Q&A: Foreman coach Terry Head
Coach of four Division I signees talks Public League hoops
Terry Head began his coaching career on the streets and now is coaching one of the top high schools programs in the state. In his 12 years at Foreman High School, he has continually moved the Hornets up the ladder and has them in position this season to make a run for a city and state championship. With Foreman's season opener quickly approaching -- the Hornets play on Sunday -- Head took a few minutes to talk about this season's team, last season's disappointing loss to York, his AAU program, his coaching career and more.
Scott Powers: How did you get into coaching?
Terry Head: I graduated in '89, and I was supposed to go to Iowa to play college ball. I didn't go because I had a kid, my daughter. I ended up playing in junior college at Triton College. I played one year for them, and I put my shoes up after that. I then started coaching park district ball. They were like street teams. The name of my team was the Icemen. After that summer, I coached grammar school ball at Frederick Douglas, my old grammar school. I just went from there.
My first high school job was at Weber High School. I coached every level there. I coached at Douglas from '90-94. I started coaching at Weber in '93. I did both of them for a couple years. That's how I started.
When I started coaching the Illinois Icemen, we were so poor. I was just coaching kids up on the West Side, kids who didn't want to play high school. It was like our AAU. We would play at the parks. It was crazy. I loved it. We just wore light blue T-shirts. I would buy shirts at the Dollar Store and would put 'Icemen' on them and put numbers on the back. When I got money, I got the iron-on letters.
SP: What have you learned from coaching?
TH: That's where I got passion from. Everyone thought they were going to the NBA when we were young. 'I'm going to the league, I'm going to the league.' My favorite team was Duke. I thought I was going to play for Coach K. You realize you're not good enough. I thought, 'I'll go coaching. I'll put my passion in that way.' That was the biggest thing I learned from coaching -- the passion and love for the game.
SP: Who has influenced you as a coach?
TH: There are four guys I love to watch coaching. There really isn't any order. I put them all together. One is John Bonk, who coached at Weber and is now at Nazareth. The other is Chris Head. When he coached at Westinghouse, he was amazing. The other guy is Roy Condotti. When he coached at Westinghouse, he was big-time. The last guy is Gene Pingatore. I think Gene Pingatore, especially in his heyday, was the best. He always had his teams well-prepared. You couldn't beat those guys.
SP: What do you enjoy most about coaching?
TH: The first thing I love about coaching is I love to see kids develop. My biggest challenge is to take a kid who can't play at all. We'll take a kid who nobody wants and we're determined to make them good, make them a ballplayer. You have to see something in that kid and pull that out of them. That's what I love to do.
SP: How have you developed as a coach?
TH: I've developed as a coach by going to camps. I really like going to basketball camps. I'm a camps guru. I want to work camps and get better as a coach. I learn drills that I love to put into things we already do to get better. I like to go to a lot of games and watch those to develop. I like to watch a lot of college basketball. You just see different things that work for different coaches. I love to watch college ball and think, 'Who would I sub at this point in the game and what would I do?' I remember that in my games, and I think, 'We should do this.' Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
SP: How are you different now as a coach?
TH: Now, I'm more patient. I tend to be more patient and allow my kids to give more feedback. Before, it was more of a dictatorship. Now, it's more like 75 percent/25 percent. I learned, especially last year, that when you're trying to win ballgames, you can't play just one style and you have to know when to change things up. You have to know when to let your horses go and when to slow them down. You let the kids grow, and you will grow with them.
SP: What did you learn from last year's upset against York in the regionals?
TH: That York loss hurt in so many ways just because I knew we were a better team, and that was one game I probably should have let my horses go. You train them so they know what to do. If you're trying to teach them in a game, you didn't a good job in practice.
SP: Do you feel pressure to win this season?
TH: I think there was more pressure to win last year than this year. I have told the kids to go out and have fun. It's about getting over small humps and executing plays. I love this group. There's no pressure. I have more fun in practice.
SP: What excites you about this year's team?
TH: Just going to practice with them every day. They come in and they bring it. They're going hard. We have an opportunity to do something at the school and in the community that we've never done before -- we're trying to win that city and state championship.
SP: Do you feel this team has the capability to win city and state?
TH: Yes, I do. I thought we had it last year. I thought we had it last year. I thought we were going to win the whole thing last year. After we beat Curie last year, I thought, 'Yeah, we got it.' I've been coaching in the Public League for 14 seasons, and there's no league like it. You have to come in night-in-and-night-out and play. That city championship, it feels so good playing down there at DePaul. It's a proud moment for your school. Yeah, we want to win state. All public schools want to go downstate, but that city championship means a lot to those kids.
SP: What's the significance of Foreman having four Division I players (Lavonte Dority, Mike McCall, Eddie Denard, Tommy Woolridge) this season?
TH: We put in a lot of work with our kids. I honestly think we had other kids who could have gone Division I, but they didn't make the grades. They just didn't seize the opportunity like these kids did. I think that those four guys, they had a trust in our program, and their parents trusted us with their kids, and we believed we had the knowledge to get them in there, and we did. I'm not going to take anything from those kids. They worked hard to get their scholarships. The significance right here is if you focus yourself and work hard, you can go to school.
SP: Do you feel Foreman is now in that elite group of Public League teams?
TH: I'm not an arrogant person, but I thought Foreman was an elite program when I was in the Green [Division]. People thought I was crazy. When we won the Blue, I thought we were big-time, too. I thought we were always an elite program. That's what I believe. I didn't care if people were laughing at us. I'm excited about Foreman High School. I'm excited about Foreman High School just as much now as I was when I first got here.
SP: Who is the best player you have ever coached?
TH: Don't me ask that question. [laughs] No, I got a lot of them. I got a top five. Can I get 10? I've coached a lot of kids. The best player I ever coached in AAU was, man, Marque Perry. He played at Prosser High School when I coached at Prosser and he played at Saint Louis [University]. He had confidence. He had resilience. We never needed a press break because he was so fast. He was probably the toughest player I ever coached. I would say my No. 2 kid I coached in AAU was Chris Singletary, a total man. He was a man playing against boys. I love Chris. My son, Leavon Head, is probably the third-best player I like coaching in AAU. I like the expression on his face when I tell him to do something he's not used to doing. As for Foreman guys, I have so many guys. Just the whole Foreman basketball family, I love them all the same.
SP: Is there a difference between coaching high school and AAU?
TH: In AAU, it's a lot more free. I love my guys to shoot more and be more creative than in high school. On defense, I'm the same. I'm really hard. In high school, you can't come down jacking shots like you do in AAU. The reason I coach high school and AAU ball is because I love basketball, man. Basketball is what I love. If it's something you love, you should do it. It's not about me. It's about the kids. That's what I want in my program.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.