By Joe Henricksen
When St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore broke Dick Van Scyoc's state career record for high school victories in 2009 with his 827th win, the record was short lived. Rockford Boylan coach Steve Goers, who was also in hot pursuit of Van Scyoc's win total, soon passed Pingatore and is now currently the all-time leader in career wins.
Goers, however, announced his retirement this week. And with a solid season next winter, Pingatore will reclaim the top spot and, in all likelihood, hold one of the most prestigious state records forever.
The culture of the prep basketball coach in Illinois, both in the mindset and opportunities available, has changed dramatically. Coaches are getting their first crack at head jobs later in age in comparison to 25 or 35 years ago. Plus, the burnout rate is climbing by the year, with the demands and pressure of the job (and the little pay that goes with it) increasing. With that being said, we will be hard pressed to find the "coaching lifer"--the Gene Pingatores, the Steve Goers, the Gordie Kerkmans--in years to come.
So the idea of any coach putting together a career like Pingatore, with 40-plus years as a head coach and in all probability 900-plus wins, is highly unlikely. Repeat: 900 wins.
Goers, who is just shy of 69, finishes his career with an incredible 881 wins. In addition, he caps off an iconic coaching career that includes some mind-boggling accomplishments.
In 39 years of coaching, Goers won 28 regional and 17 sectional championships. He led eight teams to the state tournament--Oswego in 1974 and then taking Boylan to state seven different times. Boylan finished fourth in the state in 1992, 1994 and 1997. And the consistency has been remarkable, with 30 consecutive winning seasons and 20-plus wins in 26 of his final 28 seasons as coach.
Pingatore had a young and rather inexperienced team this past season, which led to a rocky start and tough first season in the Chicago Catholic League. The Chargers, who finished an uncharacteristic 10-17, have a solid nucleus returning. And Pingatore has 6-4 freshman Paul Turner to build around, one of the top young prospects in the state.
Will Pingatore coach forever? Well, maybe. In a conversation with the Hoops Report this winter, Pingatore indicated he's not ready to step down and hasn't given it a whole lot of thought.
Now Pingatore, who has accomplished anything and everything a coach can--building a nationally-recognized program, winning a state title, featured in the documentary film Hoop Dreams, coaching an all-time great in Isiah Thomas and a McDonald's All-American team--can lock in a legendary mark that will never be broken.
BY THE NUMBERS
(Most coaching wins in state history)
881 Steve Goers, Rockford Boylan
862 Gene Pingatore, St. Joseph
826 Dick Van Scyoc, Peoria Manual
810 Arthur Trout, Centralia
792 Vergil Fletcher, Collinsville