Uttech adapts, keeps on winning

NO. 5 — Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman/Martin Luther head coach Rick Uttech (second from right) carefully watches a drill in Granada during Tuesday’s preparation for this week’s Class A state basketball tournament in the Twin Cities. Jaguar players Rachel Stauter (left), Hanna Geistfeld (middle) and Hannah Johanson execute the drills. Uttech, who guided his fifth team to state during his Hall of Fame coaching career, and the Jaguars will play for fifth place at 9 a.m. today against Southwest Minnesota Christian at Concordia University in St. Paul. (Photo by Alexis Cubit)

GRANADA — As recent graduates of Concordia College in Moorhead, Rick and Jody Uttech had plans of living somewhere between their hometowns of Wasau, Wis., and New Richland, respectively.

“Well, that didn’t work out,” Rick Uttech said.

Instead, the couple moved to East Chain, where Rick found a job.

“The small-town atmosphere was awesome and we just fit in really well,” he added. “I decided to stay and raise a family.”

Four children, 39 years of coaching and four teams later, Rick Uttech now has accumulated five state tournament appearances and more than 500 career coaching wins as the head coach of the Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman/Martin Luther Jaguars, putting him among the top 10 winningest girls high school basketball coaches in Minnesota.

Uttech and the Jaguars face Southwest Minnesota Christian at 9 a.m. today in the fifth-place game of the Class A state tournament at Concordia University in St. Paul.

“It’s been interesting. Girls basketball has changed a lot from having jump balls all the time and the 3-point shot,” he said. “From when I started coaching, the game has gotten a lot faster. The girls have to be a lot stronger. The mental toughness is the same. You’ve got to be mentally tough to play well and to get the job done. That hasn’t changed at all.

“So, as much as it’s changed, it’s also stayed the same.”

Uttech began as the head coach of the East Chain Chainers before the team joined with Granada and Huntley to form the Mustangs in 1987. As a young coach, Uttech emphasized defense and pressing, which allowed for more steals and less offensive plays. Just like with he and Jody’s moving plans, though, he’s had to make some adjustments and changes in his coaching.

“We’ve had to switch to a man defense and run zones, look at different options — a lot more plays (and) a lot more skill work,” Rick Uttech said.

And just as the changes worked out for the Uttechs, Rick Uttech’s adjustments as a coach allowed him a level of success that has made him a member of the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

“I resisted change at first as the game got more physical. I just like the finesse game,” he admitted. “(But) I’ve learned to embrace the physicality of it, too.”

In recent years, Uttech has seen his program, as a whole, grow with the addition of Truman four years ago and Martin Luther this year.

“The guys (program) have been together for, what, three years now. It just made sense,” Uttech said.

No matter how many schools combine or what the mascot is, though, Uttech continues to develop the talent he’s given and produce positive results. He also credits current assistant coaches Tim Pytleski, Brian Petrowiak and Leslie Wokasch in helping to develop the players.

During his tenure, Uttech coached all three of his daughters, getting to the Class A state championship game with youngest daughter, Katy, in 2006. Though he didn’t get to coach his son, Ryan, Rick Uttech worked with him individually at home.

“We’re a basketball family, we’re a sports family, we’re a music family, too,” Rick Uttech said. “We push academics really hard and always have. … Our kids were never bored.”

Uttech not only coached his own kids, but also his former players’ kids as well. The two-generation coach saw both Shelli (Hanneman) Johanson and her daughter, Hannah Johanson, currently a senior for the Jaguars, come through the program.

“Every once in a while, we’ll joke about how long he has been coaching, but that just goes to show how much he loves the sport and knows about it, which is why his teams are always so good,” Hannah Johanson said, adding that the two endearingly refer to Uttech as Charles “Pa” Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie.” “He’s the nicest, most patient and definitely most caring guy you’ll ever meet.

“I’m glad I got to have the same great experience that my mom had with him.”

Now with another season under his belt and his 40th coaching year approaching in the fall, the question of Uttech’s retirement plans are ever-looming.

“One year at a time,” he said with a smile.