BY KEVIN MERRILL
John Lindsay grew up in Toledo with a love for sports and competition. Even his parents’ choice of his godfather seemed to predestine his career. That godfather: Bobby Nichols. Mr. Nichols was a long-time head coach for the University of Toledo men’s basketball team who retired as the winningest coach in the history of the Mid-American Conference.
After this weekend, Mr. Lindsay – a 25-year teacher at Ottawa Hills – will share a distinction with the late Mr. Nichols. Both will have courts named in their honor. In 2008, the University of Toledo honored Coach Nichols by naming its Savage Arena basketball court after him. The Ottawa Hills Board of Education has followed suit, naming the high school gym’s court in honor of Coach Lindsay. A day-long series of dedication activities is planned for tomorrow (February 9). (Read more about the event | Raffle benefits health and wellness campaign)
“On behalf of my family, I am honored and humbled by this honor,” said Mr. Lindsay, who was named Ohio Division IV “Co-coach of the Year” in 2010. “I’ve been blessed with great students, parents, and colleagues.” His family will be at Saturday’s dedication: wife Hilary and son John Jr. (35) and Kyle (34) and daughters Shannon (30) and Kelsey (28). All but John Jr. graduated from Ottawa Hills High School; Shannon was the homecoming queen. “Moving into the village was one of the best decisions I ever made,” said Coach Lindsay.
We caught up with Coach Lindsay in his high school classroom. There during the week, his rotating schedule includes eight classes, including Entrepreneurship and Career Explorations/Keyboarding; Accounting I, II and III; Personal Finance; and a co-taught course titled Professional Networking and Communications. But it’s after class during basketball season that another aspect of his character appears: that of tenacious coach and generous mentor.
We passed him five questions – some easy, some hard. He even candidly admitted he can dunk. Sort of.
Q: What is your advice to coaches just getting started?
A: My advice is to seek out a program they respect in regards to how it is run. When they watch those programs, they should love the way the kids compete. The same can be said for success in business – seek out the people you respect, who are successful, of high character, and doing business with integrity.
One of the things I did that benefitted me is exactly that. I looked at coaches and programs that I respected. And I asked to sit down and bend the coaches’ ear a bit and learn from them. Look for the people that you respect. Sit and listen to what they are doing. And if you have a chance to see them first-hand, watch what they are doing.
Q: Why are basketball coaches always so well dressed?
A: That seems to be changing over the last 15 years. You’re starting to see more coaches in a sweat jacket vs. a suit and tie or sport coat. You’re seeing some now with tennis shoes.
When I first became a head coach, I started with a suit and realized rather quickly that it was a too much. And then I moved to just a dress shirt and tie. There were coaches I admired that dressed the same way. In fact, one of those is my current assistant, Tim Reiser. He was someone 25 years ago who I admired and sought out and sat down with.
Mostly, it’s a professional thing. My father was a real estate broker and I admired that he was always well dressed. I think there was a subconscious part of me that wanted to be like dad – the opportunity to be dressed in a nice, crisp, white dress shirt and tie. (Editor’s note: Even during the interview in his classroom, the coach was wearing a starched white dress shirt)
I’ve even gotten a little more casual with the sweaters. But a sweater is about as casual as I’ll go.
Q: Do you have a favorite coaching memory?
A: That’s a tough question. There are so many wonderful memories. Being down at the state tournament  with my son Kyle was very special. [Kyle also played as a student for his dad and today is varsity men’s basketball coach at Adrian College.] And any tournament run is always special.
We’ve been to regionals a number of times and each one is very special. But just as special are the years where we’re not expected to do quite as well and kids pull together, work hard, and you see the team develop and improve throughout the season. In my mind, that’s just as special.
Q: Who is your favorite pro basketball player?
A: I would say “Pistol” Pete Maravich. He was amazing to watch, an unbelievable offensive talent. What he could do with the basketball, it was incredible. He was so fun to watch.
Q: Can you dunk?
A: Just donuts. I’ve never claimed to be a great athlete. My sport in high school was tennis, and I played on varsity. I started in coaching by running my nephew’s CYO team at St. Joseph Parish in Sylvania. Then, I got hired as a tennis coach at Cardinal Stritch. And their basketball coach, Jim Kubacki, was a tremendous guy, and he asked me if I would be willing to help coach basketball. Working under Coach Kubacki ignited a competitive fire within me
I always loved the game of basketball. I was fortunate my godfather was Bobby Nichols, the coach at UT. My dad used to take me to all the UT games. So I certainly had a passion for the game.
Later in life, I used to go for walks with Coach Nichols and just talk basketball. I was very fortunate. Over the years, I’ve had some amazing mentors and assistants. One of my passions has always been learning. And that’s never wavered. And so I seek out people that I admire, that are successful doing things the right way. Integrity is important to me. And I try to learn from them. And I’m still learning every single day.