Pintar reflects on Alpena coaching tenure
ALPENA–John Pintar’s varsity coaching career got off to an ominous start.
In December 2000, Pintar’s debut came amidst a series of issues with Alpena’s facilities and he worried that his players wouldn’t be focused. In fact, the Wildcats’ season opener was moved at the last minute from Alpena High School to Thunder Bay Junior High school due to issues with some backboards.
Pintar didn’t have much to worry about. Alpena had a senior-heavy group that season that Pintar had coached at the JV level and players took care of business. The Wildcats got off to a 23-0 start to begin the game and rolled past Oscoda 67-30.
“I’ll never forget it. We had a bunch of gym issues in the fall that year with the roof leaking, and other things. We had buckets around and you never knew what was going to go wrong in the gym,” Pintar said. “Lo and behold, the first game, the baskets on the court wouldn’t go up on the side court.”
Ominous or not, that win kickstarted a varsity coaching career that’s still going strong 20 seasons later. Now in his 21st season with the Wildcats, Pintar has built an impressive resume that includes more than 200 wins, three Big North Conference championships and back-to-back district titles in 2007 and 2008.
He’s also coached two of the program’s top three all-time scorers and in more than 25 seasons as an Alpena coach, he’s mentored dozens of talented players.
He’s done it all while preaching team-first basketball and being flexible with his roster from year to year.
“Change with your personnel and you’re always flexible. Whatever a group presents you, you try to figure out the best way to utilize (it),” Pintar said. “When I really look at the time period that’s covered, it’s unbelievable some of the guys I’ve gotten to be around.”
Pintar’s first season as varsity coach featured players like Jason Barbeau, Eric Muszynski and Erik Skowronek. Through the years, that list grew to include the likes of Eric Puls, Sean McLain and Nathan Kindt, Pintar’s son Tyler, Andy Marwede, Chris DeRocher and Luke Cordes to name just a few. He also coached the likes of Nate Barden, Matt Cameron, Matt Muszynski and Troy Reeder as an assistant under coach Dave McDonald.
“When we’ve had some alumni games and I’ve watched some of the guys roll in to play, you just go ‘Wow,'” Pintar said. “We’ve had some great players come through here and a lot of success.”
Alpena has had its fair share of stars and record setters under Pintar’s leadership, including DeRocher and Tyler Pintar, who became the program’s No. 1 and No. 3 all-time scorers during their high school careers.
But Pintar pointed out that any Alpena’s team successes during his tenure happened because players, no matter their roles, stepped up in big moments.
He pointed to players like Brad Styma and Dylan Hoes as being important players during the Wildcats’ back-to-back Big North titles in 2014 and 2015.
He pointed to players like Alex Borchert, who scored 24 points to help Alpena win a 2007 district title.
He also pointed to longtime assistants Bill Bright and Tim Hoes who have been right there with him to mentor and mold players.
“We’ve had so many guys that felt like winning was the most important thing and they wanted the team success,” Pintar said. “I love that we have guys that want to win and are team guys. That’s what team basketball is all about.”
That devotion to team basketball has helped the Wildcats win more than 200 games under Pintar, including seven seasons with at least 16 wins.
It hasn’t always been easy, especially in a conference like the Big North that demands a team’s best effort every night. Alpena won the conference title by a game in 2008 and then went 22-2 in conference play to win back-to-back BNC titles between 2013 and 2015.
“The conference is very special because it means you were the best team every night for that year,” Pintar said. “In our conference with the travel that we do, it speaks volumes to what the kids were able to do.”
While talent certainly helps when it comes to wins and losses, Pintar said flexibility has played an important role in that success too.
For the first 10 years of his Alpena tenure, the Wildcats had plenty of talent up front and built their teams with the goal of feeding the ball to the post. Over the last 10 years, Alpena has had times when the roster is more guard-oriented.
Flexibility has come into play this season as well. With a younger team to lead, Pintar has adapted on the fly, especially with quick turnarounds for games. The Wildcats played six games in the season’s first two weeks and players have had to take on important roles quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the season being postponed for more than two months and threw a monkey-wrench into summer workouts.
With time to reflect, Pintar said he’s come a long way since his debut and from his early days in Alpena when he often visited McDonald to pick his brain or soak up knowledge from the basketball books and magazines McDonald would give him.
He’s gotten used to, and even embraces, the logistics that come with being a varsity coach, such as setting up summer camps, setting up summer scrimmages and planning for the next season right after the current one ends.
He still gets excitable on the sideline, but said with a laugh that he’s grown and matured over time.
Most of all, he considers himself lucky to have coached the Wildcats for more than 20 years and lucky to have mentored so many players over the years.
“I never step back and look at a number like that (21 seasons). One of the things when I moved here, got into teaching here, got into coaching here, I just always thought I would coach for a long time. I never knew what that meant, what role it would be, I just wanted to coach,” Pintar said. “Hard to believe it’s been 21 years as varsity coach. I just feel lucky to have had a chance to be the coach here and coach a lot of great players in that time period.”