Westminster Christian's Firchau retires from coaching
Westminster Christian's Bruce Firchau, perhaps the greatest program fixer in Illinois boys basketball history, announced his retirement from coaching at the Elgin school Wednesday afternoon.
Before a gathering of family, current and former players, coaches, administrators and friends of the program, Firchau announced he was stepping down, effective immediately, to concentrate on his role as Director of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and Museum, which is slated to open in Pontiac, Ill. in June of 2016.
The veteran coach has been a driving force behind the museum project for several years.
"I'm leaving this team, but I'm joining another team," Firchau told those assembled.
Himself a 2007 inductee to the IBCA Hall of Fame, Firchau called it a career after 40 years in coaching, 37 as a head coach. He retired as a history teacher from Hampshire High School in 2005.
Instilled with a competitive nature by his parents and early coaching influences, Firchau's head coaching career began in Leland, Ill. and wended through stops at Assumption, Plainfield (Ind.), Harvard, Oswego, Dundee-Crown and Westminster Christian.
Raised on Chicago's south side, Firchau developed a reputation as someone who can turn around a program while at Harvard from 1981-82 to 1988-89. He inherited a program that finished with a losing record nine times in the previous 10 seasons and guided it to a fourth-place finish in Class A in 1985, his fourth season at the McHenry County school. His final seven Harvard teams finished .500 or better.
Firchau's reputation as a program flipper deepened after he was named Oswego coach in 1989-90. The Panthers had lost 55 games the previous five seasons. After a 7-19 debut campaign his teams finished with winning records the next five seasons.
"I was always very disappointed that I couldn't get the Quincy or Collinsville jobs," Firchau said. "Every once in a while I would get an interview for those kinds of positions, but I could never land it. It took me a long time to understand that it was God's will that I was to turn around losing programs and build programs and turn them into respectable programs."
Firchau, an Elburn resident, saved his greatest turnaround for last when he accepted the coaching job at Class A Westminster Christian for the 2005-06 season, a year after the Warriors finished 0-25. They posted a 5-21 record in 2006, and his second team improved to 16-10. The Warriors went on to win the first regional title in school history in 2008 with a 20-9 record.
In 10 seasons under Firchau, Westminster Christian won 174 games and lost 112 (. 608). The Warriors won 3 regional titles, including back-to-back plaques in 2014 and 2015. His final team went 22-7 before bowing out in a Class 1A sectional semifinal against St. Francis de Sales, the high school Firchau grew up across the street from when he was a boy.
"He did exactly what we hoped he would do," Westminster athletic director Rick Palmer said. "That was to establish a program, give it respect and have people know that when they play Westminster they are going to play a competitive game. I've said numerous times over the last several years that I felt our kids were the most ready to play and the most prepared every game that they played.
"He's been a Godsend. He's really been a blessing to this school."
Tyler Beachler, a 2008 Westminster graduate who spent the last two basketball seasons as a varsity assistant alongside his former high school coach, was a freshman starter on that 0-25 team. He saw first hand the sea change in approach the hall of famer instilled.
"I don't think I've seen coach have one bad practice and that's one of the things that amazes me, especially after being here and doing this for 10 years," Beachler said. "Every practice has a purpose and he brings his A game as a coach every single day. That's one of the things I respect most about him. I mean, how many players have an off day? The commitment coach always brought was amazing."
Firchau pointed out he will miss practices more than games. Though he remains proud of his final record -- 557 wins, 447 losses (. 555) -- he said he cherishes the teaching moments more.
"When my final day on earth is over and I get to the gates, if I'm lucky, He's not going to ask me how many victories I had," Firchau said. "He might ask me how many lives did I have a positive impact on. I don't think I can tell you I had a positive impact on every player I coached, but probably enough that I hope it means something to the players."