Passing the torch: Coolman ready to take over Penn boys basketball program

Published: May. 18, 2023 at 11:52 PM EDT
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MISHAWAKA, Ind. (WNDU) - Pending school board approval, the Penn Kingsmen are set to hire Valparaiso’s Barak Coolman as the next boys basketball head coach, replacing retiring hall of famer Al Rhodes.

These are some big shoes to fill, as Rhodes led the team for the past 15 seasons and brought them just one basket short of a state championship appearance this past season.

What better way to fill them than with a coach that comes straight from the Al Rhodes coaching tree?

Coolman served as an assistant under Rhodes more than a decade ago at Fort Wayne Northrop. Since then, he’s built his own impressive resume as a head coach, most recently leading the Valparaiso Vikings from 2015 until now.

16 Sports caught up with Coolman on Thursday afternoon to find out what led to the switch.

“I’ve been around Coach Rhodes long enough that I think every year when the season ends, you’re kind of in that situation where maybe it’s going to happen,” Coolman said. “So, I wasn’t quite sure if he was actually going to try to run it back. Obviously, they had an amazing season this year. When he called me and told me, ‘Hey, I’m going to get out; I’m going to meet with the superintendent, are you interested in talking about it?’ At the time I wasn’t looking for a job. Valpo’s been a great community for us, and we’ve been really excited about it. But it perked my interest.

“I said, ‘Coach, you believe in me, you’ve always been in my corner for the last 20 years. If you think this is something I’ve looked into, I’d be happy to talk to Penn and see if there’s an option, too,’” Coolman continued. “So, that’s what started the process.”

Coolman also talked out his love of basketball and coaching, especially in the Hoosier state.

“There is nothing like Indiana high school basketball,” he said. “I’ve traveled all over the United States and even into Canada, and just to experience that Friday night, when the gym’s packed and there’s standing room only. . . There are very few experiences in Indiana, and just the coverage and the media attention and the chance to play for a state title.

“That’s one of my dreams, to coach for a state title,” he added. “It’s just an amazing experience. . . I was fortunate enough to play in Indiana and coach in Indiana, and there is nothing like Indiana basketball.”

Coolman has a 253-118 overall record in 15 seasons as a head coach, including six sectional championships.

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