Bears

Goers back in shape--to coach again?

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Goers back in shape--to coach again?

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."

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

After the final horn sounded on the Bears' signature win of the season so far — a 31-24 trouncing of the Cowboys that wasn't as close as the final score — and all the patented 'Club Dub' celebrations had concluded, a subdued, resolute and focused locker room remained.

These aren't the 2018 Bears — no matter how decisive and dynamic Mitch Trubisky was tonight; no matter the fits the team's depleted front seven gave one of the most talented offensive lines in the league; no matter the balanced plan of attack deployed by Matt Nagy, or that they're now one game closer to an improbable run to the playoffs.

Three weeks ago, this team had been all but dismissed by the greater Chicago faithful. And perhaps that was fair. In year two of the Nagy-Trubisky coach-quarterback pairing, the team was on pace to regress in just about every category you could conjure — most importantly wins. Now, they're 7-6, above .500, and only 1.5 games behind the Vikings for the No. 6 seed in the NFC (with a matchup against them looming in Week 17). 

Tonight, the process may have been even more encouraging than the result, especially looking forward to a challenging three-game close to the season.

"When you win, your confidence goes up. Players, they play different in regard to when you're winning," Matt Nagy said postgame. "You play looser. You don't press as much. I think right now the identity between the defense, the offense, it doesn't feel like one of those deals where if we don't hold them to under 14 points, we don't have a chance to win."

Trubisky was as sharp as he's ever been in one of the bigger games of his career, tossing for 244 yards and amassing four total touchdowns — three through the air, one on the ground. And talk about loose: He also put together his most impressive rushing performance in over a calendar year, breaking out for 63 yards on 10 attempts, including a late-game 23-yard touchdown (to put the Bears ahead 31-14) that ignited Soldier Field around him.

His resurgence has come in lockstep with the Bears' season turning. Perhaps that's no coincidence.

"I think it says we're resilient, stick together, believe in each other even when nobody else believes in us," Trubisky said. "That's a special group in that locker room. We want to keep this feeling going, focusing on the little things, focusing hard, sticking together, doing our jobs."

Allen Robinson said that the team's confidence has "never wavered." Charles Leno said the offense is firing on all cylinders. The defense, missing four starters, didn't miss a beat until the Cowboys tacked on some garbage-time fluff late in the game.

A crucial, yet challenging, stretch looms. First, the Bears travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers for the second time this season. Then, back home for Kansas City — though mortal, still one of the more potent offensive attacks in football. And finally, to Minnesota for a potential postseason play-in game. The Bears probably need all three of those games to be wins, save for late-season collapses from the Rams and Vikings (not impossible), to pull off a playoff berth. As it stands currently, they project as underdogs in both those road contests, and possibly even against the Chiefs (though a win in Green Bay would go a long way, there). 

As far as Nagy is concerned... Good. 

"I'm okay with that. For our guys, it's different," Nagy said of assuming the underdog role for the stretch run. "Last year, there was a different type of mentality because we didn't know, there were no expectations. This year, a lot of expectations. So now here we are at 7-6. Who knows really what we're going to be at. We know we have some really good teams coming up. Our guys, as you can see, they're just focused on winning each week. That's what they're doing."

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

If you wanted to throw water on the Bears’ playoff chances, the hardest part would be deciding what well to draw it from. The data overwhelmingly agrees: the Bears, even after a reassuring 31-24 win over Dallas, are longshots to make the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor gives them a 5% chance. The Cowboys, with their 6-7 record and three-game losing streak, have a 59% chance. 

“If we don't win, none of those percentages matter,” Matt Nagy said after the game. “The percentages part, [I don’t know]. I know we’ve got to win.” 

And not only that, but the Bears will have to win while playing the hardest remaining schedule of any team in football. Next Sunday they go to Green Bay, where they haven’t won since 2015. Then all that stands between them and a potential play-in Week 17 game in Minnesota is Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s brutal, but it doesn’t seem as impossible as it did this time yesterday. 

“I think we said that a few weeks back,” Allen Robinson said. “We’ve been saying one game at a time, and I think for us, we’re definitely on the verge of going up right now. So we just want to keep it that way. We’ve been saying it now for the past few weeks. We just want to keep stringing good practices together, good weeks together, and some good runs together.” 

Games like Thursday night’s show you what the Matt Nagy Bears are capable of when things click. It starts with Nagy, who’s finally come around on running the offense that works, even if it is the diluted version. Against Dallas the Bears ran the ball 34 times and threw 31 passes; they’re now 7-2 when running 20 times or more. 

“It’s being able to create chemistry with my O-line,” David Montgomery said. “Those guys have been doing good. I credit them with the little bit of success I’ve had towards the end of the season.”

The passing game has been opened up, ironically enough, with the emergence of three different undrafted tight ends. Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted, and JP Holtz have become legitimate cogs in the offense, which is again a testament to how critical the position is to Nagy and the Bears’ success.

“That's nice to have that,” Nagy said, grinning. “It definitely helps out.” 

“I mean, there were a few things we had in this game plan that were going to give more opportunities. He happened to be that guy on some of the plays. Those guys have stepped up. They've helped us out in that role. You can see when you have that tight end, that presence there, it helps out.”

Holtz joked after the game about being caught off guard by how much open field was in front of him on his 30-yard screen play. It was a well drawn-up and executed play – a good example of a more rigorous attention to detail that Bears coaches and players were finally happy with. 

“Guys are stepping up,” Anthony Miller said. “We’ve got some guys hurt, but we don’t miss a beat. Everybody knows what’s at stake. Everybody knows that we have to win. It’s like every game we’re playing with our backs against the wall. So, every game is a must-win, and we’ve got to get (the Green Bay Packers) in Lambeau next week.”

The injuries are a real concern. Getting Akiem Hicks is taking a step forward but losing Roquan Smith is taking two back. Playoff talk is probably still premature, but like Nagy said, all the Bears can do is win the games in front of them. They’ll play a second straight week of meaningful December football, which is two more than anybody would have guessed before Thanksgiving. 

“We are clicking on all cylinders, with all three phases,” Charles Leno added.  “Even four phases, thanks to the fans out there in Chicago that are always bringing it. 

“It was a really good performance by everybody.”