Tuscola's Kohlbecker retires: 'Almost like a legend'

Mar. 16—TUSCOLA — Tim Kohlbecker's success at the helm of Tuscola's girls' basketball wasn't necessarily by design.

Few envisioned Kohlbecker embarking on a Hall of Fame career after stepping up to succeed Stan Wienke as the program's coach in 2004.

"Tim was around and kind of knew basketball and really just kind of jumped at it," Tuscola athletic director Ryan Hornaday said. "And we've kind of accidentally found almost like a legend."

But that's exactly what happened during the next two decades, with Kohlbecker guiding the Warriors to a 407-164 record and 11 IHSA regional plaques.

He went out in style before his retirement was announced Friday morning by Tuscola CUSD 301 on Facebook; Tuscola totaled an 85-13 record during the past three seasons, each of which ended with a Class 1A regional title.

"It's been phenomenal for a school our size to sustain the level of success that he's been able to create," Hornaday said. "We do everything we can to put the right people in front of our kids. And in that sense, there really aren't many better, take basketball out of the equation."

How much a fixture did Kohlbecker become within the town of 4,636 people?

Look no further than that Facebook post, which received 77 comments and 290 reactions as of 4:30 p.m. on Friday.

The comments, from the likes of fans, parents and opposing coaches — are overwhelmingly supportive.

"He was always a great coach, but I think he was even a better person off the court," former Unity coach Dave Ellars said. "He would always congratulate you on something that you did or he would look for something that you did more than (making it about) himself."

As a junior varsity coach at St. Teresa and Villa Grove, Hornaday coached against Kohlbecker when the latter assisted Wienke. He served on Kohlbecker's staff before becoming Tuscola's athletic director.

"I've worked against with, against, under, above every different direction, and you can't find anything but enough good things to say," Hornaday said.

"I consider him a true friend, to a degree, a mentor. We've done Bible studies together and just enjoyed a lot of time outside of school and athletics. Just a stand-up guy. Can't say enough good things."

Tuscola boys' basketball coach Justin Bozarth was also an assistant on Kohlbecker's staff for five seasons at the start of his coaching career.

His wife, Aja, is one of Kohlbecker's daughters.

"I think what I probably learned the most from him, when it comes to strictly a coaching perspective, was Tim was probably as good as anybody in being prepared," Bozarth said. "He also kept in perspective how it was way more than just coaching."

Kohlbecker's teams haven't been much fun to play against in recent seasons, a credit to their success rather than Kohlbecker's warm relationship with opposing coaches.

Ellars knew how intense games between the Warriors and his Unity Rockets could get.

"Like this year was a very, very competitive game," Ellars said of Tuscola's 45-39 win on Jan. 6. "It's back and forth, like we said after our game, because that was like a regional or sectional championship game, the game we played against him this year."

Ten years ago, Ellars — who also retired following the 2023-24 season — coached Kohlbecker's youngest daughter, Samantha, at Parkland.

Bozarth thought Samantha's senior year might have been Kohlbecker's last before he added another decade's worth of winning records to his resume.

"We try to take great pride in putting the best people in front of our kids," Bozarth said. "And I think we can all agree without hesitation that Tim fits that mold to a T and what he's invested goes way beyond coaching, being a role model, a father figure, a life coach and inspirational leader."