Suter announces retirement
Al Fagerli sits down with long-time Craig boys basketball coach Bob Suter about his decision to retire...
JANESVILLE If Bob Suter hadn’t decided to stop and say “hi” to his future sister-in-law nearly 50 years ago, he may never have coached in Janesville.
But when he visited Marshall Middle School after completing Army duties at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., on that summer day in 1961, Suter planted a seed that would produce more than 1,000 victories at the high school level here.
The list of victories will not get much longer. Suter has submitted his letter of resignation as head coach of Janesville Craig’s boys basketball team.
When this season ends, Suter will have spent 47 years as a coach.
“It’s time,” is the way he started his letter telling Craig Principal Michael Kuehne of his decision.
Suter knew at the start of this season that it would be the end of his coaching career, but he didn’t want to make his decision public until the end of the season.
It’s about the kids
“I didn’t want to go to every gym and have them say, ‘Ah, this is coach’s last year,’” Suter said Monday night at his home. “It’s not about the coaches. It’s about the kids. It’s their game.”
But word of his letter, which was submitted Monday, reached Sun Prairie officials before the Cougars played there Saturday night. Suter was as surprised as anyone when he heard the public-address man announce Suter’s impending decision to the crowd before the game.
“I didn’t want that,” Suter said. “But that’s kind of the way it ended up.”
So Suter’s final regular-season game at the Craig gym will be Thursday against Verona, and then the Cougars will host a regional tournament game next week. They also have a sectional at home—if they qualify.
Suter has been successful coaching baseball, football and basketball. His accomplishments have earned him spots in the state halls of fame in all three sports.
He was a head football coach from 1968 until 1985. He went 87-70-1 in those 18 years and earned four conference championships. He was named conference coach of the year four times and was district coach of the year once.
Suter was the head coach in baseball for 37 years, earning three state championships, finishing second at state two other times and winning 12 Big Eight Conference titles. He stepped down in 2004 with a career record of 468-215.
The final sport
Basketball is the final sport for Suter. He started at Marshall Middle School in 1961, and he started coaching at the high school as the sophomore coach in 1967. He took over as varsity coach from Stan DuFrane in 1986, and this is his 23rd season in that capacity.
When Suter retired after 39 years from teaching physical education after the 1999-2000 school year, he had to re-apply for the basketball position. After interviewing candidates, school officials voted unanimously to rehire Suter.
His overall basketball record is 607-219, including a 385-148 mark as a varsity coach.
He has had seven teams make it to the state tournament, 16 qualify for sectional play and seven win conference championships.
That adds up to 1,162 victories, countless practices and many, many grateful players and parents.
“Coach was like a parent to thousands of Janesville’s youth,” Kuehne said. “I feel really sad that the young men growing up in Janesville will not have the opportunity to learn from coach because he taught us a lot of life’s lessons on the fields of competition.”
Suter did not think about getting into coaching until late in his senior year of high school. His father, Robert, drove semitrailer truck for Lein Oil and often took young Bob along on weekends or when he wasn’t in school.
Suter always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.
‘Any job openings’
But then, in his senior year at Janesville High, Suter realized he wouldn’t be able to play competitive sports after he graduated. That pushed him to enroll at UW-La Crosse, where he majored in physical education.
After college, he served in the Army Reserves at Fort Leonard Wood. When he completed his service, he headed to his parents’ house. They had moved to Castle Rock Lake, and on his way there, Suter decided to stop off at Marshall Junior High.
His future sister-in-law, Lois, worked in the office at the school. As he was leaving, Suter asked, “Any job openings?”
He was told that the staff was set, and he headed to his parents’ house.
Suter had three interviews in the next few weeks as the school year approached. After the third one, he returned home and found a note from his mom on a desk. The Marshall principal had called and said that a physical education teacher had just left, and he should call him for an interview.
“I think I was down there in two hours,” Suter said.
He got the job and began what turned out to be a 47-year love affair.
“I was once told at a coaching philosophy class that you should never return to your home to coach,” Suter said. “I don’t necessarily agree with that.”
Neither do the people who have worked with him.
‘Indicators were there’
“His impact on students is not limited to the ones he has taught in his physical education classes or coached in the athletic arena,” Craig athletic director Monte Phillips said. “There are an absolutely huge number of individuals that are better sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers because of their relationship with coach Suter.”
But entering this season, Suter said, “all the indicators were there” that he should retire. The deciding factor was a growing problem with his hearing.
“It’s no secret that my hearing isn’t very good,” Suter said.
He can have a normal face-to-face conversation, but when the band is playing and the crowd is cheering, he has a hard time hearing questions from players during timeouts.
That was the final straw.
So on Thursday night, he will walk out of the Craig locker room for his final Big Eight Conference game as head coach of Craig.
From there, his career will last as long as the Cougars win in tournament competition.
He is walking away willingly, with no regrets. But he still loves it as much as he did when he entered the Marshall Junior High gym back in 1961.
“I wouldn’t mind doing it five more years,” Suter said. “Someone once told me that they would bury me up there. That would have been OK.”
1956 Janesville High graduate
1961 UW-La Crosse graduate
SUTER’S BASKETBALL YEARS
1986-87 13-1 (1) 20-2
x1987-88 11-3 (2) 19-6
1988-89 12-2 (1) 17-5
1989-90 12-2 (2) 19-5
x1990-91 14-0 (1) 23-1
x1991-92 12-2 (2) 18-6
1992-93 9-5 (3) 15-9
1993-94 13-1 (1) 21-3
x1994-95 16-0 (1) 23-2
1995-96 13-3 (2) 16-5
x1996-97 15-1 (1) 24-2
1997-98 14-2 (2) 18-5
1998-99 15-1 (1t) 22-2
x1999-00 10-6 (4) 16-8
2000-01 9-7 (4t) 12-10
2001-02 5-11 (7) 8-14
x2002-03 8-8 (5) 14-11
2003-04 10-6 (4) 14-8
2004-05 12-4 (2) 16-7
2005-06 7-9 (5t) 9-13
2006-07 12-4 (3) 15-8
2007-08 12-4 (2) 17-6
2008-09 8-9 (5) 9-10
Totals 262-91 385-148
x—State tournament season
-- 23 seasons (1986-2009; all at Craig)
-- Career record: 385-148 (.722).
-- 7 Big Eight championships
-- 7 trips to WIAA state tournament
-- Inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.
SUTER’S BASEBALL YEARS
-- 37 seasons (1965-2005; three seasons at Janesville High; all others at Craig).
-- Career record: 468-215 (.685)
-- 12 Big Eight championships
-- 12 trips to WIAA state tournament
-- 3 WIAA Division 1 state championships
-- Inducted into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995
SUTER’S FOOTBALL YEARS
-- 18 seasons (1968-85; all at Craig)
-- Career record: 87-70-1 (.553).
-- 4 Big Eight championships
-- 9-0 season in 1974 (first in Janesville history), No. 2 final state rating
-- Inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007