaints in my house about things, the biggest complaint I get from my wife and daughters is, “The internet is slow. The internet is so slow. I can’t watch the movie I’m wanting to watch. I can’t upload the graphics that I need for my homework assignment.” And so doing fiber, we think that’s the way to go, but there’s another application of this broadband internet, and that is we’re moving into a world, and we talked about it a few minutes ago, in which we go from 20,000 generators owned and operated by electric utilities to a million plus rooftop solar arrays, a million electric vehicles on the road, tens of thousands of batteries, smart thermostats that can be controlled by the electric utility to benefit them to cut their peak demand. So, the other application of this high speed, low latency communications channel is letting the electric utility operate the way that it needs to operate.

Steve Collier:

That’s really why I’m at Conexon. The reason Randy and Jonathan invited me to join was to help our co-ops, get ready for, find and begin to implement on their fiber networks, these things that will help them operate the grid more reliably, more efficiently and more sustainably.

Craig:

You mentioned the importance of getting connectivity to rural America and you also mentioned one component of the deciding factor in funding decisions is whether or not an area is considered to be underserved or unserved based on reports that are done by census block. Is there any concern, from your perspective, that there’s a great question as to the reliability of the data that’s being used as far as the data mapping?

Steve Collier:

It is a very complex thing to look at every place in America, every census block in America and determine, are they served? Are they not served? And then secondly, are they served adequately? I mean, if they’re still using a dial up, using a modem, if anybody in the world is still doing that, that’s certainly not adequate, and the FCC would say that that is not adequately served. It needs to be in the megabits per second. It’s a very complex process to look at those census blocks and decide, if I’m an electric co-op, which of those census blocks do I reach if I build that fiber on my existing poles and wires, or put it in my existing conduit. How much of them will I reach? Do I want to bid on some census blocks that I don’t have poles and wires, or I don’t have conduit into, but I will build poles and wires, or I will dig trenches to do that? It’s complex on both sides. One is the FCC defining what are the areas that need this subsidy, this additional funding. And then secondly, what is the service that’s going to be provided?

Steve Collier:

We happen to think that fiber, ultimately provides that kind of speed that is going to be required to live in a world of operating online, medicine, education, entertainment, work. I think we’re going to see, as a result of this pandemic, a lot more people who will have figured out, I can work pretty well from home, and I like being home. I’ve worked from an office in my home since 2008, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even though from time to time, my physical presence in the house means that I’m available for any little chore that might need to be done, I am so much more productive at home because I can get up at 10 o’clock at night and say, oh my gosh, I need to do this. I don’t have to fight traffic, I don’t have to commute. I just walk a few steps, sit down at my computer and do the work.

Steve Collier:

My only commute is occasionally to the airport to fly out to visit with a client. It’s a fundamental change in the way we do things, and I think the demand for broadband internet, adequate broadband internet, is going to go way up as a result of this pandemic, because people have gotten used to and comfortable with, and even saying, this is better than when I used to drive over there in the car, I like doing it from my home on my computer.

Broadband Connectivity is a Requirement not a Luxury

Craig:

I think you just hit the nail on the head. If there is one possible silver lining to what we’ve gone through for the last three months and will continue to deal with for the foreseeable future, it’s just that. The need and the recognition that connectivity for everybody is no longer a luxury, it is essential, and we have to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Conexon is currently working with more than four dozen providers that are in the process of building fiber broadband networks. That has to be rewarding both personally and professionally.

Steve Collier:

It really is. If you look at a kid in school today and if they don’t have broadband internet access, they’re disadvantaged, they’re severely disadvantaged. We’re not the only ones doing it. We have our view of the world and how we think it ought to be done. We think it ought to be done with fiber, but there are other ways of getting megabit per second, then a gigabit per second. I think it’s important to the health of the nation that our kids, our doctors, our teachers, have adequate access to this magic carpet that lets you be anywhere, anytime, take advantage of any knowledge that exists. That’s where we’re going to go. I think the pandemic has really changed some people’s minds about yeah, I’d love to go back to work, but gosh, I hate driving in traffic. Can’t I just do this from home?

 

Richard Nixon, Bobby Knight and Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Brad Hine:

I do want to step back a little bit. You spoke at the beginning of our podcast about playing college basketball. Would you tell us one of your favorite basketball stories from that time in your life?

Steve Collier:

Well, it’s really interesting. I’m an electrical engineer. I grew up in a ranching rural family basically. My dad was a chemist at a potash mine, but I spent a lot of time living with my uncles. I’ve gotten to know and be in contact with so many famous people, it’s just kind of weird. It started really with an appointment from President Nixon to West Point. I didn’t last at West Point, I had an accident there in my second summer. First summer was called Beast Barracks and second summer was called Camp Buckner. It’s a camp where you do live fire and things, and I had an accident and I had a medical discharge. But while I was at West Point, I did play basketball, the one season that I was there.  And my first and only season of playing basketball at West Point was Bobby Knight’s last season.

Steve Collier:

Of all the things in the world…here’s a boy who grew up living with his uncles to being coached by Bobby Knight. Of course at the time we didn’t know that. I mean, he was a young guy. He left West Point, I think in 1971, that was his last season, the only coach to ever bring West Point more than 100 wins, but I loved him. I still do. I think he knows the business better than anybody in the world, the basketball business, and it was amazing. We didn’t know at the time that he was going to be famous. So then I moved on, as I mentioned to New Mexico State, I went to the branch college in my town in Carlsbad while I healed up from my misfortune at West Point, then I got to play ball at New Mexico State for Lou Henson, the only coach that ever brought New Mexico State to the final four. And so, I got to do that as well. I’d be on the floor with Lew Alcindor, who we know today as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and got to watch from the sidelines.

Steve Collier:

We lost to UCLA, beat St. Bonaventure, then we got to watch from the sidelines when UCLA and University of Houston met for the second time in the career of Elvin Hayes and Lew Alcindor. That was the second time in their career that they faced each other on the floor, and just to be on the sidelines, much less to have been a part of all of that, was just an amazing experience.

Craig:

Steve, I think you automatically are now in the top three of guest stories here on the Broadband Bunch. That was awesome.

Steve Collier:

It’s just weird that a kid from the country has had the opportunity to be in the middle of so many really, really wonderful things. Providence must be working there somehow because I can’t think of any reason that I deserve it.

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