Park boys basketball: Schwartz hired as head coachFor at least 16 years J Schwartz has wanted to be the head boys basketball coach at Park. Now, he will have his shot. Schwartz, a 1994 Park graduate and an assistant coach for the Wolfpack the past 11 seasons, has been hired as the Park head boys basketball coach.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, South Washington County Bulletin
For at least 16 years J Schwartz has wanted to be the head boys basketball coach at Park.
Now, he will have his shot.
Schwartz, a 1994 Park graduate and an assistant coach for the Wolfpack the past 11 seasons, has been hired as the Park head boys basketball coach. Schwartz, a social studies teacher at Park, will replace one of his mentors — Tim Walton — who resigned from the position in July in order to become an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin–River Falls men’s basketball team.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was very young,” Schwartz, 35, said. “My older brother brought me to my first Park basketball game and I was hooked. It’s great to be a part of this program — one that’s had a tradition of competing every night, working hard and good character.”
His senior year at Park, Schwartz was a team captain of the basketball team alongside Sam Jacobson — who is considered one of the top basketball players ever to come out of Minnesota. However, Schwartz, who played for then-head coach Butch Manning, suffered a serious knee injury in the preseason that required surgery, relegating him to the bench for his final high school season.
“We were ranked pretty highly that year,” Schwartz said. “I tried to play, but I couldn’t. But, I didn’t miss many practices and worked with the young guys on the team, I went to every JV game, sat on the bench and helped coach those guys. Having to sit out that year and not being able to play really spurred me toward coaching.”
A graduate of St. John’s University, Schwartz coached the girls sophomore team at Park for one year prior to being an assistant coach the past 11 years under Walton.
“I had very good mentors in Butch Manning, Greg Juba and Tim Walton, and I am really looking forward to continuing with this program,” Schwartz said. “I want to continue what they have set as a precedent and continue this program’s tradition.”
Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel said Schwartz’s history and familiarity with the program and his proven relationship working with kids were among the major reasons he was selected as coach.
“Not that other candidates probably wouldn’t have had good relationships with the kids, but J has a proven record of having a strong relationship with Park kids and that can continue with his role as head coach,” Kuemmel said. “Everything that J Schwartz has been involved in — and he’s been involved with a lot of different things — he’s always put his stamp on them and they’ve been very successful.”
On the flip side, Kuemmel said that he felt one of Schwartz’s main challenges will be to make the program his own.
“One of the big expectations I have with J is that he put his stamp on it and do his thing with it,” Kuemmel said. “It’s not like we’re talking a major overhaul, because a lot of what has been done in the past has been successful. We want J to add onto what’s been done in the past and take it to the next level.”
Initially, Schwartz said he wants to give the leaders of the teams more say in what goes on. Also, he wants to get more players involved in the program, especially those from St. Paul Park, and said he wants his student-athletes to play multiple sports.
“I really want to continue to work with CGAA (Cottage Grove Athletic Association), the parents and the booster club,” Schwartz said. “It’s been done very well in the past, but like anything else, there’s always room for improvement.”
Schwartz beat out McNeal for job
In the hiring process Schwartz went head-to-head with high-profile candidate Brett McNeal, who multiple sources said was interviewed twice for the position. McNeal was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in 1985 for Minneapolis North High School, before becoming a standout player at Western Kentucky University where he was an All-American and is in the Athletic Hall of Fame.
McNeal also coached Minneapolis North to a Class AAAA state championship in 2003, and, last year, was the coach of the CGAA eighth-grade boys basketball team.
Kuemmel said, because of Park’s policy, he wouldn’t comment on any of the other candidates.
“We never release the names of other candidates,” Kuemmel said. “Never have, never will.”
Kuemmel and the hiring committee interviewed five candidates on Monday, Aug. 23. Kuemmel and Park principal Dr. Efe Agbamu then held a second interview on Thursday, Aug. 27, with the two final candidates — Schwartz and McNeal.
“The committee said they would support either one of the two candidates as head coach,” Kuemmel said. “It was kind of like a teeter-totter. You’d hear one great thing about one person, then a great thing about the other person. Both candidates came out very strong. But, when it came down to it — and we were both in consensus — that J would be the best fit for our program.”
It was reported at the end of July, that McNeal was interested in the position. Since then, a number of individuals not involved in the hiring process have stated their hope McNeal would be the choice.
Dan Harrison, who is the CGAA baseball president and the basketball vice president was in favor of McNeal.
“J is a very, very, very nice guy — I can’t say anything negative about J,” Harrison said. “I like him and think he is an excellent person. But, if an objective person compared the resumes of the two candidates, no reasonable person could make the decision that the district has made.”
Harrison said the consensus among the community members was for a change in the direction of the program.
“This was a chance for Park to have a new start, make a step into the future and say we want to be better — we want to achieve excellence and make the basketball program grow,” Harrison said. “This almost just says to me that Park is not committed to excellence. It’s frustrating as someone who volunteers a lot of time that this was the direction they went. It was a huge missed opportunity.”
Schwartz said he didn’t feel pressure to prove himself to anyone.
“I think I am proven here,” Schwartz said. “This is my community and I’ve been a part of it my whole life. I know what it takes to compete and what it takes to lead and I will surround myself with people who have that same vision. I know that past players, current players and future players believe that too.”
Kuemmel said the school wanted to “pick the best basketball coaching candidate, period.”
“I think a lot of outsiders are going to look at this as the same-old, same-old, because he has been part of the staff,” Kuemmel said. “But, he’s going need to work with the association and the booster club to show them that it is his basketball program now. Some things may be the same, some may be different. But, what was most important was to hire the best coach, regardless of where they are from, and that’s what we think we have done.
My challenge to everyone is — now that J is the head coach — to ask what they are going to do to help him, because that’s the key. Are they going to grumble and go there own way or are they going to step up and help him be successful?”
Schwartz said there are always going to be naysayers, but that he is confident in his ability as a coach.
“Over the long term, I think with the product we’ll put out there, we’ll see some wins — I truly believe that,” Schwartz said. “People have to be patient, it’s not going to happen overnight. But, what people will see is that our kids will compete night in and night out.”