It has been seven months since Steve Goers announced his retirement as head basketball coach at Rockford Boylan. He left as the winningest coach in state history in boys competition, doesn't regret that he didn't achieve the 900-victory milestone but won't dismiss the notion that he might return.
"I had time to think after the season was over," Goers said. "I had an operation on my knee a week before. I realized I wouldn't be in shape to run my summer camp when it was supposed to start in June. I'm 69 years old and I felt it was time. I'm not burned out.
"What wears you down in this profession is that you are working for 365 days a year...off-the-court stuff, AAU, recruiting, conditioning. The practices and games are fun. They always have been. And I'm in better shape today than I have been in a couple of years."
He works out regularly. He has trimmed down from 224 pounds to 202. His goal is 183, his wedding weight. On this night, while Rockford Boylan is playing Rockton Hononegah, he is at home relaxing with his wife and planning future trips to see his three children and five grandchildren.
His wife recently retired from the Rockford public schools. They believe it is time to see their son Tim coach his basketball team in Booneville, Arkansas. Steve has spend 43 of the past 44 Christmas seasons at basketball tournament. He wonders what life would be like without basketball.
"I miss basketball. I miss coaching," he said. "But I enjoy my flexibility now. I don't have to worry about coaching. There is no stress. But I do miss the challenges. I miss teaching."
He admits he would consider another job for all the right reasons. "I would coach again if the right opportunity came up. But I won't sell my house and move 200 miles to coach in another town," he said.
"I'd much rather do what I want to do when I want to do it rather than coach for another five or six years and not be able to go where I want to go and have to have my kids come to see us."
In the meantime, he can reflect on his coaching accomplishments. He coached at four high schools in 39 years, the last 31 at Rockford Boylan. He won 881 games in his career, including a 752-189 mark at Boylan. His teams won 27 conference, 28 regional and 17 sectional championships. He had a state-record 30 consecutive winning seasons. Twenty-six of his last twenty-eight Boylan teams won at least 20 games. He qualified for the Elite Eight eight times and finished fourth in the Class AA tournament in 1992, 1994 and 1997.
He said his best team was 1992 when Lee Lampley, Boylan's all-time leading scorer, was suspended for disciplinary reasons after the regional and the Titans lost to Peoria Richwoods by one point in the state semifinals. "We missed an offensive rebound and a lay-up in the last second," he recalled. Lampley, Durrell Banks, Johnny Hernandez, Michael Slaughter and Tim Hobson finished fourth with a 30-3 record.
But he can't overlook his 1998 team that finished 30-2, losing to Galesburg and Joey Range twice, including 68-63 in the Sweet Sixteen. Galesburg went on to finish second in the Class AA tournament. Goers had three Division I players on that squad--Damir Krupalija, Jeff Myers and Joe Tulley. Krupalija played at Illinois, Tulley at DePaul.
"What do I miss most about coaching? Helping boys become men. I used to tell them: 'Come to camp as a boy and leave as a man,'" he said.
Goers grew up in Chicago. A Gage Park graduate of 1960, he characterized his basketball skills in modest fashion: "I could pass the ball. I saw the game. Once in a while, I could hit an outside shot. I was slow," he said.
He tried out for Spin Salario's team at Chicago Teachers College at Navy Pier but didn't make it. He spent two years in the Army, then enrolled at Western Illinois and began to coach kids at the YMCA in Macomb. "Coaching started to grow on me," he said.
Goers had another option. His father had founded a printing business on Chicago's North Side in 1950, which his brother still operates today. But Steve didn't want to give up basketball. He worked as a graduate assistant, obtained a masters degree in physical education and health and got a job at tiny Bardolph (enrollment: 58 students), a suburb of Macomb.
He won seven games in his first season, the most the school had won in 10 years. Then he made the most important decision of his life. When the school principal suggested that he should invite coach Red Rogers of Hamilton to speak at the team's postseason banquet, Goers said: "Why not Sherrill Hanks (of Quincy) or John Thiel (of Galesburg)?"
To his surprise, Hanks accepted. "I met him. I realized how much I didn't know," Goers said.
He became an assistant coach at Crete-Monee for one year, then went to Quincy for three years to work with Hanks. "It was the turning point in my career. I got my basketball education," he said.
He went to Oswego, produced an Elite Eight finalist in 1974, went to La Salle-Peru for three years, was fired for not playing a school board member's son in a tennis tournament, went to Harvard for two years, then landed at Boylan in 1980 after legendary coach Dolph Stanley retired.
"At that time, Boylan was a footballbaseball school. Kids went to Boylan to play football," Goers said. "When I was hired, the school had been to the state finals only once in its history, Dolph's first year. At my first camp, I only had 35 kids. But we got to the Sweet Sixteen in my second year."
The game never got dull for him. He never stopped loving the game, teaching his kids, winning games, competing against other great coaches. But he didn't like the distractions. None was bigger or more irritating than AAU or summer travel basketball.
"Now parents are putting their kids on pedestals instead of letting the high school coach do his job," Goers said. "Coaches used to be treated like the family physician. If he told you something, you did it. Now parents think they know more about basketball and recruiting than the coach."
"They get their information from reading articles and looking at the Internet listening to AAU coaches. They forget one important word, entitlement. This is the age of entitlement. Parents feel their sons or daughters are entitled to what they want and they will do whatever they need to do to see that they get it."
"But they fail to understand that if a kid can't overcome adversity when it looks him or her in the eye, how can they overcome it in adult life? When their parents aren't there for them? They have to learn to make decisions without their parents around. It is time to grow up."