Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats": Western Illinois' Jack Margenthaler

July 25th, 2012
In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Western Illinois head coach Jack Margenthaler. In fifteen seasons at the school, Margenthaler led the Leathernecks to 221 victories, three conference titles and two NCAA tournament appearances. Both of Margenthaler's sons are currently college assistants, and one-time pupil Scott Nagy led South Dakota State to their first-ever tournament appearance back in March.

Jon Teitel: You were a two-time All-State basketball player at Pinckneyville High School. How good a player were you back in the day? 

Jack Margenthaler: We had five guys who had played together since grade school so we knew how to interact on the court.  We all averaged double-digits but on any given night any of us could score 20 points. 

JT: You played at Houston for Hall of Fame coach Guy Lewis. What made Lewis such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? 

JM: I was so impressed with what he wanted to do.  He was a no-nonsense kind of guy who told us what he expected out of us.  

1965 NCAA tournament

JT: You scored 13 points in a one-point win over Notre Dame. How were you able to hang on for the win? 

JM: It was a close game all the way through but they just had more turnovers toward the end.  Lewis was a defensive coach so that was our priority. 

JT: You scored seven points in a loss to Oklahoma State. What was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards? 

JM: It was a real downer because it was my last collegiate game: it took me a while to accept that it was over.  It was dead silence in the locker room when Lewis came in after his radio interview. 

JT: You scored 17 points and made a jumper with six seconds left to tie the game, but Charley Beasley made two free throws with no time left on the clock to give SMU a two-point victory third place game. Did you think your shot had won the game, and where does that game rank among the most devastating losses of your career? 

JM: When you make a shot like that you feel that you have the game wrapped up, just like you dream about as a kid. 

JT: In the summer of 1965 you were drafted by Philadelphia but turned them down to get a master's degree in physical education/science. What did it mean to you to get drafted, and how difficult a decision was it to go back to school? 

JM: I was excited to be drafted.  I talked to Coach Lewis about it a couple of times and prayed a lot about it.  At that particular time I just felt that I should get my master's because I wanted to get into coaching, so I have no regrets.  

JT: In 1968 you became head coach at LaSalle-Peru HS, where you went 138-27 and won five conference titles in six seasons. How were you able to be so dominant, and why did you decide to leave? 

JM: To be honest you do not recruit players when you are a HS coach.  We just had a bunch of great kids and a great staff.  The student body/administration was behind us and we sold out every game. 

JT: In 1981 and 1982 your team led all of Division I in free throw shooting. What is the secret to free throw shooting, and do you think coaches need to spend more time teaching their players how to shoot free throws? 

JM: I was talking to 1 of my son's players who is a great shooter.  I told him that nobody should miss a free throw and I asked him why he ever missed one.  He said that sometimes his mind wandered but I told him he should never miss. It is a turnover in my book.  You just have to believe in yourself.  Joe Dykstra made 64 free throws in a row for us back in 1982 and we ended up leading the nation in free throw shooting because all of his teammates tried to make all of their free throws as well. 

JT: In 1983 you were named conference Coach of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? 

JM: It was exciting for me because it was my first college Coach of the Year award.  We had a great league with a lot of great coaches so it was a real honor. 

JT: One of your assistants at SIU-Edwardsville was current South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy. Could you tell at the time how great a head coach he would become? 

JM: There was no question in my mind.  He came from a basketball family. His dad Dick spent many years working for Coach Lou Henson at Illinois.  I wish Scott would have stayed with my longer but he had an offer to become coach at South Dakota State.  He has helped turn around that program and has a bright future. 

JT: Your sons Matt and Ty both became basketball coaches. How proud are you of their success, and which of them is a better coach? 

JM: They are both good young coaches.  Matt has had phenomenal success here with some good players.  Ty is an assistant with the women's team at Wisconsin and will have an opportunity to be a college head coach someday.  They both support each other.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most? 

JM: I know it is trite to say this but I just hope that my players go on to become successful.  When one of my players calls me back to check in with me it makes my day.  Not many people remember the wins but those relationships last forever.  I hope people say that I cared about my players and helped make them successful.

Margenthaler is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Summit League history.

IPFW: Andy Piazza (1987-1996) 142-108
IUPUI: Ron Hunter (1994-2011) 254-219, 1 NCAA tourney, 1 conference title, 2-time conference COY
Nebraska-Omaha: Bob Hanson (1969-1994) 382-313
North Dakota State: Erv Inniger (1978-1992) 244-150, 1 conference title
Oakland: Greg Kampe (1999-present) 226-187, 3 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 4-time conference COY
South Dakota: Dave Boots (1988-present) 493-215, 6-time conference COY
South Dakota State: Scott Nagy (1995-present) 316-197, 1 NCAA tourney, 4 conference titles, 5-time conference COY
UMKC: Lee Hunt (1989-1996) 95-99
Western Illinois: Jack Margenthaler (1977-1992) 221-202, 3 conference titles, 1-time conference COY