A hallmark for Hallberg
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org November 27, 2013 8:41AM
Updated: November 27, 2013 7:20PM
Basketball players ran and dribbled over his name, but that didn’t bother Bob Hallberg one bit.
In fact, he trod over his name a few times himself while he coached St. Xavier University’s women’s basketball team to an 87-46 win over Trinity International University on Nov. 13.
During a brief ceremony before the game, the court at St. Xavier’s Shannon Center was named “Bob Hallberg Court,” an honor that is much appreciated by the only head coach the team has ever had. He’s only the sixth coach in women’s basketball in the nation to have such an honor bestowed upon him, according to St. Xavier officials.
“I’ve had some great moments in my coaching career. I’ve had victories over schools such as Illinois, Michigan State and Marquette. I started my career here at St. Xavier in 1971. This tops everything I’ve ever done in coaching because it’s permanent. You have your name on the floor forever. It doesn’t go away,” Hallberg said before the ceremony. “It’s a fantastic evening for me. I appreciate so much what the university has done for me. It’s just great to have ballplayers here I coached in high school in the ’60s here tonight.”
He quipped that he never imagined receiving such an honor, “not when I’m alive.”
Hallberg, 69, of Oak Lawn, started the women’s program at St. Xavier in 1999 and took over a second term as athletic director in 2001.
He has had notable accomplishments with the program, building it into a national title contender. The Cougars reached the 100-win mark in only their fourth season of existence, have achieved at least 20 wins in each season — including a program-best 31 in 2010 — and have advanced to the NAIA National Tournament each of the last 11 seasons. The women have never had a losing season.
Heading into this season, the Cougars were 327-101 overall, a .764 winning percentage.
Hallberg has a rich history in athletics at the Chicago school. In 1971, at age 27, he was named the head men’s basketball coach and athletic director at then-St. Xavier College and held the positions for six years. His teams won 127 games and two conference titles.
As a men’s basketball coach, he has had successful stints at a number of area institutions, including Kennedy High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Chicago State University and the University of Illinois-Chicago. His career coaching record in high school and college was a mighty 905-390 before this season started.
All those wins, he noted, wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated players, coaches and school administrations, Hallberg said during the ceremony held after the game. Steve Murphy, a vice president there, offered Hallberg the chance to start the woman’s program after he was let go by UIC, a surprising move given his success at the West Side school.
Hallberg took the job, and the winning continued.
Denny Wills, senior associate director of athletics at Illinois-Chicago, played on Hallberg’s first men’s team at St. Xavier in 1971 and coached with him from 1975 through 1996.
“I never thought he’d be as successful with the women as with the men because it’s a different game. How many people could adjust your coaching style? He’s just as successful if not more,” Wills said.
St. Xavier President Christine Wiseman spoke highly of Hallberg’s dedication to the university and the success he has enjoyed coaching, noting the team’s recent victory over Illinois-Chicago, a Division I-A team, to open the season Nov. 8.
She also announced the creation of a Bob Hallberg Scholarship that will be awarded to one student-athlete every year.
Hallberg joked that years from now, when people ask “Who was Bob Hallberg?” they may think he captained the ship that brought the Sisters of Mercy, who founded the school, to America in 1843, or was the player “who popped in 20 3s.”
“Bob Hallberg is someone who loves coaching, and who loves all his players,” he said.
Hallberg’s wife of 46 years, Linda, attended the ceremony with their three sons, Bob, Bill and Brian, and their eight grandchildren, other relatives and longtime friends. He invited them all down to the court during the ceremony.
Former players consider Hallberg a friend, said Annie Byrne, who coached the Marian Catholic girls basketball team to the 2012-13 state title and who played for Hallberg at St. Xavier.
“Honestly, coach Hallberg changed my life. I don’t know where I’d be without him. And I have a great family. But he cares about you so much, to this day. I’m 33 and can call him at 10 at night and he’d be there for me,” Byrne said.
“Everybody is competitive. You want to win. You want to be the best. But he cared about every player and that’s something you don’t forget,” she said. “I love him. I really do.”
Former Miami Marlins manager John Boles flew in from Florida with his wife to be there for his old friend. Boles credited Hallberg with starting his career when Hallberg hired him to coach the St. Xavier baseball team.
Hallberg recalled how they talked for one hour and being so impressed by Boles, he offered him the job on the spot. He also recalled how Styx would play concerts at St. Xavier to help raise funds for the baseball diamond.
Boles called Hallberg an “outstanding fundamentalist” who “cares about his players.”
“He means everything to me. He gave me a chance when I was 23 years old. A lot of nice memories,” Boles said.
Wills said the evening “is a great testimony to the amount of people he’s touched in his life.
“He has no other hobbies. He is 100 percent basketball and that’s one of the reasons he’s been so successful. He doesn’t golf, doesn’t go on vacation,” Wills said. “He just loves basketball.”