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Local

Grey Giovanine retires as Augustana's winningest coach

Former Western Ram reflects on his years playing for his dad in 1970s and winning 433 games at Augie

Grey Giovanine, who built Augustana College into one of the elite Division III basketball programs in the country, announced his retirement from coaching this week. He is the son of legendary Illinois high school coach Chips Giovanine and played for his father's legendary Western Rams basketball teams of the 1970s.
Grey Giovanine, who built Augustana College into one of the elite Division III basketball programs in the country, announced his retirement from coaching this week. He is the son of legendary Illinois high school coach Chips Giovanine and played for his father's legendary Western Rams basketball teams of the 1970s.

Grey Giovanine, who played for Buda’s Western High School during its two state tournament runs in 1975 and 1976, announced his retirement Monday as Augustana College’s winningest coach in men’s basketball.

Giovanine spent 21 seasons as Augustana’s head coach, winning 74.3 percent of their games and making two appearances in the NCAA Division III national championship game. In all, his Augustana teams won the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship 10 times, won the conference tournament six times and made 10 postseason appearances.

Giovanine’s won-loss record at Augustana was 433-150. His career record is 513-235 and includes six seasons coaching Division I Lamar in Beaumont, Texas. He was recognized with several coach of the year awards in his tenure.

“The decision comes with heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for all of the people associated with Augustana and our program during my 21 years of service to this very special place,” he said during a news conference Tuesday in Rock Island. “My thanks to the students, faculty, staff, administration, community, media and especially the young men I’ve been privileged to work with. I am proud of all we have accomplished together. I remain in good health, and while I don’t expect coaching to be a part of what lies ahead, Kelly and I look forward to the next chapters to come.”

As a high schooler, Giovanine played for Western teams coached by his father, Chips Giovanine, who amassed a 674-266 record in 34 seasons, including stints at Bureau Township and LaSalle-Peru high schools.

In an interview on Wednesday, Giovanine talked about those early influences on his career.

“I was asked yesterday, ‘What do you think your father would say?’ I think he’d be pleased. I gave everything I had to every team I had. The players I had I really grew to care about. That was what his legacy was. I was an extension of what he did. The wins followed.”

Giovanine remembers attending his father’s practices as a fourth grader, catching a ride with a teacher from Sheffield to Buda. Soon he was riding the team bus, the fan bus, then was on the team.

Those were teams that still are favorably remembered. Those teams reached the state quarterfinals in 1975 and took fourth in 1976 and featured such standouts as Bob Sprowls, Dave Hartz, Ron Happach and others. Ties with those players have endured over the years.

“You think about all those guys in the high-striped socks,” Giovanine said. “Those guys, we stay connected.

“I often tell my teams this. Teams that weren’t any good don’t have reunions. But teams that flourish want to reconnect. They stay connected. And I’m so fortunate to be involved with good teams in 39 years of coaching and then along with my father’s teams in 36 years. It’s like a giant family.”

Forging relationships

The importance of forging relationships with players as the foundational part of building a winning program really hit home when he attended his father’s retirement party. At that time, Giovanine was coaching at Lamar.

“My mother had put it together to be a roast,” Giovanine said. “All these players came back. One player from each era was supposed to tell a funny story. But they’d get into, and in a few moments they’d be in tears.”

They were sharing moments in which his father had helped them through a rough patch or was there at an important moment in their lives. “I was a Division I coach, but I was young, and I was wondering: Why isn’t anyone talking about the wins? All they talked about was the relationships that existed. Even though I was out on my own, that brought me full circle I think.”

Taking the job at Augustana was a good fit, especially raising sons who were 5, 3 and 1 at the time. Giovanine also stressed how accommodating his wife was for the program, holding cookouts and Christmas parties. During his tenure, Giovanine also organized international tours for the players on his program. “When you do that, you can’t help but develop great relationships. ... You can’t help but grow closer.”

Giovanine was a passer as a high schooler but developed into a scorer as a college player. At Highland Community College in Freeport, he scored 1,024 points in two seasons. At Central Missouri, he captained the 1979-80 team that finished 26-2 and was ranked No. 1 in Division II for five weeks. He also was the nation’s leading free-throw shooter at 90.4 percent.

As an assistant coach, he made stops at Wichita State and Rice.

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