Conversation: Tom Goehle still following in father Hugo's footsteps
Tom Goehle, son of legendary coach Hugo Goehle, was once a star athlete at Hills-Beaver Creek High School. Now he gives back through coaching and his involvement in Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Goehle is continuing an impressive family tradition in his role as assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Nebraska. A former star athlete and 1988 graduate at Hills-Beaver Creek, where his father Hugo Goehle had a tremendous football and basketball coaching career, Tom has coached at many levels. Included was a 15-year stint at his prep alma mater, plus women’s basketball coaching jobs at Coastal Carolina, North Dakota State, the University of Sioux Falls and the University of South Dakota. Tom has also played and coached basketball overseas and is in his seventh season with the Huskers of head women’s hoop coach Amy Williams. Nebraska, which earned an NCAA Tournament berth last year, is 12-8 entering a nationally televised game Saturday (Fox-TV on Jan. 28) against Iowa. An Augustana University graduate, Tom is also heavily involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We caught up with him recently via phone from Lincoln, Neb., for our latest “Conversation With Scott.”)
Question: It’s nice to talk to you, Tom. Hello from back home.
Answer: Thanks very much, Scott. It’s great to hear from you.
Q: I know the Huskers have had a lot of adversity this year (including season-ending injuries to starting point guard Allison Weidner and two other guards. The Huskers also were without star guard Sam Haiby for several weeks.)
A: Yes, we have. But that being said, I really love our team. When we had all our pieces I thought this team could be an Elite 8 team (in the Big Dance). I still think we realistically could beat just about anybody, but we also can lose to just about anybody. Our margin for error is really small.
Q: The Big 10 women’s basketball league is very strong.
A: Yes. It’s fun. It’s great.
Q: Were you a fan of the Big 10 while growing up in Hills?
A: Yes, I was. I was a Minnesota sports fan, to be honest. Still love the Twins and the Vikings.
Q: You played multiple sports in high school, correct?
A: I was a basketball, track and football guy. On some really good teams. My senior year in basketball we beat Southwest Christian twice during the regular season, they beat us once in a Christmas tournament and then they hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat us (69-66) in the finals of the District 8 tournament. I think we were 19-3 that year. My Dad’s 500th win was during my senior year, at Jasper.
Q: I know you played point guard in basketball. What position did you play in football?
A: I was a wide receiver and defensive back. (He was an All-State player). I loved playing football.
Q: Your Dad’s basketball program was something (Tom was an honorable mention All-State basketball player). I also know coach Hugo coached some fine football teams. When I talked to my friend Rex Metzger (current highly successful H-BC football coach) last fall I mentioned your name. He has high regard for you, Tom.
A: When I went back to Hills to teach and coach, Rex ran track for me and played football for us. He was very active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I also coached his wife, Erin Boeve Metzger, who went on to play volleyball at Iowa State. She was a great athlete. The whole Boeve family is. I got to officiate Erin and Rex’s wedding, so yes, we’re pretty close.
Q: Did you play college basketball?
A: Well, I went to Mankato as a freshman but I got mono and redshirted. But the environment there didn’t suit me. Then I decided to go to Worthington Junior College for a year (now Minnesota West), but I got injured early. Got undercut when I was going in on a dunk and bruised my spinal cord. I tried picking it back up at Augie, but that injury bothered me. So ended up becoming a student assistant there for a couple of years and that took me right into coaching.
Q: After teaching and coaching at Hills-Beaver Creek, where did your college career begin?
A: At Sioux Falls working for (head women’s coach) Travis Traphagen. That was his first year. We were together there four years and he’s still there.
Q: Is Travis related to my old friend Mike Traphagen (former Worthington High star athlete and Trojan athletic director)?
A: Yes, I believe they’re cousins.
Q: Your Mom is still living, right Tom?
A: Yes, she’s in the nursing home in Hills. A lot of the young ladies that I taught or coached in high school are now working as nurses there and caring for her. Every once in a while I’ll get a message after a game and they’ll say, ‘I sat with your Mom and watched your game on Big Ten Network.’ It’s neat.
Q: When you were coaching girls’ basketball at H-BC did your teams have a lot of success?
A: We did. It seemed like it always came down to us and Fulda and Adrian. We won just one sub-section title, but we had good teams as well. One of my closest friends is Gregg Slaathaug, who was at Fulda. (Note: Slaathaug, now the school superintendent at Hayfield, led the Fulda girls state championships in 2006-07. Jessica Hogan, now the Trojan girls’ hoop coach, was an assistant on those teams).
Q: Nothing quite like basketball tournament time down here in southwest Minnesota, right Tom?
A: Some of my best memories are being in Worthington for district tournaments. As a kid growing up, as a player and as a coach, without question it’s still one of the greatest atmospheres there is. I loved it there. That gym was full, it was loud and there was so much excitement.
Q: I want to ask you about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Your spiritual life must be very important to you.
A: Very much so. My faith became my own in college. Somebody once told me God doesn’t have grandchildren, only sons and daughters. You can’t live off your parents’ faith; you have to have your own. That’s always stuck with me.
Q: Are you still heavily involved in FCA at Nebraska?
A: I am. I try to help out wherever I can, whether with speaking engagements or on-campus functions.
Q: Tell me about your father. What was it like growing up and playing for him? And how often do you think of him?
A: Ohhh … (pauses) I think of him often. Being around the game of basketball my whole life I just think of him often. As a kid I’d go to games with him and the treat was after the game, when we’d stop to eat somewhere. Get a burger or a steak. Places like Magnolia and Sioux Valley, places that don’t have teams anymore. Some great memories that come back to me often. Every year we’d go up to the Barn (Williams Arena) for Gopher games. So now to be coaching teams there the memories come back. I saw the impact he had on kids.
Q: What made your father such a fine coach? (Hugo Goehle coached basketball for 40 years, two in Lakefield and 38 in Hills. He won 539 games at Hills-Beaver Creek before retiring in 1991. The facility at H-BC is now the Hugo Goehle Gymnasium.)
A: I think he was a great motivator and encourager. He knew how to challenge his athletes to motivate them and he had a good knack for putting people in the right position to be successful and getting the most out of them.
Q: Where was your dad from?
A: He actually was born in a house in Steen, Minnesota (in Rock County south of Luverne). His dad was a pastor and a farmer. Shortly after he was born they moved to a farm in Ash Creek. There isn’t much left of Ash Creek (laughs), but that’s where he grew up.
Q: Tell me about your life growing up in Hills.
A: I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. Having a community that supported you, encouraged you and raised you is pretty special. There were endless summer days of going from one sport to another and another. It was all pickup ball, not organized. You were your own coach, your own official, the one who had to get the game organized, whether it was football, basketball or baseball. I have great, great memories of growing up in Hills.
Q: Did Beaver Creek ever have its own high school, do you think?
A: To my knowledge Hills and Beaver Creek were the first schools in Minnesota to consolidate, in about 1964 and ‘65. To this day Beaver Creek still has the elementary school and Hills has the high school. It’s a beautiful marriage. Just one community. And Steen is in there, too. Steen’s not very big but it’s held its own with about 150 or 200 people. It’s a great church and family-oriented place. It’s a close-knit community with a lot of great people.
Q: What did you do on summer Friday nights in Hills?
A: Here’s the thing: The back door of our house in Hills was about 20 steps to the gym. Our house was always unlocked, right? And in the back porch there were these hooks for hats and coat hangers. And underneath one of the hats were the keys to the gym and the keys to the basketball room. Every player who ever played for my Dad knew that. So at any given time you could come and get the keys and get in the gym. It was not uncommon for it to be 10 or 11 on Friday or Saturday night and guys were getting together to play pickup in the gym. Even as a young kid those are some of my greatest memories. That’s just what you did. And you truly enjoyed the people you were with.
Q: Was your dad hard at all on you? A lot of times you hear how fathers who are coaches are a little tougher on their own kids.
A: No, he wasn’t. He definitely let me know what was expected. But not hard on me. And he was always there, to play catch, to rebound, to do whatever. The reality is I saw others who had success and how they did it, by putting in work and time. To this day I love being around the day and being around competition.
Q: When did you lose your father, Tom?
A: In November of 1997. He was 72 and passed away of cancer. (Pauses) Here’s a unique story. Dad had never been to a Final Four and that spring the the Gophers made the Final Four (in Indianapolis). At the time Dad was taking shots and doing chemo. So what we did is this. At that time I had a sister and brother-in-law living in Winona. So we went to Winona and watched the Gophers play on Saturday. They lost to Kentucky. Then Arizona won and (coach) Lute Olson had always been one of Dad’s favorites. So that game gets over and my Dad’s feeling good on that Saturday night. We decided we would drive to Indianapolis and try to scalp some tickets. We went through the night, got a motel room and got Dad situated. Then while he rested, we went out on the streets to scalp some tickets. And I ran into Patrick Winter (Slayton native whose brother, Trevor, was a senior on the Gophers that spring). I had played one year at Worthington with Patrick and Dad had coached against Trevor. Patrick goes, ‘Hey, let me talk to my brother and we’ll take care of you.’ And sure enough, they got us two tickets. So Dad and I were sitting with the Gophers right behind Arizona’s bench.
A: Yep. So we got to sit next to Clem (Haskins) and Bobby (Jackson) and right behind us were John Wooden, Denny Crum and Steve Lavin. I think Dad might have thought he had already died and gone to heaven. Then we watched Arizona win in double-overtime. It was his first and only Final Four. And I’m so grateful for that. (Pauses) My dad was a very joyful man, and that experience brought him so much joy.
Q: For all the success your father had at Hills-Beaver Creek, did he win any district titles?
A: No. There was that one stretch when he lost five straight District 8 championship games to Luverne (1977-81).
Q: Pretty tough district.
A: That’s for sure. (Coach Huge Goehle coached nine District 8 runner-up teams from 1968-91)
Q: Tell me about a few of your top memories while playing for the Patriots.
A: The 500th win for my Dad, I remember that very vividly. Being able to experience that with him and our family was just great. Then after the game in Jasper we go back to the Steen Town Hall and all of Dad’s friends and family were there to celebrate. And to be honest, after home games our house was always a gathering place. Win or lose. To be honest, those are some of my best memories. One of my closest friends, Jeff Berkhof, who is the head men’s coach at Wisconsin-River Falls, is another thought I always have. He was the quarterback, I was the receiver in football and we were running mates in basketball. We were always together and we were great friends. When I was a junior we beat Luverne for the first time. I knew what that meant to Dad. (Laughs). For a number of years, my uncle, Harry Franz, was an assistant coach at Luverne. So it was a unique rivalry we had.
Q: Tell you what, Tom, your dad would be very proud of you and your career.
A: I appreciate that. I’m very grateful for the family I have, my parents and sisters, and where I was raised. I’d definitely want to make him proud (pauses).
Q: Good luck to you and the Huskers, Tom.
A: Thank you, Scott.
(Scott Mansch can be reached at email@example.com)