After eight years out of the head coaching game, Joe Otis will return to DAC action as the coach of the Valparaiso Vikings. Otis will succeed Coach Chris Benedict, who left Valparaiso for Columbia City earlier this summer, as the next Vikings’ Varsity Men’s Basketball Coach.
The announcement was made in a crowded room during a school board meeting on Tuesday night. "I am honored, thrilled, and humbled all at once to be the head varsity basketball coach and teacher at my alma-mater," Otis said while addressing those in attendance. "There is a lot of great talent in the basketball program now, and its certainly a great opportunity for me and for the players as well."
Otis returns to the rich tradition of high school basketball success at Valparaiso, where such well-respected coached like Virgil Sweet, Skip Collins, and Bob Punter have roamed the sidelines, leading the Vikings to success in both the regular season and the postseason. Valparaiso has won 13 DAC Championships since 1970.
Otis is a 1970 graduate of Valparaiso High School and played under the watch of the great Virgil Sweet. While a player at Valpo, he was a 3-time Letterman and was the all-time leading scorer when he left for college.Otis looks to continue the success of the Sweet coaching tree at Valpo, as Sweet (297 victories at Valpo) was followed by disciple Skip Collins (225 victories).
Joe Otis has over 20 years of Duneland Athletic Conference coaching experience, and has won the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Bob King Coach of the Year Award twice (1985-6, 1996-7). During his career at LaPorte High School, he accumulated a 296-189 record, good for a .610 winning percentage. During his coaching career, he accumulated eight sectional titles, four DAC titles, three regional titles, one Final Four appearance in 1997, and has won 21 or more games in a season three times.
Otis, though, left the LaPorte program five games in to the 2001-02 season. In an article from the Michigan City News-Dispatch's Zack Eldridge, Otis was quoted as saying,
Since he has last coached at the Boy's Varsity level, Otis has been keeping his chops in a few different capacities. He was an assistant for the LaPorte High School Girls Varsity team while his daughter Leslie played and he hosts summer basketball camps for the Boys & Girls Club of Porter County.Otis in the Eyes of a Former Coaches & Historians
It is clear that Otis has garnered much respect from those who have been around him. Valparaiso legend Virgil Sweet, someone that Otis credits for getting him to where he is at today, said on the hiring of Otis: "No doubt about it: They just made the right choice. He is so intelligent and his memory of basketball is just a part of who he is. I remember him from 8th grade where he already had great range as a shooter, and was incredibly receptive to coaching. Back then he was a pretty quiet fella. I know Joe feels the pride and history in Valpo basketball.”
One of Otis' greatest contemporaries, Skip Collins, endorses the appointment of Otis to the head coaching position. "Joe Otis is a wonderful choice to be the head coach for the Vikings," said Skip of the hiring. "Joe has great experience and his LaPorte teams were always difficult to play against - one of the highest compliments you can pay a coach. In addition, he has a deep appreciation of the tradition that surrounds Valpo High basketball. Basketball fans and the community as a whole will be proud of how Coach Otis will represent them, on and off the court."
There is more than one way to win a basketball game. "In 1959 we had 5 Division 1 players on the team who scored at will. In 1983, we had a team go to Semi-State that routinely scored under 50 points per game, " Chris Collins, son of the legendary "Skip" Collins, said about Otis. "He is the type of coach who can see these differences in personnel and adapt his approach. The fact that he is a 'Valpo Guy' and he learned under Virgil Sweet, it certainly does 'sweeten' the deal. Plain and simple: Mr. Otis is a good guy."
John Knauff, who is writing a book on the history of Valpo basketball-- going back 102 years with stories, photos, and statistics-- to be released in November of this year, is quoted as saying of Otis, “Players always looked forward to playing for Joe because he was upbeat and optimistic. They would feed off of his energy.”
What to Expect: From Former Players
Joel Beesley, who played under Otis at LaPorte High School for four years, is currently in his 15th year coaching University High School in Urbana. Otis has been hugely influential for Beesly. "Coach O was always approachable; I respected him so much. During my first few years coaching, I would call him to get his advice, and he would always make time to help me," Beesley explained. "He helped me grow as a coach just like he helped me grow as a player."
After his playing days at LaPorte High School, Beesley went on to play at Valparaiso University from 1990-4. During the especially tough 1990-1 season, one in which the Crusaders went 5-24, Otis helped Beesley through some tough times. "I had some early doubts if I really wanted to keep playing, Beesley explained, "but Coach helped me get through that and learn from it."
The new Valpo coach also has a strong belief in building a strong program from the youth in the area. Beesley noted, "When I was a player, he would take us around town to meet kids in the community to build support for playing basketball. He made it a point to teach kids to play the game the way it is supposed to be played."
Steve Drabyn Jr., whose father coached with "Coach O" for about twenty years and who played for Otis, said that Coach Otis was "a fun coach to play for; very offensive-minded. He gave us a lot of freedom offensively and free reign to shoot when we were open." He continued, "We had the green light and all the confidence in the world, and it's always fun to play for somebody like that."
During his coaching years, Otis was respected by not just his players, but his opponents as well. "I am very excited for Joe Otis to be hired for Valpo; it's a great fit," said Dr. Rob Cavanaugh, a former Valparaiso High School and Valparaiso University standout. "I have known Joe since I was a youngster at the VU Basketball Camps, where he taught. He is a great coach and a great guy."
This Year's Team
Otis inherits an experienced, talented squad going in to the 2009-10 season. The team is fresh off a Sectional title, and despite their upset loss to Elkhart Memorial High School in last season's regional tournament, they were ranked 13th and 11th at the end of the season in the IBCA and Massey polls, respectively. The team's only major loss from last season was senior Hayden Humes, who will now play for D-1 Toledo University. It should be fun to see next season how the hard-working, defensive-minded Vikings mesh with Otis' up-tempo style.
When asked about what to expect with the upcoming season, Otis said, "We will have that philsophy where we expect everyone to make their teammates better, whether by setting screens, throwing good passes, through timing and spacing, or by being ready when your time comes to shoot the basketball."
We wish Otis and the Vikings success as the Valparaiso High School basketball program moves forward!