On March 27, 2013 Varsity basketball coach Jeff VanFossan ended his tenure in that role. One month later on April 29, West Ottawa Athletic Director Pat Marsman announced the hiring of a new basketball coach. Mr. Steve Windemuller, graduate and ex-basketball player of West Ottawa High School is honored to be Marsman’s selection. Windemuller, who has coached for more than 28 years, was an assistant coach at Holland High School for nine years under Mark Werley before taking over the Varsity job. He won a District Championship at Holland as well as multiple conference titles. He was Holland’s Varsity coach for the past 10 years until this past April. Windemuller grew up a Panther and now he’s back in the black and white of West Ottawa.
At Holland for as long as Windemuller was coach, the Dutch performed a pregame routine that became known even to their opponents. The pre-game slide has been a tradition Windemuller has incorporated into his teams’ warm-up preparation for ages, but even with a change in scenery this tradition will not change. “It’s been a Coach Windemuller tradition,” Windemuller said, “Most definitely they will be doing the slide. It’s a good warm-up.” Not only is it a good warm-up, but it also gets the crowd involved in the game and in high school athletics it’s all about the students. When the student section is roaring and the energy in the air is almost tangible, that’s when most teams play their best basketball. “The biggest thing is to come out here and put people in the stands and get the students excited about basketball, and that their friends are playing, and that their friends enjoy it, and that their friends are having a good time, and the kids like to play, and they’re having fun playing, so they play their butts off. If you come out and watch people just go half-speed, and not care, and not like what’s going on, and not have any fun doing it, then it doesn’t make it fun for anybody to come watch you,” Windemuller said. In the end it’s about having fun and that’s the atmosphere that Windemuller wants to put at the forefront of his coaching campaign. Winning will come, but the players, students, parents, and fans all have to buy into the product being put out on the floor first.
Windemuller is a “motion offense man” which means he is committed to achieving success by running a motion offense. This is a flexible offense that focuses on spacing, floor movement, passing, cutting, and screening. “It’s probably not the offense of choice now-a-days because it’s real difficult to run. It’s hard for kids to run motion sometimes just because of the way kids play now-a-days. Because they all want to dribble it and they all want to fly to the basket and shoot a floater,” Windemuller said. The ideal motion offense is virtually unscoutable because it’s designed to incorporate every single player on the offensive side of the ball. There could be one game when the two post players throw up twenty points apiece, but then a week later the shooting guard lights it up from behind the arc. It’s a game by game offense that is extremely hard to stop. It takes a coach that knows each of his or her players’ strengths and weaknesses in order to succeed with a motion offense. “You kind of have to adapt to the personnel you have too. Here we’re going to have to deal with the cards we’re dealt and try to figure out what’s best for our guys that we need to have on the floor,” Windemuller said. In the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons Windemuller had a 6’7” Division 1 prospect in Coreontae deBerry at his disposal so a lot of Holland’s offensive looks were naturally designed to come from within five feet of the basket. In his final season however, Holland barely had any size and Windemuller had to adjust his motion offense in order to adapt to the players he had. He turned to more of a ball screen motion offense where the big men would come up and screen the point guard to generate looks from drive and dish opportunities.
There is a learning curve to coaching just like there is to anything else in life. Good coaches are constantly striving to improve themselves as coaches, not just their respective teams. “It’s all experiential. For any kid, if you go and play a game, and take nothing away from that game, and take nothing away from your experience that night, and say, ‘I’m going to go out next game and I’m going to do the same thing,’ then there’s no growth. That’s why you don’t get better from game one to game nineteen. It’s because you haven’t learned anything. You haven’t adapted to anything or figured anything out,” Windemuller said. Even after twenty-eight years Windemuller is still looking for ways to make himself better, and ultimately his teams.
He may be a coach, but Windemuller is still a student of the game. He watches tremendous amounts of NCAA Men’s basketball every year. He’ll sit there and enjoy the game as a fan, but at his side at all times are a pen and a pad of paper. He’s a prime example of a coach who has proven himself on the sidelines for over twenty years, but still looks to elevate himself in his profession. “You keep learning and using ideas from other people, and you keep trying to put that into your memory and into your files and you try to get better at it,” Windemuller said. He watched earlier this season when Robert Morris University ran the figure eight play at the end of regulation to upset the University of Kentucky in the first round of the NIT Tournament, and like any good coach he took notes and put it away to be used at a later date.
One of the greatest opportunities that come with coaching is the chance to connect with the players. Being together for pretty much the entire winter, not to mention most of the offseason, the players become somewhat of a second family to one another. The coach is included in that family, and time after time on the news when a coach retires, the memories that seem to have had the biggest impression are those moments and relationships with the players themselves. Windemuller has been in the coaching profession for a good, long while and he is no exception. “Some moments that are really special are when you take kids that maybe could have gone the wrong direction or done something else or gotten into trouble, and you develop that kid into a pretty good player and a pretty good person, who then becomes a better athlete and a better citizen and turns into a kid that is an intricate part of your basketball program. Coreontae deBerry was a kid who started off as not a very nice kid. So to have a kid like that get a Division 1 scholarship offer is very special,” Windemuller said.
Windemuller has seen himself grow as a coach throughout his experiences. He had two particular instances in the last five seasons that many coaches will never see in their lifetimes. First, in late November of 2008, Holland Jr. Taylor DeRoo went into cardiac arrest during a scrimmage at Northview High School. Had it not been for a miracle, DeRoo would have died that day. Then, two seasons ago at Lowell High School a game between the Dutch and the Red Arrows was ended early when a brawl erupted on the court. There were multiple ejections and a few parents from the stands were involved in the melee. “Those kinds of situations make you a better person and a better coach. It makes you a little more solid in the way you handle situations,” Windemuller said. Not many coaches can say they’ve experienced anything close to the trials Windemuller has faced and there’s no doubt he has come out a better coach because of it.
Several of the players in the West Ottawa program play AAU basketball with the West Michigan Lakers during the offseason. Windemuller is one of the coaches in the Lakers’ program and has seen and been around many of the West Ottawa guys before. “It’s good to have some players that have your back and know what you’re about and can kind of smooth things out with some kids that maybe aren’t as familiar with myself or the way I’ve coached,” Windemuller said. As a new coach, nothing is more important than gaining the respect of your players. If that respect has been established already with at least a few players, then it works as a domino effect and soon almost everyone has that same mindset. It encourages more people to want to get involved in the basketball program. Now, even guys that have been nervous to tryout in recent years will have the confidence to go out for next year’s team.
Windemuller also shared who will be on next year’s coaching staff. Former JV coach Steve Eidson will stay in the program, but will be coaching the freshman team next season. Former Fennville Varsity head coach Ryan Klingler has been named as the JV coach for next season. Klingler held the Fennville team together after the Wes Leonard tragedy in March, 2011, leading them to a regional semifinal berth and a 23-1 record. That same season, Klingler was awarded the Michigan Class C Coach of the Year award for his dedication and leadership during a very trying time. Klingler stepped down as Fennville’s coach last June, but continued his love for the game as a coach for West Michigan Lakers where he met Windemuller.
Windemuller and his staff will look to regain the pride and glory of West Ottawa basketball in the coming years. “I will be the one to bring West Ottawa its first District Championship,” he said. The entire student body and all those affiliated with the Panther basketball program are excited and ready for a new beginning.