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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thanks for the memories, coach Andy Igel

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012, at 10:59 PM

EGHS boys basketball coach Andy Igel prepares to step into the Thunderbird locker room for the last time after losing in the Class 2A Forest Park Regional championship game on March 10, 47-44 to Providence. (By B.J. Hargis/Greene County Daily World).
I have always said that the best part of this crazy job is the people you work with and the friendships you form as a result.

But as someone smarter than me once said, everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.

I have seen coaching friends come and go and move on to the next phase of their lives. As happy as you are for them and you rejoice in their success and being able to go out on their own terms, the place you work in becomes a little more drab.

Even though I said good-bye to coach Andy Igel on Saturday afternoon after spending about 2 1/2 hours talking over lunch with him about his 16 years on the basketball sidelines at Eastern Greene High School, I guess I am actually using these words to try and sum up a working friendship with the 1979 Washington Catholic graduate (I won't even hold that against him although his wife Diana, a Washington grad, always has) and take a brief look back in the rearview mirror.

Andy would not even think about stepping down as coach at the school he helped put on the map (coach Mark Barnhizer started the process in 1988-89 and handed it off to Igel in 1996-97) unless he felt comfortable about his replacement.

Comfortable might not be the word as Levi Carmichael, part of the 2001 EGHS team that won the school first sectional and regional in boys basketball, has now taken the reigns of the Thunderbirds.

"Levi is like a son to me," Igel said of the school's all-time leading scorer who served as Igel's junior varsity coach this past season. "Great players don't always make great coaches, but in this case it does.

"As a player his No. 1 attribute was his commitment to be the best. He was driven by a commitment to excellence and you got the best from him all the time. He might be even more driven as a coach than he was a player. He will work hard or harder than anyone else to keep this program at the level its been at."

Igel wouldn't compare or rank his teams at EGHS. The 23-2 team is the only one to win a Class 2A Regional championship 12 years ago. That 63-58 win at Crawford County in front of 4,500 rabid Thunderbird and Wolfpack fans for a chance to go to the semistate was still one of the best games I have ever witnessed.

But even Igel admitted that ending his stay in Greene County with back-to-back sectional championships and making it to the regional championship game in 2011 and 2012 was pretty special.

"These were two unparalleled classes in a row with that many seniors," Igel said of having seven seniors on each squad. "To have that much depth in two classes was amazing.

"Although we won't have that kind of depth coming back, I really like next year's senior class. Levi played in this program and believes in it. His style is totally different from mine, but he is passionate just the same. He will get a chance to reevaluate the feeder system and make it even better."

After going 23-3 in 2011, Igel had no idea that his final team at Eastern Greene would make an argument for being the best team in school history.

They ended up with a 24-game winning streak, shattering the old mark of 18 in a row by that 2001 squad. They finished with a school record for wins (24-2), one more win than the 2001 and 2011 teams.

This year, led by seniors Zach Bruner, Nathan Cobine, Blake Crowe, Miles Hutchison, Brody Martin, Dillon Resler and JT Yoho, they won the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference, something the '11 team did not accomplish.

The No. 2 Thunderbirds repeated as sectional champions, defeating Class 2A No. 6 Sullivan 47-44 in the title game at North Knox.

"The quantity was the surprise, not the quality," said Igel. "When we were playing a really good Martinsville team and we are up 33 in the fourth quarter, I thought something good is really starting to happen.

"We played so well on that night and had many nights like that. They were a great example to people to show what you can accomplish when you have a group of young men that commit to playing the game the right way and buy in 100 percent to playing defense and sharing the ball every night. They would give up a good shot for a great shot."

Anyone that has watched Igel on the sidelines over his career would not say he was calm or docile. He would be constantly encouraging his players and challenging the referees about their decisions.

You always had to wonder when his sport coat would come flying off in disgust.

Although nobody took losing any harder than Igel, I don't think I, or anyone else, ever saw him more happy than after the 12-point comeback concluded with a three-point victory over Sullivan for his fifth sectional championship. Part of it was because of the quality of the opponent they had to face and another part of it was because of wanting his seniors to go out winners.

"It was a huge sense of relief," said Igel. "After we had won 22 games in a row going into the Sullivan game, there was some pressure. Anything less than a sectional title would have dampened what they accomplished in the regular season.

"Like I said then, it was a shame that a team as good as Sullivan had to lose in the sectional. I have so much respect for their program and coach (Jeff) Moore and coach (Doug) Boyd. I genuinely felt for them."

Igel said another there was another reason for his exuberance times 100.

"My dad was behind me and there were a ton of Igel's there," he said. "There also was a huge throng of Eastern Greene fans there, a lot like 2001."

Igel said it was ironic that his final sectional title at EGHS came on the same court as his first some 11 years earlier.

"Back then, I did not know what it really meant to our community to win a sectional," said Igel, who also won sectionals titles in 2005 and 2006. "Three and four weeks after the season, I was getting cards and emails from people that I did not even know back then.

"I had cheerleaders from 1962 and 63 thanking us for finally getting over the hump."

That 75-72 victory over the host Warriors in the 2001 sectional title game came at the hands of a team, led by No. 12, guard Levi Carmichael, who's 3-pointer with six seconds remaining provided the margin of victory and capped a 44-point night.

"I told my assistant coach (Mark) McNeal that night that No. 12 was not going to let us lose," said Igel, who along with Diana are the parents of Chelsea, Drew, Tyler, Brittany and Katie, ages 23 to 13. "All of those kids played a big role on that team, but he was a man on a mission that night.

"It is still one of most amazing tournament games in the history of Indiana High School basketball. We were treated like heroes in the community."

Igel said that four days later at Crawford County he remember a funny incident before the game, which was played in front of another sellout crowd.

"The gym was half full and it wasn't even supposed to be open yet. My dad (Bob) was angry and came up to me and asked, 'Where am I going to sit.' He ended up squeezing in with my brothers."

Igel started out as a fifth grade coach at his alma mater under Cardinals head coach Dave Worland. He eventually worked his way up the coaching ladder and became varsity coach from 1990 to 1994 at Vincennes Rivet and was head man at Frontier from 1994 to 1996.

He was offered the Shakamak job just before he accepted an offer to coach at EGHS.

"Barnhizer did a great job and left a very good team," said Igel. "We went 18-4 that first year when we were still playing in what became Toby Yoho Gymnasium. What a place it was to coach in. The kids on that team bought in hook, line and sinker.

"God has really blessed me."

Igel said it was ironic that he ended up at EGHS.

"One night when I was scouting at Eastern, I told Diana this was a place where I think I could be happy," he said. "I had no idea that four or five years later I would end up here."

Igel said there has been so many great assistant coaches, parents, players, administrators and members of the community that made all of their success (13 winning seasons, 14 double-digit win seasons, 243 wins, five sectionals, seven Southwestern Indiana Athletic titles and six Greene County Invitational titles) possible.

"Even the year we went 3-18, I still like I had everyone's support," said Igel. "I never felt like at any point that my job was in jeopardy.

"These 16 years have been very special. We strived to have the kids be the best students they could be and give their best for two hours every day starting at 3:15 p.m. You cannot win this many games without a lot of talent and a lot of great people around you. The coach gets too much credit when you win and too much crap when you lose. I am more proud that these young men left the program and in some small part we helped them become successful young men in life. If you are just in it for the wins, it is going to become very shallow."

Igel said he slipped in the front door in 1996 and from day one guaranteed just one thing.

"I did not guarantee wins or championships that but I would come to practice every day and work as hard as possible," he said. "I came in every day and did my best."

For me personally, it was a pleasure to work with Andy. There was only one time I wished that he did not hate losing so much.

This might be the only thing that I would have to razz him about and it would have been an incident some 13 years ago.

After losing a sectional game to the host Rams at Paoli by one point in 1999, I waited for Mr. Igel to come out of the dressing room, but he never appeared. I did not know Andy very well then and grew to understand how personally he took every setback, not just for himself but his kids.

But then I can never forget how much class he showed in talking about his squad after a 32-30 loss in the sectional championship game at home three year ago.

It seems strange to be saying good-bye to my friend of years, friend of tears (pardon my stolen line from Hoosiers).

I would say go with God my friend, but there is no doubt that wherever you end up, he will be walking along beside of you and your family.

Thanks for everything.

B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at hargisbj@gmail.com.

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