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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tim Engebretson-The Leader

If you are a parent, this about a coach you would want your son or daughter to have. If you are a player, this is about the kind of coach you would like to play for. And for us coaches, this is the kind of coach we would aspire to be like.

Tom Loewy and I had an interesting relationship as writer and coach. I think I interviewed him more than he interviewed me. I enjoyed Tom covering my teams because after we got done talking about the game, we then just talked about sports and politics. The general theme of our conversations about sports was always about what each of us thought made for successful teams, programs, and coaches. The name that kept coming up in Tom's conversation was Tim Engebretson, the football coach at Monmouth Warren at the time. So that is how Coach Engebretson become my choice for an interview.

First I asked Jay Redfern for information on Coach Engebretson. Jay's reply---
“Here are a few things I dug up on Tim Engebretson, who I consider one of the best coaches around, and a really nice guy. He has guided the United Red Storm/Warren Warriors to the playoffs in 17 of his 18 seasons at the helm. Tim Engebretson has a (147-53) record as head coach at United and the former Monmouth Warren (now a part of United). He led the Red Storm to a Class 1A state championship in 2004, the first year of the school's existence.”

Then I asked Tom Loewy if he would write an intro to my interview. Tom thanked me for asking him to do that. I think that tells you the level of respect that people have for this coach. Here is what Loewy has to say:
     When I think about Tim Engebretson, my mind goes back a few years. Bearing witness to United High School’s 2004 Class 1A football title was a sight to behold.
     Reporters covering small-school sports don’t get to witness many championship games. And fewer still get much of glimpse inside a championship season.
     There were many things that made the United Red Storm’s season which culminated in a 21-14 victory over Stockton in Champaign special. Folks might not remember in the glow of trophies and medals, but the Red Storm was the product of an at-timesbitter consolidation process between Alexis and Warren that culminated in March of 2004.
      Alexis’ football Cardinals were a battle-hardened group that featured a class of seniors who started for coach Job Linboom since their freshman season. Warren carried the tradition of consecutive playoff appearances and a large, devoted fan following. Games at Warren High School were big events for parents, students, alumni and people who lived in and around rural Monmouth.
      Forgotten, too, might be the fact United started the season 0-2. Its defensive secondary was a bit of a mess. One couldn’t help but wonder at the start of the season if the team wasn’t having trouble combining forces. It was assumed Linboom was finding his way on Engebretson’s veteran staff, a group that included Ben McIntosh, who was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006, and players from a one-time rival might have divided loyalties.
      A few media folks even mused that perhaps the quiet, unassuming Engebretson was too nice a guy to whip his players into a cohesive unit.  After all, football coaches are expected to be screamers. Or at least emotive sideline pacers.
   Whatever happened during the first two games of the 2004 season was fixed. The formerly beleaguered secondary created turnover after turnover. A deep, physical and fast-when-it-had-to-be squad roared through the rest of the regular season, playoffs and Champaign.
When the dust settled, many said the title was affirmation of Tim Engebretson’s coaching greatness. State titles make great coaches.
     Along the road to championship glory, people who paid close attention noticed that Engebretson is not only an unassuming guy. He is a coach who did the one thing all smart coaches do, he gave his players and his staff time to sort things out. There was no panic at 0-2. No big changes. High school football players are teenagers and coaches are teachers. Engebretson knows that.
      If he is called a great coach, it should be for the way in which Engebretson marshals his forces, allows players and coaches to do what they do best within the schemes and designs his team employs.
Would Engretson have the reputation he now enjoys if United didn’t have a state title trophy in the case? That’s hard to say and for the beholder to decide.
        But what made Engebretson a great coach  in the eyes of those who watched closely was how he found a way to put kids from two different programs on the same page in very short order. He made his players better because he let his assistants make him better.
        That should be the goal of every high school sports program. The kid graduating from the football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball or soccer team should have understanding of how they contributed every day, worked to maximize their own abilities and make their teammates better.
        We live in a world where greatness is defined by championship titles and statistical performance. Once you look beyond trophies and numbers, Engebretson is proof true greatness is a quiet, humbling journey that requires us to check our egos at our own front doors.--- Tom Loewy

Here is my email interview with Coach Engebretson--

Why did you originally go into coaching?  
Engebretson-  I always knew I did not have the skills or athleticism to play sports for a living. Yet, I could not imagine my life without sports. That is how I decided to become a coach. I never had much interest in anything else, I guess I've never really grown up.

Is there a person or persons who have had a major influence on your coaching career? If so, how?
Engebretson- My parents and my brother and sisters had a large influence on me. I was also heavily influenced by my Junior High basketball coach,  Rusty Egan. I just liked the way he interacted with kids and I wanted to be like him. Later in life my wife and children changed the way I dealt with my profession and it became even more enjoyable. Every coach I have worked with has had a positive influence on me. When you coach with people you develop a special bond and I have been fortunate to work with some exceptional people. I would have to say Ben McIntosh and Dennis Larson have had the biggest impact on me in coaching. I think Ben McIntosh is the main reason we have experienced some of the success we have had.

If you were hiring someone to be a head coach in a sport, what would you look for in that person?
Engebretson-  I would look for someone who is really in it for the kids, someone who is looking to develop kids in all walks of life.

In our program right now we are running the Grinnell “System”, obviously with your success, you have your own “system.” How would you describe your “system”?
Engebretson-  Our system is archaic. Most of our principles have been around forever. Most of our scheme revolves around simple fundamentals. It isn't that we don't like the more sophisticated and complex schemes, we just feel our basic ball control offense gives us the best chance to win and be consistent. We feel like we can plug any type of athlete into our scheme and he can experience success. Maybe we can get away with our simplistic scheme because we are in the smallest classification of schools, but I have witnessed it being successful at all levels of high school and college.

Has the nature of coaching changed during the time you have been a coach?
Engebretson-  It has changed drastically. It has become year round for all sports, between skill development and training it occupies a great deal of the kids time. The age at which kids play in competitive events is much earlier. Technology changes every other year and the way you prepare for games  is completely different than when I started. Many of the changes are positive, but I think we could do without some of our dramatic changes.
What do you know now that you did not know when you first started in coaching? Are there any things you wish you would have known when you started?
Engebretson-  There are to many things to mention. I do know that you can learn something new everyday. Just like anything in life, experience is the best teacher. I just feel lucky that I have always been surrounded by great people and many times I had people who could save me when I was making mistakes.

As you look back on some of your top players, what characteristics did they have that separated them from the average player?
Engebretson-  When I look back at our best players they all had great speed. What put some of them over the top was a burning desire to compete, they simply enjoyed the challenge of competing. A great work ethic and a willingness to prepare has made a tremendous difference for many of those kids. The funny thing about some of the traits I just mentioned,  is that they are natural physical or mental attributes. We as coaches did very little to develop those type of kids.

Would you want your son or daughter to go into coaching?
Engebretson - My first response is always no way to that question. There are too many headaches, too much frustration. Then I think about it, I have had so many positive experiences in coaching how could I not want them involved. I would be OK with it if they understood the highs and lows in the profession.

Thank you Coach Engebretson. After my conversations with Tom and Jay, and the comments from Coach Engebretson, I am struck that John Wooden was right and Leo Durocher was wrong.

 John Wooden once said, “It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit.” Any interview you read with Coach Engebretson it is obvious that he is not worried about taking credit. How much of the success of his teams is the result of his tremendous humility?

Leo Durocher said, “Nice guys finish last.” We hear so many negative stories about athletics. This is a story about winning with class!


  1. Well done, Tom, on the intro, Evan on the questions, and Tim on the answers. A very interesting interview!

  2. Wow, great stuff. Evan, I think if you ever decide to leave coaching, maybe you should go into journalism!