July 15, 2014 | 01:44 PMELKHORN — John Handel has stepped down as head coach of the Elkhorn High School basketball team.
The former Badger High player and assistant coach has decided to “turn the page” after 17 years at the helm of the Elks.
“I just thought it was time,” Handel said in a phone interview.
Handel, who played for the Badgers 1982 team that went to state, won’t be out of basketball entirely.
His son, Connor, a basketball player himself, will be a freshman at Elkhorn next year.
“There’ll be time to be a dad,” he said.
Will it be hard for a former coach to watch his son play?
“Once a coach, always a coach,” Handel said.
Asked how he’ll respond if a coach does something he doesn’t agree with Handel laughed and said, “I don’t know. We’ll find out.”
Handel still expects to be involved in the Elkhorn program “just in a different role,” he said, noting that one of his assistants might well become the new head coach.
He acknowledged the last few years have been a down time for the team, but said that had nothing to do with his resignation.
“The program is in good hands,” he said,
Handel, who teaches social studies at Elkhorn High School, will continue in that role.
Prior to his time leading the Elks, he was an assistant at Badger from 1989 to 1994, then went to become coach of the Tomahawk team.
His overall record as a head coach was 250-199. At Elkhorn, he was 231-154.
Handel’s best team may have been the 2008-09 squad when Eric Bryson and Skyler O’Loughlin led the Elks to a 20-3 record.
Elkhorn dropped a heart-breaker 66-62 double-overtime decision to Beloit Memorial in a sectional final that year.
Handel was glad when he landed in Elkhorn.
His teams won six conference championships and advanced deep into post-season play on several occasions.
“You couldn’t find a better community to coach in,” he said. “Great fans, great parents, great kids.”
Handel said he plans to remain heavily involved in basketball and remain one of the leaders of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. He also responded to some other questions via email:
Regional News: What position did you play for the Badgers? What other players were on that team?
Handel: I played sparingly as a guard on that team. Best players were Gary Ruch, Tim Schneider, Steve Stahulak, Mike Clifford, Ed Rinda. Greatest bunch of guys I ever played with. No ego, and a single purpose to win. Everybody got along. Everybody was a great student and teammate. We were well coached and well prepared. Happy to call many of those guys friends still.
RN: Do you have a philosophy of coaching to share?
Handel: Philosophy offensively was to share the ball and really try to pound it inside. I was and still am a motion coach. Always tried to fit our offense to the guys that we had.
Defensively, I believed in playing mostly half court man-to-man defense, but became more of a zone guy in the past couple of years. I certainly saw myself as more of a defensive-minded guy, and some of my favorite players were the best defenders I coached.
RN: Any coaches you patterned yourself after?
Handel: Took a lot from a lot of coaches, but certainly coaching with Jerry Stelse (longtime head coach at Badger) had the most impact on me of all of those coaches. He was detail-oriented, stressed the right way of doing things, and wasn’t going to cut corners in the pursuit of the right way to play the game.
Basketball has a univeral language to it, and Jerry certainly taught that to all of us. I also had a lot of great assistants that worked with me over the years, and my current staff of Mike Storlie, Josh Skatrud, and Eric Larsen is as good as any other staff in the state. I truly believe that.
RN: Did you have some Elkhorn players that met success after high school? If so, who?
Handel: I have had lots go on to play at the next level. To mention one or two may diminish the value of all of them. I am as proud of the all conference and all state kids as I was the kids who bought in and didn’t get to play much on the end of the bench.
Coaching in Elkhorn has been beyond my wildest dreams. I will miss it but look forward to a new chapter in my life. Coaching and teaching in Elkhorn has been my life’s work. Lots of energy and passion went into it. It was what drove me every day for 17 years. It was in every fabric of my existence, and my family’s existence really.
RN: Anything else?
Handel: Just like to say thanks to the people that supported the program over the years. There were so very many of them. I have had some opportunites to leave and go elsewhere, but I wanted to stay with one program and am proud to call Elkhorn my home now.
The community and its people have been very good to me and my family. The memories I take away from this experience will last a lifetime. But all good things come to an end, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for me and my family.