Having spent more than 30 years roaming the sidelines, two former Geneseo basketball coaches are now being recognized for their dedication as inductees in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Gary Harlacher and Mike Kiss, both of whom have spent time on the bench for Geneseo will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the Career Coaches Category at a banquet on April 27.
"(This honor) is something I never really expected or thought about because it was something I was having so much fun doing," said Harlacher. "I never looked at it as a goal to accomplish, so when I was informed that it was going to happen, I was totally caught by surprise. It is something I regard as the highest thing you can achieve. It is one of the best achievements."
"I am very appreciative for coach (Brad) Storm nominating me and for the IBCA for the honor. Don Morris, my high-school coach, is in the Hall of Fame and being nominated by a former player is special," said Kiss. "But to me, it is recognition for our program. Geneseo is a good place to play basketball and the recognition this honor brings to the players is exciting to me. It is a very nice honor and very appreciative to get that recognition at the end of a career. I was very surprised about the honor. It was unexpected."
Harlacher began his coaching career in 1976 as an assistant boys' coach at Westmer High School. He went on to coach as an assistant at Rock Falls High School from 1977-79 and later took the head boys' coaching position at TriValley High School for the 1979-80 season.
"I started coaching some youth sports before I graduated from college, and I really enjoyed doing that," said Harlacher. "I guess I caught the fever from there. It is something I really enjoyed doing and I look back with no regrets."
Harlacher made his first stop in Geneseo as an assistant boys' coach from 1980-87. He left Geneseo and spent two seasons 1987-89 as an assistant at Rock Island High School.
Harlacher returned to Geneseo in 1989 and was the assistant boys' coach until 1996 when he took over as head girls' coach until 2000. In 2003, he returned to the boys' bench as an assistant until 2008.
"I think anybody who is an assistant at some point in time has the ultimate goal to be a head coach," Harlacher said. "Basketball is my favorite sport, no doubt about it, and my goal was to become a head coach. I got the opportunity to do that as the head girls' basketball coach in Geneseo and that was the best opportunity.
"We had a lot of success, won three conference titles in five years, and we had excellent players," said Harlacher. "I enjoyed the competitiveness and a lot of the coaches you coach against you become friends with."
Page 2 of 3 - After taking some time away from the game, Harlacher joined the Black Hawk College men's basketball team's staff as an assistant coach for the 2010-11 season.
"The highlight of all my coaching was the two Sweet 16 experiences by Geneseo," said Harlacher. "The first one (1993-94 season) was something that had never been done before in Geneseo, and it was something those kids really worked to do. It was a really, really good accomplishment for the kids. The Sweet 16 with (Brad) Storm, even though there were more classes it was still a big deal because we had a couple of kids who had played for a couple of years, and was something those kids really worked to accomplish."
Kiss started his coaching career as the head freshman boys' coach at Rock Island Alleman from 1976-79. He moved to Rock Island as an assistant freshman and sophomore boys' coach from 1979-81.
"I just always was around very good coaching when I played at Alleman, and I loved sports so I decided when I was young to teach and coach," said Kiss. "I am very fortunate to follow through with that. There was no question about doing anything else and there are no regrets what so ever. It was the right thing to do."
In 1981, Kiss began his stint as the Geneseo varsity boys' coach until stepping down in 2003. Kiss returned to the Geneseo sidelines in 2008 as an assistant boys' coach until the 2011-12 season.
"The kids we had were special, hardworking kids who spent a lot of time with the game, said Kiss. "We won the AA Sectional in 1994. That was a great achievement by that team, but I feel that every team that came before was a part of the win by building a culture that led to the accomplishment. We also won the regional in 1983 and back-to-back titles in 1991-92 and 1994-95."
"The time I spent away from the game was good, and I decided to leave coaching at the right time. When coach (Dave) Martin offered me the opportunity to help I was glad I did, and I enjoyed the last part of my career. I liked being in the gym with the guys."
During his time on the bench in Geneseo, coach Kiss had the opportunity to coach his three sons, which was an experience he called a "special thing."
"There are things that happen that you don't anticipate (when you coach your kids), but the bottom line is if you give most people the opportunity to be around their kids like in basketball, that is a special thing," said Kiss. "It is not always easy, but it gives you a special opportunity to watch them develop and grow."
Coach Kiss said his biggest highlight from his years of coaching is just spending time in the gym with his teams.
Page 3 of 3 - "You have the tangible things that fans like (winning conference titles or being in the Top 10), but honestly the highlight for me was going to the gym and working with our guys to make them better," said Kiss.
Over many years of coaching, both coaches continued to learn from their experiences.
"(The biggest thing I learned) was you have to be able to get along with people because you are not always going to be around people you might agree with in a given situation," said Harlacher. "It is a lot of give and take. You always have to answer to somebody and get along with people.
"I had the opportunity to work with a bunch of different coaches and learn from a lot of different people, which was a fun and interesting experience."
"I learned there are no shortcuts," said Kiss. "Basketball, in particular, you have to put the time in at and the foundation of that is having relationships with the kids. It takes awhile, and the fact I was able to stay in place is the secret to being competitive. Over the years, we just had good, hardworking kids who bought in and, when younger kids see that, it leads to a good program."
"I think what I enjoyed most from my time on the bench was working with the kids on your team and working with the different personalities and ideas," said Harlacher. "Just working with the kids was something I really relish that I was given the opportunity to do. It was a true opportunity. Working with kids was really special."
"I look back and I am thankful for all the great basketball relationships I experienced during my tenure. Del Nicklaus was our AD when I came. He was an invaluable resource," said Kiss. "We were able to have top-notch coaches at all levels who really provided continuity and stability. Watching our players start in the WBA, go through GYB, and turn into good players and even better role models as seniors; I feel very proud and lucky to have been a part of that. We had great booster support that added to the program."