In the latest installment of his coaches interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Chicago State head coach Bob Hallberg, who racked up a record of 223-84 in ten years at the Windy City school. Hallberg led the Cougars to a third place finish in the 1984 NAIA Tournament, capping off one of the most successful seasons in school history.
Jon Teitel: In high school you played for legendary coach Jim Arneberg. What was it like to play for him, and how much of an influence was he on your own decision to go into coaching?
Bob Hallberg: The defining moment in my life that changed my whole career was not making the varsity squad as a sophomore in high school. Coach Arneberg brought me up to the varsity for the playoffs, and to my surprise he grabbed me by the shoulders during a game and told me to "get in there and steal the ball." I went out there and played like I was possessed because he was such a great motivator, and I made up my mind to go into coaching soon after that.
JT: You began your collegiate coaching career at St. Xavier after starting out as a high school coach. What was the biggest difference between coaching high school players and coaching college players?
BH: One advantage of college coaching is being able to recruit players, and I have always believed that you can only win with good players. Some coaches think they can win with any kind of players due to their coaching ability, but they are wrong. College players are also more talented and athletic than high school players.
JT: In 1977 you became coach at Chicago State and went 25-5 in your first season. Why did you make the switch, and how were you able to be so successful so quickly?
BH: I have a bad gym story that tops them all. At St. Xavier we had an intramural gym with no bleachers: we did not even have enough room for a regulation college court. I went to Chicago ST for the facility, and I increased my coaching salary by a whopping $4,000, which was very good considering I had a wife and two kids. The main reason we won so many games is because we had good talent.
1984 NAIA Tournament
JT: Darron Brittman scored 31 points in a one-point double overtime win over Kearney State that saw both teams combine for 69 fouls. Was that the most physical game you have even seen?
BH: At one time it was considered to be the most exciting game in NAIA tourney history even though a lot of people do not remember it now. It was a very high-scoring game despite not having a three-point line at that time. We were down nineteen points before we even knew what happened, and I called over my two star players and told them that they were choking in front of a huge crowd. That seemed to get us going, and it was an amazing comeback victory for us.
JT: Your next game was a two-point win over Chaminade. How close did you come to losing that game?
BH: They had a 6'5" All-American, but Charles Perry hit a jumper over him with three seconds left, despite being only 5'10". Perry was known as "Captain Video" due to the goggles he wore.
JT: Your "Heart Attack Kids" had a two-point overtime loss in the semifinals to Fort Hays State. How devastating was the loss, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?
BH: There were a lot of fouls called, but we had more depth than Fort Hays. Their coach Bill Morse had his son Ron on the bench who never played, but he put him in towards the end of the game because they were running out of players. They missed a shot with four seconds left, but Ron ran over, got the ball, and made a shot at the buzzer as he was falling out of bounds. They ended up beating Dick Bennett's Wisconsin-Stevens Point team in the title game to win it all.
JT: You had a four-point overtime win over Westmont in the third place game. Was your team just exhausted from all the overtime games, and did you consider your run in the tourney to be a success or a failure?
BH: Whenever I go into the locker room at the end of a season, I do not do any ranting and raving. Once it is over, there is nothing you can do about the outcome, so I just try to end on a high note. There is only one team in the country that ends their season on a successful note, and I was proud of my team for going so far.
JT: In 1985 your program made the leap to Division I and you set a record for the most wins at a school in its first season of Division I competition with 16. What was the biggest difference between the two divisions, and how was your team able to be so competitive so quickly?
BH: I had two good guards in Brittman and Perry, and I felt they could hold their own with anyone in the country. I am 5'7" myself, so maybe I am partial to the little guys, but you cannot score if you cannot get the ball up the floor. When we were making the move to Division I, a lot of people said we would not be able to compete, but we proved them wrong.
JT: You also set an NCAA record for consecutive home victories with a 75-game win streak from 1981-1986. How big a home-court advantage was your crowd, and did it eventually reach a point where the fans expected you to win every single home game?
BH: We had good fan support, and they made a lot of noise. Everyone has more confidence at home.
JT: In 1987 you became coach at UIC, where you only had one 20-win season during your nine years there. Why did you make the switch, and do you have any regrets when you look back on your decision?
BH: I have no regrets whatsoever, as the UIC Pavilion was the nicest facility in Chicago. I have never stepped into a program that was highly successful: they were all challenges, which I enjoyed. I looked up at the bleachers during my first game at UIC as they were singing the national anthem, and I counted 97 people in the stands (half of whom were probably my family!). I was born too soon before the big money came, but back then when I signed a $50,000 contract, I thought I had won the Illinois lottery!
JT: For the past decade you have been athletic director/coach of the St. Xavier women's basketball team. Is it hard to do both gigs at the same time, and what is the biggest difference between coaching men and coaching women?
BH: I never thought I would be back at St. Xavier at all, much less coaching women. I like being AD, and I have a great staff that helps me out. The confidence factor is a big difference; the men think they are all Michael Jordan but the women all think they stink. The women are more intelligent; if they get a B in a class, they are disappointed that they did not get an A. I tell them that they cannot always get an A on the court; turning the ball over or missing a shot is just part of being a player. My friends thought that I could not get the women to play my up-tempo game, with a bunch of pressing and running, but I did. However, I cannot yell at them the way I did with the guys.
JT: You have spent your entire coaching career in the city of Chicago. What do you enjoy most about the city, and has it been easy on your family to not have to move around all over the country?
BH: I became a trivia question, as I coached at three different schools without having to move even once. Former coach Dick Versace said that my downfall is that I never moved around the country. However, when a coach moves to Texas and has a son start high school there, and then moves to Maryland and has a daughter start college there, it can be tough to be so spread out, so I put my family first. I heard someone complaining about me once on sports radio after I said that I was happy in Chicago and "did not have to go to Duke to be happy", but that is the truth.
JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
BH: I would like to be remembered as a coach who really understood his players and was a good communicator. I loved winning, but I understood the difference between being an old coach and being a teenage player, which not all coaches can do. I was someone who my players could come talk to about any of their problems.
Hallberg is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Great West history (the league itself is going into its second year of official competition)
Chicago State: Bob Hallberg (1977-1987) 223-84
Houston Baptist: Gene Iba (1977-1985) 128-96, 1 NCAA tourney, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
NJIT: NO COACH HAS BEEN THERE FOR 5 YEARS
North Dakota: Rich Glas (1988-2006) 335-194, three conference titles
South Dakota: Dave Boots (1988-present) 465-182, six-time conference Coach of the Year
Texas Pan American: Sam Williams (1958-1973) 244-164, one NAIA title, one-time national Coach of the Year
Utah Valley University: Dick Hunsaker (2004-present) 121-80