Bears

Pingatore wins No. 900, keeps looking ahead

979709.png

Pingatore wins No. 900, keeps looking ahead

St. Joseph basketball coach Gene Pingatore has won more than 900 games in his 44-year career, putting him in an elite class with Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim and Marshall's Dorothy Gaters.

So it is obligatory to ask him to select the All-Pingatore team, the five best players he has produced. Of the more than 60 Division I players, who were best of all, his all-time starting lineup?

"Isiah Thomas and Tony Freeman are the guards. There is no question about that," he said. "Evan Turner is another. I had three high school All-Americans--Isiah, Daryl Thomas and Deryl Cunningham. So Daryl and Deryl would fill out the starting five."

The bench would be filled with All-Staters, including Ken Williams, Tony Reeder, Marty Clark, Carl Hayes, Brian Molis, William Gates, Gerald Eaker and Brandon Watkins, the star of his 1999 state championship team.

No. 900, achieved against Proviso West in the third round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, wasn't any more special than No. 700 or No. 800. He talked to Knight, his good friend, at the end of October but the subject never came up. "We don't talk about things like that," Pingatore said.

What was neat, he said, was friends told him that Isiah Thomas had mentioned something about his old coach's milestone on his twitter account. Not being a computer person, Pingatore never saw it.

"After the game, they presented me with the ball and a plaque and congratulated him on winning No. 900," he said. "Former players called. I was just happy we won the game. It was nothing special."

Afterward, Pingatore and a small group of close friends went to J. Alexander's in Oak Brook for a postgame meal. "We always go out to eat after game," he said. Again, nothing special.

But the milestone will be celebrated at a family occasion on a yet-to-be-determined date. From six to 16 family members will toast Gene's achievement "on the first available Saturday when we can get everybody together."

"What does it all mean? When I look at everything, it isn't about Gene Pingatore but about all the people who were part of the program...the great players, the great assistant coaches, staff members, administrators, parents, the fan base...everyone who contributed to 900 victories.

"The day I won No. 900, there were a bunch of fans present who have come to a lot of games. That's what it is all about, memories of all the people who have contributed to the success of the program over the years. I'm the one who still is lasting. But when I'm gone, I hope to leave a program that will continue to be successful."

Pingatore, 76, grew up in Cicero. A 1954 graduate of St. Mel, he was a 5-foot-11 forward on coach Jim Weaver's Catholic League powerhouse with Ed Gleason, Andy Sloan and Mike Caroseli. Together, they stunned the legendary Du Sable team of Sweet Charlie Brown, Paxton Lumpkin and Shellie McMillon 83-74 for the city championship.

He attended Loyola in Los Angeles. After graduation, he decided to coach at the high school level. He wanted to make a name for himself in Chicago, then land a college coaching position. By then, his family had moved to Westchester. He saw a sign posted a block from his home that the Christian Brothers, who also operated St. Mel, were planning to build a high school in his neighborhood. He contacted officials at St. Mel, applied for the job and was hired in 1960.

"I'm still here," he said. "I could have left a number of times. I could have gone to college. Bob Knight asked me four or five times to be his assistant but the timing wasn't right. Every time I had a chance to move, I opted not to do it. I have no regrets."

But he admits, based on the way things are, he isn't sure if he was starting his career today that he could last as long as he has.

"I don't know if kids are different but parents are different," he said. "I've said it for a number of years. Now society is different and that has to affect the kids. There are so many distractions...summer leagues, summer coaches, shoe companies, street agents, AAU, personal trainers, recruiting, outside influences.

"You can't coach kids the way you used to coach them. You have no control over what they will do. I used to have open practices. Now they are closed, no parents allowed. Parents are concerned about their own kids, which is understandable, but their kid is always right and the other kid is always wrong.

"They are concerned with playing time and not getting the ball enough and getting a scholarship to a Division I school. I have dealt with parents who think their kid is better than he is and should play at another level. They don't know how tough it is to play at Division I and stay at that level. And I don't know who is talking to their kid."

It almost didn't come to this. After nine years as an assistant at St. Joseph, after applying for several head coaching positions at other high schools and failing to land any of them, Pingatore planned to leave the school after the 1969-70 season to work for Alden's catalog store as a buyer for sporting goods.

In mid-season, however, head coach Pat Callahan resigned and Pingatore took over. "As a result, I never left. It was a quirk of fate," he said.

"Winning games is one thing but, to me, that would be shallow. It's about the successes of all the kids who came through the program. I get my kicks out of what they have become, how successful they have become, not just the athletes like Isiah, Daryl Thomas and Evan Turner but the doctors and lawyers and businessmen and educators. I'm so proud of what they have accomplished."

It all began when Isiah Thomas enrolled. In his first eight years, Pingatore was no better than a .500 coach. In 1977-78, Isiah, then a junior, and Ray Clark led St. Joseph to a 31-2 record and second place in the Class AA tournament.

Since then, Pingatore's teams have won 20 or more games in 28 seasons. St. Joseph won the state title in 1999, was third in 1987 and fourth in 1984. And he doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Retirement? Are you kidding?

"As long as I still am having fun, I will continue to coach, as long as I feel I can contribute and relate to the kids," he said. "That is an issue. Am I relating to them? Am I communicating with them? Do they understand me? If so, I can stay in it. I feel I can still do it."

Does he think about winning 1,000 games? Only 10 high school coaches have won more than 1,000.

"I think in terms of years, not victories," Pingatore said. "How many more years can I have? I worry about high blood pressure. I think about doing a good job, having fun and being healthy. If one leaves me, I may have to consider retiring. I would like to go four or five more years because of the good kids coming in. But I've always said that. I'm not sure I can look that far ahead."

St. Joseph is struggling. Ranked No. 7 in some preseason polls, the Chargers are 9-7 after losing to Gordon Tech last Friday. They host Leo on Friday night, then meet Hyde Park on Saturday at the Bob Hambric Shootout at Thornton Fractional North in Calumet City. Next weekend, they have dates with Fenwick and Westinghouse.

Pingatore is excited about the potential of sophomores Jordan Ash, Glynn Watson and Joffrey Brown and 6-foot-8 freshman Nick Rakocevic. But sophomores are sophomores and freshmen are freshmen.

"Can you get sophomores not to be sophomores? We have to develop leadership and chemistry," he said. "There are signs it is getting better. We tend to get better in the second half of the season."

How has he changed? Has he changed at all? "Old-timers say I have mellowed, that I'm not as tough as I used to be. But they said that about Bob Knight, to. I don't know if I have changed that much. I'm trying to put in new things. But for the most part, I'm doing the same things I always have done," he said.

"We emphasize defense. And we like to run and get after it. We still run motion. But we need to have control, not just run up and down. We're tweaking the things that we do to make adjustments to how the game has changed. We don't rely on the three-point shot as much as others. We just believe in being professional and respect the game."

Bears Week 10 grades: Mitch Trubisky shines while special teams sinks

11-12mitchtrubisky.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Bears Week 10 grades: Mitch Trubisky shines while special teams sinks

QUARTERBACKS: A+

Matt Nagy called Sunday Mitch Trubisky’s best game of the year, and while he didn’t rack up six touchdowns like he did against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hard to argue it wasn’t. Trubisky coolly went through his progressions and consistently made good decisions with the football. He was on time with his receivers, displaying good chemistry with Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. And he ran a hurry-up, no huddle offense efficiently, effectively communicating the play calls and making the right checks at the line of scrimmage to keep the Detroit Lions’ defense off balance. His final line of 23 completions on 30 attempts (76.6 percent) for 355 yards (a career high) and three touchdowns, with an additional rushing touchdown, was indicative of how well he played on Sunday. 

RUNNING BACKS: D

Jordan Howard gained only 21 yards on 11 carries, good for an average of 1.9 yards per attempt. Tarik Cohen wasn’t much better, with 15 yards on seven carries (2.1 yards/carry). Add in Taquan Mizzell’s one carry for no yards, and Bears running backs combined for 36 yards on 19 rushing attempts. 

The issues aren’t solely at the feet of this unit — the offensive line didn’t create enough holes — but the Bears need smarter and tougher runs from their running backs. 

Saving this grade from an F: Cohen did have a three-year touchdown run and caught six of seven targets for 29 yards, while Howard delivered a good block to set up Trubisky’s four-yard rushing score on a quarterback draw. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A+

Robinson took advantage of Darius Slay’s absence and made DaShawn Shead’s afternoon a nightmare, consistently beating him with perfectly set up routes on his way to a six-catch, 133-yard, two-touchdown game. It was Robinson’s first 100-yard game since Week 15 of 2016, and his first multi-score game since Week 3 of that year. Miller, meanwhile, had his first 100-yard game as a pro, giving the Bears their first game with two 100-yard wide receivers since Cameron Meredith and Deonte Thompson hit that mark on Dec. 18, 2016 (Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen each had over 100 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 4). Gabriel wasn’t a factor, though it took Quandre Diggs’ break-up of a perfectly thrown Trubisky pass in the end zone for him to not get a big-play touchdown. 

TIGHT ENDS: B

Trey Burton made a crucial third down catch on the Bears’ opening possession to trigger a touchdown drive, and finishing with 40 yards while catching all four of his targets. Ben Braunecker, too, did well on a scramble drill to come down with a 20-yard catch. This group did miss Dion Sims’ blocking ability from the “Y” tight end position, but could get him — and, potentially, Adam Shaheen — back for Sunday night’s date with the Minnesota Vikings. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B

Six of Howard’s 11 rushing attempts went for one or fewer yard, with two losing two yards, while Cohen had two runs of one or fewer yards on seven rushing attempts. The Lions’ run defense is better than its season numbers may have shown — it entered Sunday allowing an average of 132.7 rushing yards per game — after acquiring Damon “Snacks” Harrison but a fair share of the blame for the Bears’ running woes fall on the offensive line. 

That being said, this group’s protection of Trubisky was outstanding. Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in particular had strong games against the Lions’ pass rush, and Trubisky was given plenty of clean pockets to work through his progressions and make good decisions. Sunday marked the first time since Week 3 that the Bears rolled with the same five offensive linemen all game — Bryan Witzmann appears to have beat out Eric Kush for the starting right guard job — and while it didn’t lead to a big game on the ground, the Bears were able to score five touchdowns in part because of this unit’s work making Trubisky comfortable. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A

The push generated by Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Bilal Nichols was key in holding Kerryon Johnson to 51 yards on 14 carries (3.6 yards), while LeGarrette Blount was only able to manage four yards on six carries. That was the starting point for the Bears’ defensive success against Detroit — the Lions won all three games in which Johnson had 10 or more carries with an average of four yards per attempt or higher. Hicks got some good pressure on Matthew Stafford on Roquan Smith’s sack, while Nichols had a sack-strip the Lions recovered and Bullard notched a tackle for a loss and a pass break-up. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Khalil Mack looked 100 percent when he bowled over left tackle Taylor Decker for one of his two sacks, while Leonard Floyd notched his first sack of the year and had a productive game with three quarterback hits and a tackle for a loss. Mack, too, provided excellent help in run support with two tackles for a loss. The Bears are going to win a lot of games when Mack and Floyd combine for three sacks and three tackles for a loss. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: B+

Roquan Smith followed his best game of the season last week against Buffalo with…his best game of the season on Sunday against Detroit. He led the Bears with 10 tackles and stuffed the box score with a sack (which backed the Lions up out of field goal range) a tackle for a loss and a pass break-up and was all over the field. Danny Trevathan chipped in with five tackles and played well in run support. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-

Bryce Callahan had another productive game, hitting home for a sack while picking off Stafford and impressively breaking up a third-and-six throw that kept the Lions to a field goal on their first drive of the second half. Prince Amukamara notched the Bears’ other interception, which came on a Stafford arm punt, and also forced a fumble recovered by Adrian Amos. Eddie Jackson had a productive game, too, with six tackles and a pass break-up. Most of Stafford’s passing success came in the second half while the game was largely out of reach, though Amos committed pass interference in the end zone on third down that helped get the Lions their first touchdown of the game. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

We’ll start this off by praising Pat O’Donnell for a couple of good punts, one of which was downed inside the Lions’ five-yard line and another that came from the back of the end zone and didn’t get Detroit entirely optimal field position. 

The rest of this unit, though, was all bad. Cody Parkey doinked four kicks — two PATs and two field goals of 34 and 41 yards — off the uprights in a self-described “comical” game in which he “let my team down.” Parkey’s post-hitting penchant affected Nagy’s playcalling, though the Bears’ coach said his confidence in his kicker is “not shot.” Parkey isn’t going anywhere, not when he’s guaranteed $9 million in a contract he signed only eight months ago. 

Additionally, Miller was whistled for illegally batting an onside kick out of bounds — the rookie didn’t know he had to bat the ball backward for it to be legal, instead amusingly swatting the ball forward for a penalty. The Lions, given a second attempt, recovered an onside kick and turned it into a touchdown. 

Taquan Mizzell returned two kicks for a total of only 23 yards, though Cohen did manage an 18-yard punt return. 

COACHING: B

Nagy thoroughly out-coached Matt Patricia with his respective gameplan, and Vic Fangio’s defense got the better of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Nagy, though, was self-critical after the game regarding a late challenge flag he threw when Kenny Golladay fumbled and was ruled to have recovered the ball — a play that likely would’ve been overturned, with possession going to the Bears, had it gone to review. The Lions quickly got to the line of scrimmage and ran a play, though, which left Nagy frustrated with himself. 

“Detroit did a good job of going quick and I was, I was looking down,” Nagy said. “This was one of the faults of going through and calling plays is I was looking at my sheet to call the next play — or to get the next series going — and it happened so quick with the replay and then, late replay. And then getting them going quick and it just was late. So that's my fault.” 

Additionally, Nagy said he “called the three worst plays of my life” before Parkey missed his 34-yard field goal. Those three plays, which happened after the Bears took over on the Lions’ 21-yard line following Amukamara’s forced fumble: A four-yard pass to Cohen, a Mizzell run for no gain, and a one-yard pop pass to Miller. 

Neat Tweets: Trubisky's first NFC North win was pretty neat

Neat Tweets: Trubisky's first NFC North win was pretty neat

It's a pretty neat time to be a Bears fan right about now. Coming off the first NFC North win in 10 tries, Chicago's franchise QB is looking like the real deal and their defense is legitiamtely championship-caliber. 

When things are going well, The Tweets tend to be especially neat. Here's what they were saying: