Jim Welling made his mark in coaching basketball at Owens Community College, where his Express teams posted a 550-127 record over 22 seasons (1985-2006). That run included back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national championships in 1992 and 1993. Welling, 52, returned to coaching at the high school level when Lake was looking for a boys coach. After one season with a struggling 4-17 Flyers program (2007-08), Welling took the vacant boys post at Central Catholic. In three seasons his Irish teams have gone 54-16. In 2010 Central won its first City League boys championship in 42 years and this past March advanced to its first state semifinal in 62 years.
A graduate of Eastwood High School (1977) and the University of Toledo, Welling is now a physical education instructor at Central and is the school’s assistant director of institutional advancement. He and wife Susan have a son, Chad, 22, and daughter, Brooke, 19, who each attend Ohio State University.
What first sparked your interest in basketball?
“In fifth and sixth grade basketball playing in the Luckey, Pemberville, Webster League from the Eastwood school district. We got a chance to play every Saturday in the winter, and I couldn’t wait to play each week.”
What kind of player were you as far as strengths and weaknesses?
“I was a tough, heady point guard that played solid on both ends of the floor. I understood my role as a player in quarterbacking the teams that I played for. My strengths were quickness, a passion to play, defense, and basketball IQ. My weaknesses were my size at 5-foot-9, my strength, and going to my left.”
Which coaches did you borrow the most from in shaping your own coaching philosophy?
“When I first started in coaching basketball in 1980, I wanted to coach like my former high school coach, Terry Nigh, from Eastwood. I loved all the things that he taught me as a player, and that continued on when I played under Dick Honner at Owens [1977-79]. Coach Honner taught me more of the transition game and other strategies that I still use today. At UT, I took coach Bob Nichols’ class in the spring of 1982. Then there was Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] at Duke. I bought all of his tapes back in the 1980s on motion offense and man defense and loved the way Duke played the game. Lastly, Jim Robinson. I didn’t have a clue about high school basketball and needed a mentor when we first started at Lake. Coach Robinson taught me more and knew more about the game than anyone I had ever met.”
Looking back, how would you summarize your basketball coaching career at Owens?
“I was honored. Great memories and friendships. I’m extremely grateful to so many people who helped me and gave me the opportunity to be there.”
What stands out most from your national championship seasons at Owens?
“The relationships that the coaches and players had together, and the desire to be the best. We were 72-3 in those two seasons, and it was like a dream that just kept getting better and better.”
Why did you return to coaching at the high school level, and how has this recent experience impacted your life?
“[Lake’s] Jim Witt and Dave Shaffer presented me with an opportunity at Lake, and now after four seasons of high school basketball it has had a positive impact not only on my life, but also my family’s life as well.”
First you got the Irish to their first City League final in 14 years, then guided them to their first City title in 42 years, and this past year took the team to its first state semifinal in 62 years. Explain this success?
“Success starts with commitment and sacrifice from coaches, players, parents, and families.”
This year’s tourney run included some creative strategies that led to some impressive upsets over Whitmer and St. John’s. How did your players pull this off?
“They just bought into the game plan and executed unselfishly as a team.”
Central Catholic, among seven other former City League member schools, will begin play in the new Three Rivers Athletic Conference in the fall. What are the pros and cons of this transition for Central?
“It’s exciting to face new competition. This will be a very competitive league. I think the Blade should create a City-versus-TRAC holiday tourney for the community to enjoy over Christmas.”
Last summer you had a significant health scare. What happened to you?
“I was diagnosed with coronary heart disease with 90 percent blockage, and they put a stent in one of my arteries. Things are going well.”
— Steve Junga