When I first sat down to write about Coach Heimann, it was the day I learned he had passed away. I found myself unable to write one sentence about a man who had a profound influence on so many lives, including my own. Several days later, I tried again. Although it will most certainly not do justice to Coach, this was the best attempt I was able to put forth.
Where do you start when asked to talk about a man who has given his whole adult life to Knox College? Do you talk about him winning more than 250 games and twice being named Midwest Conference’s Coach of the Year? Do you talk about him coaching four different sports and thousands of student-athletes? In the end, Coach Heimann’s legacy is so much more than that. Anyone, athlete or non-athlete, who spent time around Coach likely has countless stories and memories about him. I however, can only write about my own experiences with the man who shaped my life as an athlete, a student, and a human being.
One of the most important things for any person who did not personally know Coach to realize was that he loved people. He loved to talk, trade stories, and be around people. I can remember giving a tour to a prospective student, who was not even a basketball player, and having Coach stop me in the library for a twenty-minute discussion about the kid’s hometown and the ice cream parlor that Coach used to go to; the one that the kid had gone to as well. He would always stop practice anytime anyone came into the gym in order to introduce them and have the entire team introduce themselves, whether it was a Knox professor or some prospective students Coach had met two seconds earlier when they had toured past his office.
Coach also loved mornings. One of the sayings that his players heard at every 6 a.m. practice for over thirty years was, “What a beautiful morning!” It did not matter if it was snowing or the sun was shining: Coach loved to be up and about in the mornings. Most mornings were spent running around the track in the Fieldhouse. When our still sleepy team would troop in for morning practice, Coach would already be there, running, having been up for at least an hour before we even thought about getting out of bed, and without fail he was excited to be there.
The single most important thing that I can tell any person about Coach Heimann is that he loved each and every person who ever stepped onto the court for him. Whether that person was a four-year starter or a four-year bench player, Coach loved and cared unquestionably about each and every one of them. When I went through a crisis as a junior at Knox, Coach was the first person I went to (during one of those morning runs) and he immediately stopped what he was doing and got me set up with everything I needed. He even kicked me out of practice that day to go home and take a break. He would always tell the team that if we were in trouble we should call him first, and he would do everything within his power to help us. When any of his players had a problem, Coach was there to support and aid them in any way he was needed, whether it was as a mentor, a disciplinarian, or a friend. You could always count on Coach.
The thing that I think I struggled most with while writing this column was that Coach would have rather been talked about than written about. He always loved to swap stories and chat about the latest Knox news and he always had time for anyone who wanted to talk. He would love the idea that people were sitting down and swapping stories about him. He would love to see that so many people had something to tell about him.
The most difficult part about just writing about Coach is that I cannot express to you in words, or even to myself, how much Coach meant to the people around him, how much he meant to the people who knew him and how much those people meant to him. I can barely begin to express how much he meant to me.
To end this remembrance of him, I will leave you with the line that I heard more than anything else from Coach over the span of four years: “John Baillie, I love ya, kid.” The thing that I will always remember most is that Coach really did love us all and I could not ask for anything more in a coach or a friend.