Ex-DePaul star joins coaching profession

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Ex-DePaul star joins coaching profession

Every time he sees David Cohn run up and down the court, Tom Kleinschmidt is reminded of the approach he used to take while playing Catholic League basketball...relentless work ethic, gym rat, throwback, old-school, scorer, student of the game, role model, black-and-blue.

Kleinschmidt took Gordon Tech to second place in the Class AA tournament in 1990, earned All-America recognition at DePaul, then had a 12-year professional career with teams in Japan, Italy and Venezuela. After serving as an assistant coach at York High School in Elmhurst for one year, he became head coach this season.

Cohn, a 6-2 junior point guard who has played for three coaches in three years, didn't need an introduction. In fact, he said he was "ecstatic" when he learned of Kleinschmidt's promotion. Former York star Will Sullivan had filled him in on Kleinschmidt's prior achievements.

"He's always trying to give me tips. The more he told me, the more success I had. I knew he would help me and the team more than any other coach," Cohn said. "I like everything he brings to the table. He knows when to have fun and when to be serious. He corrects the way you should be corrected.

"He knows how to get to certain players. He yells at some when he needs to. He puts his arm around others and tells them what they need to do. He knows what to say, the right thing to say to the right person.

"We'll surprise a lot of people this year. Kids are more excited about basketball in Elmhurst and what we can do once everybody buys into what the coach wants to do. We'll keep looking better and better."

Cohn still isn't sure what Kleinschmidt means when he refers to a Catholic League basketball player. Kleinschmidt's definition is "physical, black-and-blue, knock people on their behinds."

"But I think we'll buy into it," Cohn said. "If someone gets hit, we'll hit them back. It isn't what we are used to but the coach has done a great job in changing the culture.

"We really look up to him. He played basketball at the highest level in college. There are no negatives when you talk about him. I don't know if he works as hard as (legendary York cross-country coach) Joe Newton, who has 26 state titles. But he wants a state title as much as we do. He is a terrific coach and a basketball mind."

How's that for an endorsement? Talk about getting your players to buy into your philosophy, your system, your program, your way of doing things. And Kleinschmidt isn't even running for office. His latest example of salesmanship was ordering new uniforms for next year.

"I was a goal-setter when I was playing," Kleinschmidt said. "My immediate goal is to win the conference. Long-term, it is to win the state title. People look at me as though I'm crazy. Can I coach? I'm confident at what I'm doing. I feel I am prepared and organized. I feel I know what to run and when to run it. I'll be a gym rat as a coach, just as I was as a player, scouting and looking for an edge whenever I can get it."

Kleinschmidt retired from competition in 2008 at age 33. He loved playing but 12 years on the road was a hardship on his family, which remained in Chicago. He spent seven or eight months in Japan, then played in Italy or Venezuela. It added up to being on the road for 10 months a year for seven years. But after four surgeries on his knees and ankles, it was time to come home for good.

"I always knew I would coach. I just didn't know when or in what capacity," he said.

He returned to DePaul, completed work toward his degree, and interned with coach Jerry Wainwright. He served as Wainwright's director of basketball operations, then assistant coach. When Wainwright was fired, he joined coach Al Biancalana's staff at York. When Biancalana left for Illinois-Chicago, he assisted new coach Dominic Cannon. When Cannon left after one year, Kleinschmidt moved up.

"It's a great blessing, a great thing for me," Kleinschmidt said. "I'm still working with special education kids in school. I love working with kids, eight periods a day with autistic kids. I plan to get a master's degree in special education."

He also is getting a master's degree in basketball. He has learned from some of the best teachers in the game, including Wainwright, Biancalana, Dick Versace, Tony Barone, Jim Harrington, Bob Ociepka, Tracy Webster and Mike Bailey.

"Basketball is my life. When I was out of it, I wasn't a very happy man," he said. "Ex-players say that if you can play, you can coach. But that isn't true at all. You must be prepared and organized. It hasn't got anything to do with X's and O's."

On his first day of practice on Nov. 7, he set out to change the culture in a program that has known success over the years, dating to coach Dick Campbell in the 1960s, but has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in the state tournament.

"We're going to be tough and physical," he told his players.

In the age of Google and the Internet, he figured they knew who he was, what his credentials as a player were, his glory days at Gordon Tech and DePaul. But there still were some things they didn't know.

"The other day, a player made a clean foul on a fast break. I said it was a 1990 Gordon Tech foul. The kid said: '1990?' It puts it all in perspective."

Kleinschmidt understands that he is only 38 years old but he still is dealing with 16, 17 and 18-year-old kids who had to look him up on Google. The game has changed. So have the teaching methods. And Kleinschmidt is the boss for the first time. To feel comfortable, he hired his 26-year-old brother David as his No. 1 assistant.

"My trademark? We're going to be a high IQ team," he said. "You can't have a system. You must adapt to what personnel you have. You have to make it work. We'll try to get up and down the floor. But you can't run a motion offense with five 6-8 guys. And we'll try to play good team defense, man-to-man. I'll puke if I have to play zone but I might have to with our size.

"College and pro basketball is cut-throat. But I have to remind myself that these are 16, 17 and 18-year-old kids. I must teach them. I can't go off on them. I can't expect them to know if I haven't taught it. I think I'm a good teacher.

"But I never had patience before. I lived in a fast-paced society. I wanted it now, worked hard and got it. But 17-year-old kids don't think like I do. I've got to explain it again and have more patience."

Kleinschmidt also knows how important leadership is on the court. And he believes he has one in Cohn.

"You need leaders," he said. "I felt I was a good leader and I was around a lot of good leaders. It's obvious when you don't have it. Now I know why we didn't win in some years was because we didn't have good leadership. It can happen in high school with parents in the crowd and with issues like playing time. Everybody has to be on the same page."

Kleinschmidt will build his first team around Cohn, 6-7 sophomore Frank Toohey and 6-4 senior Mike Despinich. Despite missing a few months with a broken wrist which limited his exposure on the summer AAU circuit, Cohn has received scholarship offers from Illinois-Chicago, Illinois State, Valparaiso, Drake and Colorado State and interest from Penn State and Nebraska. He anticipates more offers.

"My goal is to stay healthy this season. If I do, more scholarship offers will come," Cohn said. "I will play AAU with the Illinois Wolves in the spring, then make a decision in late May or early June."

Cohn insists he isn't a pure point guard, like Jason Kidd, someone who thinks pass first and shot second. "I have a score first mentality," said Cohn, who averaged 16 points per game as a sophomore for a 20-9 team that finished second in the West Suburban Silver and lost to De La Salle in the regional final.

"Some people refer to me as a combo guard. My best asset is scoring," he said. "I'm the kid who can make plays. I'm a playmaker. I love making others better as much as making myself look good. I'm the one who gets the flow of the offense going."

Sounds like he and his coach are on the same page.

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since the fist of Michael Barrett famously hit the face of A.J. Pierzynski, creating one of the most legendary moments in the Windy City Series between the White Sox and Cubs. 

The punch lasted only one second, but speaking with the man who was on the receiving end of that punch, Pierzynski knows he'll be hearing about it for the rest of his life.

"It's just one of those things that happens," Pierzynski said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Hey, you got to be remembered for something."

Fans won't let him forget it, even if some have forgotten what actually happened that day—which might also include Pierzynski. More on that in a moment.

First to the play that started it all. It occurred on May 20, 2006. While scoring a run on a sacrifice fly on a ball hit to shallow left field, Pierzynski knocked over Barrett at home plate. The White Sox catcher then moved towards the Cubs backstop to retrieve his helmet. 

If it was anybody else, nothing would have happened. This story you're reading would never have been written.

But this was Pierzynski, one of the most hated players in baseball, the notorious monkey in the middle of everything.

This Sox was about to get socked.

"I went up to get my helmet. He grabbed me and said, 'I didn't have the ball (bleep)," recalled Pierzynski. Barrett threw a right hook that hit Pierzynski square in the left cheek, producing an image that has been permanently burned into the minds of Cubs and White Sox fans.

Or so we thought.

A decade later, Pierzynski says he frequently comes across people who have somehow forgotten what actually occurred.

"What's happened now is most people don't remember what really happened. They just know Barrett and I got into a fight," Pierzynski said. "Most people actually think that I hit him. People (say to me) 'Remember that time you punched Barrett and knocked him down?' So, it's kind of funny how it's kind of changed over the years."

But still, many people do remember the punch quite well, especially Cubs fans who relish in heckling Pierzynski whenever he comes to town, like earlier this month when his Braves played the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“They’ll say things like, ‘Michael Barrett's coming. Look out!’ And I'll be like, 'Yeah, whatever,'" Pierzynski said. “Or they’ll yell ‘Hey, you suck! Or I hate you!’ Then it’s like, ‘Okay, great. Welcome to the club.’” 

The White Sox won the game that day 7-0, but Cubs fans have had a victory of sorts ever since—the memory of Barrett pelting their White Sox nemesis, a guy who pestered them for years.

But even Pierzynski himself seems to remember the play differently than everyone else. His account of what occurred will probably get under the skin of Cubs fans.

What else would you expect from A.J.?

"He didn't really hit me though, that's the thing," said Pierzynski. "He kind of just pushed me. It was weird, because he grabbed me and we were so close. It wasn't like (Rougned) Odor when he hit (Jose) Bautista where he wound up. I mean, it was so close that he just kind of pushed me off balance. 

"And (third base coach Chris) Speier grabbed me right away and then like 10 guys from the White Sox jumped on top of him. And poor (Cubs outfielder John) Mabry who was my hitting coach in St. Louis. I know we were laughing about it when I was in St. Louis. I think he ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and he had nothing to do with it."

Call it a punch, call it a push, most athletes who take a hit like that would be so humiliated they’d never want to talk about it again.

Not Pierzynski.

“I literally laugh about it. It’s funny to me,” Pierzynski said. “Now my kids are of the age to use the internet, so now that’s like the first picture that always comes up, and they’re like, ‘Why did you get in the fight with the guy?’ I tell them the story and they have to explain it to their friends. It’s just one of those things that happens in your life. Hey, at least it happened on national TV and gives people something to talk about.”

Six weeks after the fight, Barrett sought out Pierzynski at Wrigley Field before the White Sox and Cubs resumed the Crosstown Series on the North Side. The two shook hands, made amends and the feud was over.

But the two have not spoken to each other since.

“I haven’t seen him,” Pierzynski said. “I mean, we played a little bit, but I haven’t seen him off the field.”

What would you say to him?

“I don’t know. ‘Hey, how you doing?’ I don’t even know what he does anymore.”

Barrett is currently the minor league catching coordinator for the Washington Nationals. Attempts to interview him for this story were unsuccessful.

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At 39, Pierzynski isn’t sure how much longer he’ll play. He already has enough baseball memories to fill multiple lifetimes. But his recollections of those classic White Sox-Cubs games will never fade.

“I played in Yankees-Red Sox, I played in Dodgers-Giants, Cardinals-Cubs, nothing matched the intensity," he said. "Maybe it was because I was on the White Sox and there was such a dislike for the other team, not only in the fan base, but also kind of the organization. It’s just kind of there. 

"It just brought out the best. It always seemed like it brought out the best in both teams. It was always the one game you circled, and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re playing the Cubs coming up in a week. Everyone be ready.’”

Pierzynski was always ready—maybe not for Barrett’s fist—but the face that took the beating that day gave us all a knockout Cubs-White Sox moment, one we will never forget.

Preview: White Sox host Cubs in Crosstown Classic tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox host Cubs in Crosstown Classic tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Cubs in the Crosstown Classic tonight, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with an hour-long White Sox Pregame Live at 6:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight's starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (2-5, 4.41 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.60 ERA)

White Sox HR leaders Cubs HR leaders
Todd Frazier (28) Kris Bryant (25)
Brett Lawrie (12) Anthony Rizzo (24)
Jose Abreu (11) Ben Zobrist (13)

Looking Ahead:

Date White Sox Cubs
Tuesday James Shields (4-12, 4.99 ERA) Kyle Hendricks (9-6, 2.27 ERA)
Wednesday Jacob Turner (0-1, 14.73 ER Jason Hammel (9-5, 3.35 ERA)
Thursday TBD TBD

MORE:

Chuck Garfien and Bill Melton on the impact of the Crosstown Classic

David Kaplan and Todd Hollandsworth give Cubs analysis for Crosstown Classic

Top Crosstown Moment: Blackhawks celebrate Cup with Cubs-Sox

Crosstown Classic: Look inside the Wrigley Field scoreboard

Todd Frazier on Crosstown Classic: 'I heard it gets a little crazy'

GAME PREVIEW: Click here to make sure you're ready for the action.

— Shop White Sox: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Bears mix of QB Jay Cutler with OC Dowell Loggains still a critical work in progress

Bears mix of QB Jay Cutler with OC Dowell Loggains still a critical work in progress

Back in January, before the Bears promoted Dowell Loggains from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, CSNChicago.com took an advance look at Loggains and how he might fit with Jay Cutler were the Bears to make Loggains yet another in the long list of coordinators for Cutler. With the start of training camp at hand, a longer look at this pivotal coach-player situation comes into focus.

No change made by the Bears this offseason carries the weight of the one moving Dowell Loggains to offensive coordinator to replaced departed Adam Gase. Quarterback Jay Cutler is coming off the best statistical season of his career, founded on the ball-security foundation instilled by Gase and Loggains. The Gase-to-Loggains succession plan projects to catapult Cutler, and with him the offense, to a next level.

Not necessarily.

For now, as they were when Mike Martz, Aaron Kromer and others took the Chicago O.C. job, all the right things are being said:

From Loggains on Cutler’s improvement under Gase and himself: “I don’t think Adam or I should take the credit,” Loggains said. “I think Jay made the choice to improve and work on the things that we asked him to work on. And I hope that process continues.”

From Cutler: “I’ve known Dowell like I’ve known Adam, for a long time… . The backbone of this offense is still the same. Even if Adam was here I think we still would have changed some stuff and got better in certain areas. So we’re just kind of continuing down that road.”

But Cutler having a positive relationship with an incoming coach means…nothing.

Indeed, his history is not encouraging, even with coaches he ostensibly thought highly of coming in, even ones already on staff or had worked with him previously.

Mike Tice was promoted from offensive line coach to coordinator when Mike Martz was fired after the 2011 season, Cutler’s previous best for avoiding interceptions. Tice had been instrumental in balancing the offense in 2010 when Martz’s schemes and protections were getting Cutler annihilated.

But by mid-2012, Cutler’s relationship and communications with Tice had deteriorated to the point of backup Josh McCown needing to serve as go-between.

Notably, the 2012 friction was developing even as the Bears were on their way to a 10-6 season, and with Jeremy Bates having been hired as quarterbacks coach. That was based in part on Bates’ relationships with Cutler from a 2006-08 overlapping stint with the Denver Broncos. Cutler’s relationship with Tice was toxic, and Bates went down along with Tice and the rest of Lovie Smith’s staff after that season.

The Bears have added Dave Ragone, a member of the Tennessee Titans staff with Loggains and having played two NFL games in 2003. But the Bears’ offense will turn on the Cutler-Loggains axis and it relationship elements, both football and inter-personal.

“There’s definitely some honesty there,” Cutler said, smiling. “He’s not afraid to tell me when I’m completely wrong and rightfully so. I like to tell him whenever I think we’re not doing things right or we need to change things.

“I think at the core of that we kind of cut through some stuff and we get things done a little bit quicker… .No one’s really sensitive. We just try to get it done.”

When Gase talked, Cutler listened. Will Cutler’s receptors stay open when something goes wrong, as something invariably will sometime in an NFL season? That is on Cutler, and his openness to yet another coordinator was at the root of his improvement to a career-best passer rating of 92.3.

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Loggains has been notably vocal during open practices, with more than Cutler alone. That is a departure from Gase’s demeanor, although Gase was more than capable of tough love when anyone on his side of the football needed it.

“I think it’s a mutual respect,” Loggains said of his Cutler relationship. “I think I respect him and he respects me. I think that when you have that mutual respect then all dialogue is legal. So whatever I say to him, he knows where it’s coming from and vice versa.”

Cred issues?

Some questions hanging over Loggains have less to do with Loggains himself, but rather his background.

Gase came to the Bears from two years as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos under John Fox. Gase, quarterbacks coach for the preceding two seasons, moved into that job when Mike McCoy was hired to coach the San Diego Chargers.

The Denver gig included three seasons working with Peyton Manning. While Manning needed scant coaching at that point in his career, the point was less how much Gase coached Manning as much as what Gase brought with him from his time with Manning. Gase knew from up close what a Hall of Fame quarterback looked like.

Loggains’ NFL career stops have accorded him time with no one approaching Manning’s stature. Not surprisingly, in time with three different teams, Loggains has not been involved with an offense that ranked in the top half of the league:

Year Team Job Offense results
2015 Bears QB 21st ydg, 21st pass, 23rd pts.
2014 Browns QB 27th pass, 27th pts.
2013 Titans O.C. 21st ydg, 21st pass, 19th pts.
2012 Titans QB/O.C. 26th ydg, 22nd pass, 23rd pts.
2011 Titans QB 17th ydg, 15th pass, 21st pts.

The Tennessee Titans’ quarterbacks during Loggains’ years there were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. The 2014 Browns put up the seventh-highest passing yardage in franchise history, with Brian Hoyer, Connor Shaw and Johnny Manziel as their quarterbacks.

No slight of any of the quarterbacks, but a point around Loggains might be not how little the offenses achieved in his time with them, but rather, how much.

“I think that I’ve had an opportunity working with Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland and Adam Gase this last year, obviously there’s stuff I’ve taken from both of them,” Loggains said. “Going back in the quarterback room, I think it was good for me. It was a good experience. Things you obviously change are, ‘hey, in Tennessee I like the way we did this and we’ll bring that here. In Cleveland, I like the way we did whatever.’. So it’s gaining knowledge from being around other people and being in different situations.”