Kind calls it a career at MHS

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Jeff Kind, one of the winningest coaches in state history, resigned as Middleton's girls basketball coach Monday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

As Jeff Kind mowed his lawn in past summers, he wound think about the upcoming basketball season the entire time. 

Who would his starters be? Could the newcomers help? How did the Big Eight Conference look? 

Middleton’s veteran girls basketball coach pondered all scenarios.

As Kind mowed his lawn on Monday afternoon, though, basketball never crossed his mind.

That’s because earlier that day, the 68-year-old Kind submitted his resignation.

After 44 years of coaching, including the last 30 at Middleton, Kind decided it was the right time to step away.

Kind, who was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018, exits with a remarkable 578-256 career record. Kind also leaves as the sixth-winningest girls coach in state history.

“When the summer started, I had every intention of being around for a while,” Kind said. “But the way some other things worked out, the timing made sense. I wrestled with it for several days, but it was the right time.”

Kind’s wife, Linda, retired from teaching after the 2021-22 school year. Linda then accepted a new position in Tomahawk that required her to be in the office periodically.

The Kinds searched for a place up north, and recently purchased a lake house in Phillips, Wis. — a 40-minute drive to Tomahawk.

Kind said he and Linda discussed keeping their Middleton home, as well, which would have allowed him to continue coaching. But paying two mortgages wasn’t an appealing thought, and the couple opted to sell their Middleton home and move north.

“It was a hard decision, really hard,” Kind said. “I talked to some of my good friends and talked Linda at length. I wrestled a lot with it. It came down to we had a great run, a great 30 years.

“I just decided this wasn’t a bad time to walk away. We’ve got some really good kids in the pipeline, some really good teams coming up in the next few years, and we’re going to leave the program in good shape for whoever comes next.”

While many knew Kind was entering the homestretch of his brilliant career, the news still sent shockwaves through the athletic department.

“Losing Jeff Kind is going to be a huge loss for our program,” Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims said. “I understand that he’s ready for his next chapter, but he’ll be greatly missed.”

Former baseball coach Tom Schmitt, who had Kind on his staff for several years, agreed with Sims.

“Jeff was an extremely passionate coach who coached his teams to be their best,” Schmitt said. “He taught the game the correct way, through hard work and detailed practice. He is a very smart person and teacher that knows what it takes to have successful teams.”

Tim Simon, a longtime coach in the building, knows that people like Kind don’t come around often.

“He was a tremendous coach. Look at all of his conference championships and appearances at state,” said Simon, who teaches Physics like Kind did. “It’s pretty unparalleled.

“But as good as of a coach as he is, he’s an even better man. He’s one of the most humble, unassuming, people I know. With him, it was always about the kids, the players, the program.”

And what a program Kind built.

During Kind’s 30 years at MHS, he led the Cardinals to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament a remarkable 12 times. Prior to Kind’s arrival, Middleton never qualified for state.

On three occasions — 1993, 2003 and 2011 — Middleton reached the state championship game, but settled for a silver ball.

The 2020 Cardinals were arguably the best team of the Kind-era, going 25-1, winning 20 straight games and earning a trip to the state tournament. But as that top-ranked Middleton team sat in its Green Bay hotel less than 24 hours before the state semifinals, the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll always say, ‘What if?’ ” Kind said of that 2020 campaign. “There’s not much you can do about it.”

Kind inherited a program that struggled before his arrival. In his first year at MHS, though, he led the Cardinals to the state championship game where they lost to Janesville Parker.

That contest featured Middleton’s Angie (Halbleib) Murphy — who finished her MHS career as the state’s all-time leading scorer — and Parker’s Jennah Burkholder, who was named the state’s player of the year in 1993. With those players as headliners, the teams competed before a sold out UW Field House in a game that changed how girls basketball was viewed throughout the state.

“The feeling of walking into the Field House on championship night where it was absolutely packed was unbelievable,” Kind said. “I doubt that will ever happen again.”

Middleton went through some lean years as Kind embarked on building the program from the ground up. By the turn of the century, though, the Cardinals were once again a power and reached the state tournament in 2001.

Middleton remained a force, reaching the state championship game in 2003. Then the Cardinals reached the state tournament nine times between 2008-20.

“I think when I started, we had a really good first year with Angie … but the program was not very sustainable at that point,” Kind said. “Then it was a big rebuild. But we got better and better and the next 20-some years we were usually one of best teams in the state. Being able to sustain that for such a long amount of time is something I’m really proud of.”

Kind, who also coached the girls varsity team at Kohler for five years, the girls varsity at Cuba City for five years and the boys freshmen team at Cuba City for four years, finished with a 495-215 record at MHS (.697). He also led the Cardinals to 11 Big Eight Conference championships.

“To hear Jeff Kind is retiring is the loss of a legend,” Murphy said. “I was lucky enough to have coach Kind as my coach my senior year in high school and it was my favorite year of basketball in my life. I loved playing for coach Kind.”

Of course, coaching against him was another story.

Murphy has built a juggernaut herself at Verona, where she’s led the Wildcats to state five times, highlighted by a championship in 2016. Going up against her mentor, though, was never much fun for Murphy — or most others.

“Beating Jeff was always so hard,” Murphy said. “He got the best of my teams more often than not. He knew the game and how to teach it. His teams were always so well prepared and coached and you knew you had to bring your ‘A’ game as a coach when you coached against him.

“It is a sad day to see him go. He has left a lasting impact on Wisconsin high school girls basketball that will not be forgotten. He was one of my biggest rivals, mentor and someone I am lucky enough to call a friend. Wishing him nothing but the best in retirement. It won’t be the same playing Middleton and not seeing him on the sidelines.”

Other former players were saddened and surprised by the news.

“I am thankful for coach Kind’s dedication, support and positive influence on and off the court,” said Leslie Oliversen, a 2003 MHS graduate. “I often think of the memories made playing on his team and I am forever thankful.”

Alexis Thomas, a 2017 MHS graduate, agreed.

“He worked endlessly on building our program, day in and day out,” Thomas said. “Summer basketball camps, youth camps, tournaments, lifts, building personal relationships, and more. Not only did he love his players, he loved the game more than anyone I know. 

“I graduated back in 2017, and to this day I still reflect on how much I miss basketball — not just the game, but the coaches, staff, friendships I built, and the unforgettable memories. 

“Coach Kind, congrats on the most successful career. Coach of the Year always in my books!”

Hannah Flottmeyer, a 2019 Middleton graduate, echoed what many former Cardinals said.

“It was a privilege to be coached by coach Kind,” Flottmeyer said. “He truly cared about you as a person before a player. He was always a man of integrity and kindness and I have a lot of respect for him. He expected excellence from us and that made us achieve higher levels.”

Sims said the job will be posted before the week is over, and he hopes to start interviews in the next two weeks.

“The sooner the better,” Sims said. “We’re a little late in the game, but we expect to get some really good candidates.”

A huge reason for that, of course, is Kind, who built a powerhouse and is leaving behind a program with terrific talent in Grades 7-9.

Before exiting stage left, Kind wanted to thank to his assistant coaches; boys varsity coaches John Boyle and Kevin Bavery, who he became extremely close with; the Middleton Basketball Club and Middleton Bluebirds youth programs; and his other coaching colleagues at MHS.

Of course, those same people and programs would likely want nothing more than to thank Kind for 30 years of success — all while representing Middleton with dignity and class.

“The Middleton sports programs and the backing for it have been great,” Kind said. “I’ve enjoyed it immensely and I feel like it’s one of those things where I enjoyed coming in and doing my best every day and made sure I never took it for granted.

“I had great kids and I felt like we had great support, and not everybody has that. It was a terrific run.”

Orchestrated by a terrific leader.

 

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