Loving became the Titans career rebounding leader (620) in a victory Jan. 4 at Clay, and Heintschel got win No. 599 last Friday against visiting Lima Senior.
“Coach Heintschel has definitely meant a lot to me,” Loving said. “He expects great things out of you because he sees the potential you have. He asks you what your goals are, and then he holds you to those goals, and tries to help you meet them. I think he’s a great coach.”
“That [600 wins] is definitely a great accomplishment, and it speaks volumes to his ability, and to the coaches he chooses to help him. I feel honored to be a part of that, and I just want to help him get that 600th win.”
If the Titans lose, their next opportunity is equally tough when the play at third-ranked Whitmer (10-2, 5-1).
Among the best
Heintschel, 62, first revealed he wanted to be an educator and a coach in an English paper he wrote during his sophomore year (1965-66) at St. Francis de Sales, where he played basketball for freshman coach Tom Guitteau, junior varsity coach Dan Simrell, and two varsity seasons under Jim Kubacki. His first basketball influence came from Phil LaPlante, his coach at St. Louis elementary in East Toledo.
“Those guys were all real important to me, significant people in my life,” Heintschel said. “You learn what to do, and what not to do, from everybody you work with,” Heintschel said.
After two years at St. Joseph’s (Ind.) College, Heintschel finished his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo in 1972 and graduate degree in 1975.
His coaching run began as St. John’s freshman basketball coach in 1973-74, and he spent the next five years as the junior varsity coach before taking the varsity post for the 1979-80 season.
Things did not start well. The Titans started 0-8 that first season before squeaking out a 52-50 City League win over Cardinal Stritch. St. John’s finished 4-15.
The next season he guided St. John’s to a 17-4 record and the school’s first of 12 City League championships. Despite having another 17-4 season in 1981-82, Heintschel was already contemplating getting out of coaching.
“Carl Wagner was our JV coach,” Heintschel said. “One day I told him, ‘I think I’m done. I don’t know if I’m going to continue to do this. That was in the fall of 1982.
“Then we had a team with Don Mewhort, Rich Mitchell, Jeff Florian, Joe Hills, and Tim Miller. It wasn’t a great year record-wise, but I just felt a connection with players. I remember going to Carl and saying, ‘I apologize, but I changed my mind. I don’t think I’m ready to go yet.’ I’ve never really thought about it since.”
What followed has been a storied career that is in its 34th season, includes 13 league, 13 district and six regional titles. There have been three Division I state runner-up finishes in six trips to Columbus.
Heintschel is quick to point out that becoming one of the top 10 winningest boys coaches in Ohio history isn’t so much about the guy calling the shots from the bench.
“You have stick around a long time, first of all,” Heintschel said, “and you’ve got to have really good players. You also have to be flexible, because times have changed since I first started coaching.
“Every generation that comes in talks about how I’ve softened up since I had them. But these guys now probably think I’m harder than heck on them. There’s still a line you just can’t let guys cross, but you don’t want to stifle them or smother them. When you have talent you’ve got to let them play.”
He remembers the best and worst from his 34 seasons.
“Beating St. Francis in Shane Komives’ senior year  to go to the regional was a big one,” Heintschel said of his career highlights, “and two years later winning the (1993) regional down at Bowling Green and going to Columbus for the first time.”
There have also been major disappointments.
“One that sticks with me is Massillon Jackson in the regional semis in 1994, Denny Amrhein’s senior year,” Heintschel said. “We got beat at the end on a layup out of a half-court offensive set. You can lose games at that level on tough shots, but the kid went in for a layup. That was a tough one for me to deal with.”
Heintschel said he has had to adjust and bend with the times during his coaching career.
“I think one of my strengths as a coach is reading people and having a feel for how to deal with them,” he said. “I haven’t batted a thousand there, but I have a pretty good percentage. I can read the kids and read the times, and being in the classroom has helped with that. Today’s kids are more fragile and sensitive than they used to be. They need reassurance, and your approach has to be different.”
Only three other Ohio coaches have done the same at one school. Further, Heintschel will become the only member of Ohio’s top 10 boys coaches to earn 600 wins exclusively as a big school (Division I or Class AAA).
“It’s a monumental feat,” said Komives, now a St. John’s assistant. "And to do it at one school, it’s got to be few and far between.”
“It’s impressive to be able to change the way he has. The way he coached me and the way he coaches now is so much different — in a good way. You have to change with the times and adjust. The way he works with the kids, and with the staff, is just brilliant. I admire his competitive passion for the game.”
How long will Heintschel continue coaching?
“I’m thinking about getting ready to play Central on Friday,” he jokes. “Beyond this year I have no plans.”
Losing his wife, Cheryl, to cancer in 2002, forced a new perspective on his life and career
“When you’re a widower, things change,” he said. “I just take it one year at a time and see what happens. It’s my plan to be back next year. I’ve always said it would come down to my health, St. John’s still wanting me here, and my ability to connect with the guys. Those are my three criteria.”
Heintschel has always been diplomatic when asked who his best player or players have been through the years.
He puts current assistant coach Komives (1988-91) on his short list, which also includes names like Neshaun Coleman, Jay Larranaga and Denny Amrhein from his 1993 state runner-up team, John Floyd from his top-ranked 25-1 team of 2001-02, and Brian Roberts, B.J. Raymond and Zach Hillesland from the 2004 state runner-up squad.
So, where does that leave his most recent star, Marc Loving?
“Marc’s combination of height and skill-set is unique,” Heintschel said. “He goes to the basket so much harder and stronger than had in the past, and with great body control.
“Rebounding, dribbling, passing, shooting — Marc is the best skill guy we’ve had at that height.”
Loving was still in grade school when he decided he wanted to attend St. John’s after DeVeaux Junior High.
“I didn’t have an idea about going anywhere else,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere. It’s very diverse with great academics and a great tradition on the basketball court. It’s been more than what I expected.”
Early decisions seem to be a part of Loving’s profile.
Not long after completing his freshman season, he was a offered a scholarship by Ohio State coach Thad Matta. Immediately, he verbally committed to the Buckeyes.
“Growing up, Ohio State was always my favorite school,” Loving said. “I really had no idea of going anywhere else. My parents are Ohio State fans. Having the opportunity to go there made it even better. I had no second thoughts.”
In November Loving made it official, signing a letter of intent to accept the OSU scholarship. He was named Division I co-player of the year last season in Ohio.
“With his skill level and height and shooting prowess, he’s the best we’ve ever had,” said Komives, who has spent 16 seasons with Heintschel. “But the book is not closed."
St. John’s reached the regional in Loving’s freshman season, but lost at the district level the last two years.
“I can’t pick out one specific moment,” Loving said of his career highlights. “Maybe it’ll come up this year.
“It’s definitely a great honor [bidding to become St. John’s career scoring leader], because there have been some great players come through this program. Just to be recognized with them is a tremendous accomplishment.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.