A coach’s coach
Kinziger headed to WBCA Hall of Fame
By Greg Seubert
He didn’t know it at the time, but Bill Kinziger made the right decision.
Fresh out of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1970 with degrees in physical education and history, he accepted a teaching position in the Clintonville Public School District.
He taught physical education at the elementary and high school levels; started coaching basketball, football and baseball teams; and never left the district that gave him his first job.
More than 30 years of coaching basketball – his favorite sport – has led to Kinziger’s selection to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He is one of two assistant coaches that will be inducted Saturday, Sept. 25, at a ceremony at Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells.
Kinziger recently reflected on his years of coaching that continued after he retired from teaching in 2004.
“Coming to Clintonville was last-second,” he said at his home he shares with his wife, Pat, on the Cloverleaf Chain of Lakes north of Embarrass.
“School was starting and I got the elementary job,” he said. “I loved teaching phy ed. I had elementary kids first and they think you’re the greatest person in the world.”
Kinziger coached eighth-grade basketball in his first school year.
“That was fine with me,” he said. “I coached the eighth grade for seven years and then I moved up to JV. I started coaching football and coached that all the way until 2004. After I moved to the high school, I became defensive coordinator. In my first year, I was lucky to be the defensive coordinator when we won the state championship.”
Learning from the best
Kinziger coached under Chet Jurkovac and Carl Bruggink, who were elected to the Wisconsin Football Association Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1981, respectively.
Jurkovac, who now lives in Florida, arrived in Clintonville in 1968 and taught history and Bruggink, who still lives in Clintonville, came to Clintonville in 1960 and taught physical education and driver’s education.
“The big thing was their knowledge of the game,” Kinziger said. “Carl started a program with younger players and all the way up and he had his hands right on it. Carl kept going and going and turned out some great teams.
“Chet didn’t have many younger players. We had no games in the seventh and eighth grades for the longest time,” he said. “Later on, they started playing other schools. Chet was very innovative. When I started, we had some nice, big guys and we could run the ball and pass the ball. Later on, we weren’t very big, so we passed more than we ran.”
Kinziger was an assistant coach on Clintonville’s football team that won the WIAA Class B state championship in 1978 and finished second in Class B in 1976.
He was also an assistant on Bruggink’s teams that won Class B state titles in 1977 and 1989 and finished second in Class B in 1976, 1978, 1987 and 1988.
Bruggink retired after the 2000-01 school year that included a basketball season that ended with a 67-56 loss to eventual Division 2 state champion Seymour in a regional semifinal.
Kinziger stepped into the head coach position that Bruggink had held for 41 years in 2001 and coached the Truckers for nine years.
“I took so many of the things that he did and put my own twist on them a little,” he said. “The biggest thing he did that carried over to me – and I did this at the JV level – is the full-court press. When you’re going to play us, you better be working on your press. That takes away from some things that some coaches want to do. The other thing was, ‘Come on, you press us. We don’t care if you press us, press us. We work on it all the time, so we know how to break it.’”
He recalled one game in New London.
“Before they even got the ball over the half-court (line) in the first quarter, we were ahead 26-0,” he said. “After that, we took off the press. Those are things you remember.”
Another game that stuck in Kinziger’s mind is a WIAA tournament game against Antigo in the former high school gym.
“It was packed,” he said. “From the front of the stage, there were people sitting down all the way out to the court. People that were big businessmen in town, they’re sitting on their butt on the floor watching the game. The band was on the stage, but when they were done, there were a bunch of people up there. Antigo had a heck of a team that year and we ended up beating them by three or four points.”
Half century in Clintonville
Kinziger ended up spending nearly 50 years with a basketball program he knew little about when he arrived in 1970.
“The one thing I knew about Clintonville basketball before I came here was in 1969 or ‘70, they played Appleton West to go to state,” he said. “They ended up getting beat 50-48 or something like that, but that was the first time I watched Clintonville.
“I fell in love with it,” he added. “It was just the right size and I certainly fell in love with the school and the students. I came to Clintonville at the right time.”
Taking over for Bruggink also caused Kinziger to give up the varsity baseball coaching position, which he held for 24 years. His success in baseball included a trip to state in 1993 with the Truckers and an American Legion state championship in 1988.
“The baseball coach quit coaching, so I got nominated for that job,” he said. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’ At the beginning, there were no batting cages, there was no pitching mound, there wasn’t any of these things. Here I am, a first-year coach, thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’”
Players he coached over the years include Mike Jirschele and his sons, who went on to win a World Series ring as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Royals.
“Mike Jirschele was on my first team and comes to practice,” Kinziger said. “We had skylights in the gym and we’re taking batting practice. Mike gets up the first time and about the third one he hit went right through the skylight. I thought to myself, ‘Well, I think I’m done coaching baseball.’”
Kinziger was an all-conference football, basketball and track at Lena High School, a small school in southern Oconto County.
“In football, we were the smallest team in the conference and Peshtigo was the biggest,” he said. “They just dominated the conference and we had a tough time. In my second year and from then on, we always finished .500 or better.”
He started all four years on the varsity basketball team.
“I was a freshman and we were .500,” he said. “The next year, we came out of nowhere with two seniors, two juniors and myself and we won the conference.”
He recently met with two of his former teammates.
“A week ago, three of us that played together on that championship basketball team took our wives, had a meal in Cecil and reminisced,” he said. “One, who happens to be my cousin, had the bartender take a picture of us and sent it to our football coach. You get so close to those coaches. They were a little firm, especially back then, but they were great guys.”
Kinziger didn’t expect to be nominated to the Hall of Fame.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “There are coaches, there are referees and a group of players (being inducted). There are only two of us that are going in as assistant coaches this year. I’m thinking, ‘Well, this is a nice reward for all the sports you’ve coached that somebody would think and nominate you to put you in there.’”
Kinziger had plenty of support over the years from Pat.
“My wife was my biggest fan and she helped out so much,” he said. “You have to sacrifice. I was always there to help on Saturday morning. I went scouting all the time in football. I was all over the place. If it’s going to be a problem with your family, you have to get out. It was no problem here at all. Getting the support from my family, that was very helpful.”
Kinziger has been retired from teaching for 17 years, but isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He enjoys golf, playing pool and cards and taking his pontoon boat on the Cloverleaf lakes.
He has umpired area high school baseball games for several years and plans to continue and also plans to watch his great-nephews, John and Zach Kinziger, play basketball for De Pere High School.
Kinziger’s coaching career included 48 years in basketball, 33 years in football and 25 in baseball.
“That was my choice,” he said. “We started a family, so I never had a chance to go back and get a Master’s Degree. I told my wife, ‘If it’s all right with you, I’m going to coach multiple sports, I’ll make a little money there and that’ll be my Master’s Degree.’”
Many coaches eventually get tired of the responsibilities that go with coaching, but that never happened to Kinziger.
“Honestly, I never got burned out,” he said. “I had a chance to be a head coach somewhere else, but the feeling wasn’t there. I thought, “I love it where I am, I love the people I’m working with, but especially the kids.’”