MISHAWAKA — Hard to believe it’s been more than a decade since Chris Geesman coached a football game at Penn High School.
Seems like yesterday he was leading the Kingsmen to 309 wins, five state titles and three runner-up finishes over a 30-year career.
The booming voice is familiar. Stories of the good ol’ days still flow like a river during monsoon season. His gitty-up is limited a bit after getting a new left hip. All indications are he’ll be as good as new when he hunkers down in the Regional Radio Sports Network booth as analyst for Penn’s opener at Valparaiso Aug. 23.
“The view from the pressbox isn’t bad at all,” Geesman said. “Especially when it rains.”
Football practice starts Aug. 5. This is the time of year Geesman misses the game that ultimately became his life.
“I remember when Al McGuire quit (as head basketball coach) at Marquette,” Geesman said. “He said, ‘If I could ride my motorcycle in the mountains all week, then coach a game on Saturday, I’d coach the rest of my life.’ That’s how it was with me. You don’t ever lose the competitive urge. I just lost the urge to do the things you need to do to be good.
“I’m just happy I was able to go out on my own terms.”
Since then, between hip replacements, the 73-year-old has done his share of traveling. Tours out West and to Italy have been the high points for this globetrotter. Who’d have thought Mount Rushmore and the Leaning Tower of Pisa could ever replace two-a-days and summer conditioning?
But that’s just who Geesman is these days.
Forty years ago, he began the creation of a monster. He built it into a power that reached the state championship game six of his last eight years – and with a little luck, could have gotten there on those two “lean” seasons.
“It got to the point where, ‘good isn’t good if better is expected,’” Geesman said.
He is staunchly behind his replacement, Cory Yeoman. A player and an assistant under Geesman, Yeoman had those tough shoes to fill and came through with 106 wins and two state runner-up finishes (2003, 2011) in his 10 years at the helm — actually, well ahead of Geesman’s early pace.
“The only advice I ever gave to Cory was, ‘Don’t let anyone else define what success is,’” Geesman said. “Cory has done an amazing job with the program. He brought it into the computer age. Everything I did was scribbled down on notes. I’ve always been pretty much in awe of his coaching ability.”
Never at a loss for an opinion, Geesman had thoughts on a variety of topics:
On a change of Penn’s offensive philosophy: “My last couple of years, we went to the spread offense (from a power running game) — before it was really popular. I was speaking at a clinic at Ohio State. Rich Rodriguez had just gotten the (head coaching) job at West Virginia. We were by ourselves in a speakers lounge for an hour. He went through every play we had (Penn’s staff had gotten the offense from Northwestern coaches, who had gotten it from Rodriguez) and critiqued everything.
“Talk about going right to the horse’s mouth. That’s why I felt so bad when he was bad-mouthed at Michigan. He was such a great guy.”
On summer conditioning: “The worst thing for Penn High School was when the IHSAA made two mandatory moratorium weeks (no contact between players and coaches) — the week of the Fourth of July and the week before practice starts. That was our idea before it was a rule. We probably only worked our players an intense three weeks in the summer. Now, everyone is doing it.
“We never took kids to 7-on-7 tournaments. That’s not football. They’re not learning anything. On the last day of our team camp we would have Concord come over and we’d work with them for four hours. A lot of learning went on for both teams.
“It must have worked. In our last 29 openers, we were 28-1.”