NOW's Coach of Year selection one of our toughest

Dec. 11, 2012

Coaching legend Phil Jackson won a mind-boggling 11 National Basketball Association championships. Remarkably, the Zen Master has just one NBA Coach of the Year Award on his mantle, procured in 1996.

Homestead football coach Dave Keel might know the feeling. And it's our fault.

Keel, a staple of prep football in Wisconsin, has led four teams to the state championship - 1999, 2006, 2008 and again this year, when the Highlanders snapped Waunakee's state-record 48-game winning streak in a 14-0 victory Nov. 16.

And yet, Keel has never been named All-Suburban Coach of the Year. It sounds irresponsible on our part, but the sports team at NOW Newspapers has always been faced with a tough call.

In 1999, when Keel's team turned around from a 4-5 campaign in 1998 to win that state title, the award went to Scott Zwirschitz of Franklin, who turned a 1-8 team into a South east divisional champ.

In 2006, it was Brookfield Central's Doug Lange who flipped an 0-7 team to 7-0 on its way to an overtime loss in the state-title game. In 2008, Rob Leboeuf of Whitnall led his team to a winning season and the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

As with Phil Jackson, expectations play a big role in "Coach of the Year" consideration; it's easier to see the impact of a coach when the team exceeds expectations by a significant degree. Then again, Keel shouldn't be penalized for producing a program that has always been in the title conversation.

But here we are again, honoring Matt Good of Wauwatosa West, who orchestrated a remarkable turnaround as his team went from a struggling Woodland Conference program to a 7-1 team - and in a newly fashioned league that seemed to stack the deck against the Trojans, no less. It seems unjust, given that all Keel's team did was win the Division 2 state championship in a year when the Highlanders weren't supposed to be at a state-title level.

What's crazy is that Keel is only one of several strong candidates for this season's All-Suburban Coach of the Year Award, an annual plaudit that generated an inter-office debate so heated that we actually considered forgoing the award entirely this year. We have a voting process but also try to talk these things through, splitting hairs to the finest degree trying to make our selection. In a truly remarkable year for area football programs, here is what we were faced with:

Tom Swittel

We knew Brookfield East would be solid, but as we looked at the Greater Metro, we saw Sussex Hamilton, Marquette and Brookfield Central as the favorites after the three teams shared last year's title. Maybe Menomonee Falls and Brookfield East would make some noise. They certainly did.

Falls, piloted by another Coach of the Year candidate in John Baker, shocked Hamilton midseason and wound up second in the GMC, with its only loss to East. The Spartans, meanwhile, buoyed by All-Suburban Player of the Year Alec James, ran the table and emerged as one of the state's surprise powerhouses.

The Greater Metro was a huge challenge top-to-bottom, with Marquette (a team that had never before missed the WIAA postseason) and West Allis Hale (a team that defeated eventual state semifinalist Badger) among the teams that did not earn a playoff berth. East nonetheless avoided a slip-up, won its first conference title since 1985, and headed into the playoffs unbeaten. Swittel's team improved to 10-0 and had a lead through three quarters in a much-anticipated Level 3 battle before falling to Whitefish Bay, a team coached by …

Jim Tietjen

The Blue Dukes came into the year with high expectations for themselves, and they absolutely delivered. Not only did Bay share the North Shore Conference title (its first since 1993), but the squad advanced all the way to Level 4 of the playoffs for the first time. Along the way, their only loss came in a 14-13 game against Germantown and the team eked out a win against mighty Homestead.

Tietjen's team took on Waunakee and its endless winning streak in Level 4. Bay scored twice in rapid succession to force overtime, then lost in a heartbreaker.

Matt Good

And then there's Good, whose Trojans were looking for just their second playoff appearance since 1984. A new alignment in the Woodland made that a challenge - now Tosa West would have to fight off the likes of New Berlin Eisenhower, Pewaukee, Greendale, New Berlin West and newcomer Milwaukee Pius to accomplish that feat. Those schools had a combined 17 playoff qualifications and 29 postseason games played since Tosa West last qualified with a 5-5 team in 2006.

Tosa West, with just eight wins in its preceding four seasons combined, finished 7-2, clobbering Eisenhower, edging Greendale in an overtime thriller and losing its only regular-season game to unbeaten Pewaukee. Greendale avenged the loss with a first-round playoff win, but it was a shocking turn of events for the Trojans, even though Good expressed optimism at the season's outset.

The list also included Ken Krause of Muskego and Mike Bartholomew of Oak Creek. Any one of these guys could have been our Coach of the Year. What a great season for area football.

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