TOM DAVIS: Indiana Wesleyan coach Greg Tonagel just keeps winning – and being ignored

Indiana Wesleyan men's basketball coach Greg Tonagel speaks with his team during halftime of the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball national championship game Tuesday in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Wesleyan Athletics)
Indiana Wesleyan men's basketball coach Greg Tonagel speaks with a television reporter during halftime of the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball national championship game Tuesday in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Wesleyan Athletics)
Indiana Wesleyan men's basketball coach Greg Tonagel speaks with his team during halftime of the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball national championship game Tuesday in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Wesleyan Athletics)

It’s against my better judgment to write this column on the topic of Indiana Wesleyan men’s basketball coach Greg Tonagel, but much like the old guy that wears knee high socks while mowing his lawn, at my age, I simply don’t care what people think any longer.

Tonagel will be a tad ticked off with me for writing this piece, but the positive is that he’s a pretty even-keeled guy who doesn’t get worked up by much.

Take Tuesday evening, for example.

The Wildcats had dominated its most fierce rival (Saint Francis) en route to a 17-point lead early in the second half of the NAIA Division II national championship game in Sioux Falls, S.D., but the Cougars had fought back to cut the margin to one point.

The national championship was hanging in the balance and what was Tonagel’s advice to his players?

“We get to this point in the national championship where we are in a huddle when the lead was cut to one,” Tonagel explained to iwuwildcats.com following the game, “and I said ‘Here is what we are going to do, we are going to have some joy. No basketball strategy, we’re just going to have some joy.'”

That probably isn’t the tactic that a group of coaches at an off-season clinic would pay to hear, but Tonagel is a guy who just won his third national championship, so don’t question him.

Here is what you need to know about Tonagel:

• He is without question the most successful NAIA coach in the country

• He may indeed be one of the best coaches at any level in the country

• He utilizes some unorthodox ways to get his team to perform, things such as not berating his athletes, but befriending them

• He has made an absolute mockery of the rest of the NAIA Division II programs

• And he has absolutely zero chance of getting an interview, let alone hired, by any of the 25 NCAA Division I programs, which are currently looking to hire a new coach

The first four points are due to Tonagel’s intellect and coaching ability, while that last one is because the leaders of those 25 institutions are imbeciles.

“Why would I leave here,” Tonagel asked me recently when I broached the topic, “I’ve got a better job than most of those guys.”

Just like in the huddle during Tuesday’s game, he is correct.

Indiana Wesleyan is an NAIA program that acts like an NCAA Division I program.

The campus is nice; the academics strong, the facilities top notch, and the athletes and coaches are treated very well.

That explains why Tonagel and Wildcat associate head coach Jeff Clark are so freaking content.

Well, that and all they do at Indiana Wesleyan is win championships.

Tonagel took over the program 13 years ago and it was in shambles, yet on Tuesday he earned his third NABC/NAIA Division II National Coach of the Year honor.

The Wildcats won their third national title in five seasons, which adds to their four trips to the Final Four, six Elite Eight finishes, and nine Crossroads League regular season championships, including seven straight from 2009-15.

So forgive me if I find it inexcusable that 13 coaches have been hired by the six mid-major programs in this state since Tonagel took over in Marion (2005), yet he never even gets a moment of consideration.

He’s built a roster with a couple of NCAA Division I transfers and three Indiana All-Stars, which is more than former (as of Tuesday) Evansville coach Marty Simmons had on his squad. But that (or the multiple championships) won’t resonate with anyone at Evansville. Hell, it didn’t at Valparaiso two years ago, and Tonagel played and graduated from there.

Not to digress, but that is the same Valpo program that just finished 6-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference. How’s that decision working out for you, Crusader Nation?

No, Tonagel won’t get a look from any Division I university this spring.

He’ll remain with the Wildcats and with the return of every key player (including freshman guard Kyle Mangas, who was named as the Crossroads League Player of the Year), with the exception of seniors Jacob Johnson and Ben Carlson, Indiana Wesleyan will be right back where it was Tuesday, which is battling for another championship.

And you know what? There is a lot “joy” to be found in that.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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