DUNLAP — Steve Austin has picked up an off-court prize, not that he wouldn’t trade it in a heartbeat for an on-court win.
Still admittedly somber over Concord’s triple-overtime, 41-39 Elkhart Sectional title-game loss to Warsaw four weeks ago, the Minuteman boss was named Saturday, March 30, as The Elkhart Truth area boys basketball Coach of the Year.
Austin received 10 of the 17 votes cast from among 14 area head coaches and three Truth basketball reporters to easily outdistance Penn’s Al Rhodes, NorthWood’s Aaron Wolfe and Westview’s Rob Yoder at 2 to 2.5 votes each.
“I think it’s a neat thing, just because there’s so many good coaches and good teams in our area,” Austin said. “And then for some of those same people to say, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good,’ it’s a compliment, because I think we’re all pretty decent. You do have to have some good kids and some good people around you. We had that, and we won some tough games this year.”
The Minutemen (19-2) almost won them all. The only loss besides the Warsaw game was a 72-70 decision at South Bend Clay on an early-January night when Concord star Franko House was out ill.
It’s the defeat against the Tigers, though, that the 58-year-old Austin acknowledges he has had trouble putting behind him.
“For me, it’s the most disappointing loss of my career,” said Austin, who’s been a head coach for 28 years, “just because of the expectations we had, and because of the way that cotton-pickin’ (last) shot went in.”
Jordan Stookey’s running 3-pointer for Warsaw appeared to be rimming out, then appeared to reverse direction before dropping in.
“Everybody’s still hurting a little bit,” Austin said. “There wasn’t a sound in our locker room that night, and for the first time I can remember, not a sound on the bus on the way home. It’s been difficult for me, difficult for the kids, because this team was one big family.”
The game was marked by Warsaw eating 6:32 off the clock during one third-quarter possession while down five points and a fourth-quarter possession in which the Tigers chewed away about two more minutes while down four.
“You always go back through and think about what you might have done differently,” Austin said of not stretching his defense more, “but we had the lead, we had some foul trouble, and I still felt we were better than them in the half court. (Assistant coach Chris Swartout) and I were considering strategy the whole time. I think we had the possession (arrow), too. You go back and forth on things, especially when you lose. I wish we had defended at times a little differently, but really, I just wish we had one more timeout (at four seconds left after taking the lead) to talk about defending that last shot better.”
Regardless of that shot, it was a banner year for both Austin and his Minutemen. They became the first team ever to win a Northern Lakes Conference crown by three games, and Austin posted his 400th career victory.
He’s 404-243 overall, including 82-29 in five years at Concord, which he described as his “dream job” upon arriving in 2008.
That sentiment hasn’t changed.
“Oh, yeah, that’s definitely right,” Austin said. “Hopefully, we’re still going up. Our JV was 17-3 this year, the freshmen 16-4, the eighth grade 14-2, so it’s not like the cupboard’s bare.”
Austin’s cupboard now includes three Truth Coach of the Year honors. He also was chosen in 1996 and 1998 while at Northridge.
With his latest honor, he becomes the first-ever coach to win the award outright three times; joins Dean Foster (five), Steve Johnson (five) and Jim Hahn (three) as coaches who have won at least three times overall; and joins Foster and John Wysong as coaches who have won at multiple schools. The award began in 1977.
Elkhart Truth Coach of the Year
2013 Voting Leaders
(17 votes cast)
Steve Austin (Concord) 10
Al Rhodes (Penn) 2.5
Aaron Wolfe (NorthWood) 2
Rob Yoder (Westview) 2
2013 — Steve Austin (Concord)
2012 — Mark Barnhizer (Memorial)
2011 — Rob Yoder (Westview)
2010 — Phil Mishler (Wawasee)
2009 — Jason Ridge (Northridge)
2008 — Rob Yoder (Westview)
2007 — Dan Gunn (NorthWood)
2006 — Steve Johnson (Memorial)
2005 — Ryan Culp (Concord)
2004 — Randy DeShone (Jimtown)