Team Thrives With Coaching By Committee
The Times, Jim Peters
Don't tell John Steinhilber that too many cooks can spoil the soup.
In just his second year as Hebron head coach, he guided the Hawks to a 23-1 record and a trip to Saturday's Class 2A North Judson Regional with an approach that resembles a football sideline more than a basketball bench.
"I'm the guy getting the praise or criticism, but it's truly coaching by committee," Steinhilber said. "The first thing I did when I was hired was I wanted to build as strong a staff as I could. It was the first time I was able to hire who I wanted. I was used to teaching everything. You don't see everything as a head coach."
Not long after getting the job in the summer of 2010, Steinhilber contacted Mike Grennes, an assistant coach at Morgan Township for 12 years. He then reached out to Steve Leonard, a 31-year Indiana prep head coach who had been out of the game for the first season since 1974.
"Mike and I think alike. I knew we were a match right away," Steinhilber said. "He uses that halfcourt, in-your-face style of defense that Matt (Bush) teaches at Morgan. I tried to get Steve when I was at South Central, but they wouldn't let me hire him. He had those pressing teams at Lowell and with the personnel we had, it's something I wanted to do."
While Steinhilber runs the offense, Grennes and Leonard share the defense. Grennes coordinates half-court sets and Leonard orchestrates presses and out-of-bounds plays, in addition to working with the big men.
"I was privileged to have John ask me to join his staff," said Leonard, best known for his Runnin' Red Devils teams of the 80s and 90s. "I've really enjoyed incorporating that style into our game plan. When he asked me to help, I said one thing, I said I wanted to coach. I didn't want to be a cheerleader. I give John credit for letting us coach. Delegating responsibility is hard to do. It's worked out really well."
Grennes, a Morgan grad whose children also attend the school, still coaches the Cherokees in boys cross country. When hoops season starts, he now changes colors from green to red.
"It's interesting because we all come from different places, but we all have the same philosophy about basketball," Grennes said. "It's been great to be a part of this. It's amazing how well the kids have absorbed what we're teaching. They understand and are executing what we're telling them to do."
It didn't happen right off the bat last season. The players bought into the philosophy, but the Hawks started 1-6 and one critic dubbed the coaching trio, "The Three Stooges."
"It took a while to figure it out," Steinhilber said. "They didn't know exactly what we were doing. They didn't know the nuances."
When the calendar turned to 2011, things started to click. Hebron won 11 of its last 13 games, finishing 13-8, its best record since 2006.
"We were young. Part of it was us growing up," said senior point guard Damon Wallace, a third-year starter. "Everybody became more patient. They changed the way we play defense. We're much more aggressive. They've been through a lot (as coaches). They pretty much know everything that's going on in our heads so it's easier for them to get us calmed down and headed in the right direction."
Classmate Cody Artuso, who has started since the middle of his freshman year, loves the specialized attention.
"They work with us individually and as a whole," he said. "They picked up the intensity level so much. It wasn't really there before."
Since falling 53-41 to Kouts on Nov. 25, the Hawks haven't lost and the JV went 20-1 to boot. Winning the South County and Porter County Conference tournaments opened some eyes, but it took a sectional victory over defending champion North Judson in the Winamac Sectional to really turn heads around the region.
"We expected to be good. We had higher expectations than most, but I don't think anybody thought we'd be this good," Wallace said. "We've shocked everybody."
Except for three coaches.
"It was just a fit. We clicked right away," Steinhilber said. "We feel lucky and I think they feel lucky, too. We all get along. It's something I've never experienced in 14 years. They're a loose group most of the time, which bugs the heck out of us. We're always asking them, 'Are you ready to play?' and they have been. It's the first team I've had where they all check their egos at the door."
The same holds true for the coaching staff. Based on what the focus of a practice segment or a game timeout is, one coach is in the center of the huddle and the other two are standing behind him.
"The kids like the fact that it's not always me riding them," Steinhilber said. "We all see different things and have different ideas, but we've all done a really good job of being cohesive."
Facing their biggest challenge of the season Saturday in Bowman Academy, the Hawks have left no stone unturned. The coaches and players have pored over video together and on their own in formulating a game plan for the Eagles.
"I'm very proud to be part of this team and staff that's helped Hebron return to state basketball recognition," Leonard said. "The main thing is the players. You can have Bobby Knight and Gene Keady together, but you better have players. They make all the difference in the world."
For Steinhilber, who was let go at South Central despite winning 77 games in six seasons, the success at Hebron has been especially gratifying.
"I feel some sort of redemption," he said. "It's not, take that, but that I do know what I'm doing."