A staple of Saint Ignatius athletics has decided to retire.
Brian Becker ’77, a legendary basketball and golf coach at Saint Ignatius High School, has announced his retirement from coaching, effective immediately. Becker will remain at Saint Ignatius in his job as a math teacher.
“It’s been fun,” Becker said. “I’m getting old. I still enjoy teaching, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching these past four years. But younger people need opportunities. I think there are some really good young guys out there. I’ve been blessed. I’ve had kids who worked really hard. I’m really happy with the results.”
In his time at Saint Ignatius, Becker has modeled a well-known phrase from St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity: “To give and not to count the cost.”
Becker retires from coaching after 22 seasons as head basketball coach and 17 seasons as head golf coach at Saint Ignatius. As a basketball coach, Becker finishes with a 355-169 record, coaching 524 total games over the span of 22 seasons. The South Euclid native helmed the Wildcats from 1990-2008 and reassumed the reins from 2015-19. Becker helmed the golf program from 1989-98. Becker then reassumed the role of head coach from 2012-18.
Becker’s crowning achievement as head basketball coach occurred in 2001, when the savvy coach and his 2000-01 squad captured the program’s first and only state title. Becker steered his team to the state final in the 1997-98, too. Becker’s teams claimed 10 District championships during his tenure.
Becker was far from a rookie in 1990 when he took over the Saint Ignatius basketball program. Becker starred for the Wildcats as a guard in the late 1970’s, helping the Cats roll to a 19-3 record in 1975-76 and a 22-2 campaign in 1976-77. Becker cut his teeth coaching the freshman and JV basketball teams at Saint Ignatius before heading to Fairview Park. Becker spent a short stint coaching the Warriors’ varsity squad before taking over as his Alma Mater’s head coach.
As the golf coach from 1989-98 and 2012-2018, Becker’s Golf Cats captured five District championships and earned runner-up honors in 1998. Becker coached three individual state qualifiers during his tenure. The Golf Cats qualified for the State Tournament as a team last fall.
Becker retires as the winningest basketball coach in school history. The numbers from Becker’s tenure are absolutely stunning.
On average, Becker won two out of every three games he coached for the Basketball Cats. Becker completes his Saint Ignatius career with a 355-169 mark, good for a .677 winning percentage. Becker’s 355 wins place him first amongst the 23 head coaches in the 104-year history of Saint Ignatius basketball history. The coach with the next-most wins is the legendary John Wirtz with 277 wins. Of the 2,033 basketball games played all-time by the Wildcats, Becker has been the coach for 25% of them.
Becker is especially proud of the results the Wildcats enjoyed in the last four years. In his first year back, the Wildcats reached the Regional Final before losing a heartbreaker in double overtime to Garfield Heights. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, the Wildcats reached the District Final. This year, the Cats lost a quadruple overtime battle with Brecksville-Broadview Heights in the District Semifinal to finish 16-8.
“We’ve been extremely competitive, basketball-wise, these last four years,” Becker said. “With the schedule we’ve played, we’re back to playing solid Ignatius basketball. We’re still attracting the hard-nosed, blue collar kid who isn’t your Division I guy, but certainly enjoys the competition and likes to work really hard, and we’ve been very successful with those kids.”
But Becker will not be remembered by the numbers or records. His impact on the lives of countless Saint Ignatius student-athletes will be his legacy.
“Brian is always concerned about the formation of the player and helping him become not only a better basketball player, but a better person,” said Saint Ignatius Principal Dan Bradesca ’88. “In the future, it will be hard not to equate Saint Ignatius basketball with Brian Becker.”
Someday in the future, historians and researchers will look back in wonder at Becker’s many achievements.
“He works really hard at what he does,” said Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick ’88. “He devotes a lot of time. We were blessed as an institution to have him dedicate as much as he had to the school over the years.”
As the leader of the athletic program, Fitzpatrick has enjoyed a front row seat in watching Becker work. Fitzpatrick is amazed at how Becker expertly handles coaching in basketball and golf, two vastly different sports.
“He always has a lot of energy when he coaches and the kids feed off of that. It’s funny because on the basketball court, you’ll see his energy. On the golf course, you’ll see his calm demeanor,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a great student of the game of golf. He is great on the golf course. That’s almost the exact opposite of basketball. You have to ramp it down and be calm. I’ve seen him do both well.”
Becker also harnesses his special combination of boundless enthusiasm and calm demeanor in the classroom.
An expert math teacher, Becker has long taught students to love and appreciate math, or at the least, develop a dedication to learning it.
One former student will never forget Becker’s teaching style and care for students.
“In the classroom, he’s quite clear about the material, but equally clear about his care for each of the kids in the room. I can speak to that from personal experience as a student, about 35 years ago,” said Bradesca. “As a guy who has never been mathematically gifted, and entered in afraid of numbers, he helped me to negotiate numbers and feel more comfortable.”
The President of Saint Ignatius, Rev. Ray Guiao, S.J. ’82, could not agree more.
“This is a man who elicits clear enthusiasm from the students in the classroom, mathematics of all things,” said Fr. Guiao. “In him, students see a person who is excited about what he teaches, who is committed to teaching the students the importance of thinking in logical ways. His students may never grow up to be professional mathematicians, but what he’s training the to do in the way of thinking is absolutely invaluable. The passion and enthusiasm with which he teaches is something students will never forget. There’s a real joy in his work and what he does at Saint Ignatius that is very contagious. I see his interactions with students and his colleagues, and he is a very joy-filled man.”
Becker has earned a bundle of awards for his expertise in the classroom. Most notably, the longtime teacher was presented with the John J. Rossing, S.J. Award in 2011. The names and faces on the award plaques in Rade Dining Hall are a who’s who of legendary teachers at Saint Ignatius.
In June of 2000, Becker also received the Father William Sullivan, S.J. Award. The late Rev. Robert J. Welsh, S.J. ‘54, the legendary former Saint Ignatius president, presented Becker with the honor.
Great coaches who are also masterful teachers in the classroom are incredibly invaluable at Saint Ignatius.
“I appreciate Brian, not only as a coach, but as an Ignatian educator,” said Fr. Guiao. “Brian is someone who has been so long dedicated to what it is we do here – educating and forming to know, love, and serve Christ. That’s Brian Becker. He’s done that and he continues to do that. Our students are better men for having been taught by Brian Becker.”
Fortunately for current and future Wildcats, Becker will remain in the classroom, but Becker’s presence will be missed on the basketball court and the golf course.
In thinking back on his years as a coach, Becker will miss the time spent with his student-athletes, not only in games, but also in practices.
“Practices and relationships are fun. Those are memories I cherish,” Becker said. “My players have been wonderful, hard-working kids. There are always funny stories. It’s the relationships you have with the players and assistant coaches. The time you have together, you fight through the hard times and you revel in the good times. There’s always been a sense of camaraderie in and amongst the teams I’ve had and the players I’ve coached. It’s been a great experience. When you get kids who buy into what you’re selling, it makes it easy to coach. They’re willing to work hard. Wins and losses are wins and losses. Sometimes you get beat by a better team, other times the ball doesn’t go into the basket when you’re better. Basketball happens along the way with all of these relationships.”
In teaching both in sports and in academics, Becker has learned plenty along the way.
His number one lesson? Patience.
“You have to look on the bright side all of the time. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go into the basket, sometimes kids don’t solve the equations correctly,” Becker said. “But they’re learning and they’re maturing. They’re learning how to interact and how to become good people. The example you set with them, the Friday morning masses, the team dinners, the team bonding with Empower Sports people, those are things that help to build character in kids. You need to be a good example.
“It’s important for kids to see that basketball is one little piece of the puzzle in their lives,” Becker continued. “It’s an important piece, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. It’s much more important to be a better Christian, a better brother, a better student, a better friend than it is to be a basketball player. With the same token, we spend a lot of time with basketball and we expect excellence every single day. The effort the kids have given me over the years is tremendous. The daily effort strikes me as being extremely impressive.”
In watching Becker, Fitzpatrick has seen many instances where Becker has shown great patience and perspective.
One of his favorite memories of Becker happened after the Wildcats’ 1998 State Championship loss to an extremely talented St. Edward team.
“After the game, once we got in the locker room in the old St. John’s Arena, the sentiment was a sense of accomplishment. Of course, every athlete would be disappointed. But it was an unbelievable run to get to the state championship game. There was a sense of pride. This wasn’t a despondent locker room. While that’s going on, there’s one person missing – Kirby Becker,” Fitzpatrick said. “In the old St. John’s locker room, there was this back stairwell to this emergency exit that no one ever used. Kirby was back there crying. Brian went to go console him. With the Becker family, they put their heart into everything they do. For Kirby, it was such a tough loss. For his dad, it was a good moment because he talked to him about losing. He explained that it was a good run. The perspective he brought to his own son right after the state championship game was a really cool moment.”
Becker’s family has been an integral part of the voyage.
His wonderful wife of over 30 years, Maureen, his three children (Kirby ‘08, Therese, and Caroline), his parents (Sheila and Gerald '52), and his brothers (Jerry ‘79, John '81, Matt ‘82, Mark ‘89, Steve ‘96, and Dan, a Holy Name grad) have all been crucial for Brian.
“Like anything in life, you can’t do anything without a supportive family. My brothers are all involved, as well as my wife and kids,” Becker said. “They spend a lot of time here at Saint Ignatius. They like it, but they spend a lot of time putting up with me coaching. That gives me the freedom to do what I need to do to make this program successful. It’s not easy. I would tell that to the next coach coming in. Without a good support system at home, it’s really difficult to be successful as a coach.”
Another critical part of his success is his coaching staff.
Becker’s current staff has been incredible. Becker wanted to be sure to thank his current staff – Jerry Porath, Michael McGlynn ’02, Rudy Kirbus ’06, Andrew Salata ’01, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Chris Salata ’94, Brian McLaughlin ’94, Ron Friedel ’94, Bryan Fisher ’13, Rev. Paul Shelton, S.J., Regan Sweeney, T.J. DiSanto ’06, Marc Hester, Tom Parker ’10, Kyle Wise ’10, and Matt Porath ’04.
“I want to thank the coaches I’ve worked with over the years,” Becker said. “Jerry Porath has been extremely instrumental in the success of Saint Ignatius basketball. Kevin Neitzel, John Cooney, Mark Harmany, and Billy Hahn all worked with me the first time around. I have some really good younger guys in terms of Mike McGlynn and Rudy Kirbus who help smooth the gap between the young guys and the old guys. The staff I had was a phenomenal staff. Chris Salata, Brian McLaughlin, Ron Friedel, and Bryan Fischer have done great at the JV level. Tom Parker and Kyle Wise, Regan Sweeney, T.J. DiSanto and Marc Hester at the freshmen level.
“All of the guys on our staff help to make Saint Ignatius basketball what it truly is. It’s about the kids and about teaching the game of life through basketball. The relationships that are formed between the coaches and the players and between the coaches are lifelong. Those are things you never forget, and when you look back on them, you get a little smile when you’re out on the golf course or whatever. I’ve been really fortunate to have really good supporting cast. It ain’t me, it’s we.”
With his coaching career behind him, Becker can now focus on the things he loves – his family, his smoker, and golf.
“If he replaces all of his time coaching with cooking on the smoker and playing golf, he’ll be a very happy man,” Fitzpatrick joked.
As Becker continues teaching and enjoys his free time, the Wildcats will look for a new basketball coach, a search that will begin immediately. Whoever the coach is, Becker has some wise advice for him.
“It’s always we before me. The coach is an important piece, but it’s one little piece,” Becker said. “Team camaraderie, unity, working towards the common goal are important. Keep basketball as most things in life – in perspective. It’s one piece of who you are and who you’re about. I don’t identify my whole persona as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a teacher and a role model. You need to be humble. The program is not about you. It’s about the kids and the school.
“We’ve got some really good younger players who are coming up. Put them in a position where you think they can be successful and let them have some fun.
And finally, get the ball to Chase. Chase is really good.”
On behalf of Saint Ignatius Athletics, thank you, Coach Becker!