Jeff Houston named Streaks basketball coach

by John Ring

On a rainy, dreary day last Friday, Jeff Houston was being interviewed for probably the 10th or 11th time. A mere 22 hours earlier, he had been selected as the new Silver Streak basketball coach.

"The phone started to ring off the hook," said Houston from his kitchen table. "First, some friends of mine called. Then the sportswriters started calling. After a while, I decided to take some ice cream to my grandparents. I needed a break."

Jeff Houston’s 74-day ordeal was over. So was the longest and most bizarre coaching vacancy in the long history of the Silver Streaks. A four-year assistant coach for the Streaks, Houston quickly submitted his application when Geoff Falk resigned in March. Most assumed that, based on his knowledge of the program and familiarity with the players, Houston was assured of making the short list of candidates for the Streaks coaching position.

It didn’t work out that way.

A final list of 12 applicants was composed by the basketball Search Committee for the Streaks– a committee consisting of District 205 Administrators, fans close to the basketball program and Mike Robson, the GHS Athletic Director.

The original choice was Russ Zick of Rochelle, who turned the position down. Then came Geneseo’s Mike Kiss, who resigned after a week because of health reasons. Most assumed the Committee would quickly turn to Houston but instead, the process was reopened, more interviews were conducted, time was lost and other final applicants either withdrew for consideration or turned down the job.

Petitions were circulated for Houston, public sentiment was clearly behind him and a few thought that Houston wouldn’t even consider the job after being consistently ignored.

Asked about that scenario, Jeff Houston paused. He collected his thoughts.

The phone in his home rang. Want to answer it, Jeff?

"No," came the quick reply.

"When good people stand behind you," continued Houston, "you remain confident. My family stayed with me, my friends did and the players supported me. This is a good lesson to the players on the Silver Streak team. If you persevere, good things happen. If you stay confident, good things happen."

"This is bigger than Jeff Houston," added the Streaks coach "because this is about Silver Streak basketball. This is about getting the Silver Streak tradition back, players taking pride in their game, players hustling on the floor and the community taking an ownership into the basketball program."

"What I want is what every Silver Streak basketball fan wants. To bring the tradition and respect of this program back. It isn’t going to happen overnight, it won’t be fast but I’m not going anywhere."

"I’m excited about this. I’m not looking into the past, I’m looking into the future. The first order of business for me is putting together a staff with a lot of energy and a sense of Galesburg basketball tradition. You can’t teach kids enthusiasm, they have to catch it. They’ll get it from our coaching staff."

After Houston was named to the position, he started to scramble in hopes of putting together a solid summer of competition for the Streaks.

"I think we can get into the Morris Shootout, I’m hoping we can get into the Orion Summer League and I’m looking at just about every possible place to play. What we want to do is get our guys experience this summer. It isn’t about winning or trophies, it’s getting some air into the basketball and getting on the court and gaining experience. We have 25 contact days we can use with the kids and we’ll use them all."

At age 39, Houston already has previous coaching experience at Yorkwood for eight years. A graduate of Knoxville High School, Jeff went on to play basketball for both Sandburg College and Monmouth College. He lives in Knoxville with his wife, Tammie, and their two children– Katie (8) and Tyler (5).

Houston isn’t ready to panic at his late hiring. "It’s always an urge to go a hundred miles an hour but what you have to do is approach everything at an even keel and make some advances. As far as coaching philosophy, I try to learn something from everybody. You know, beg, borrow and steal. The game has changed so much in the last few years, you have to keep up and be willing to adapt new ideas."

"What it comes down to is program development and talent. It’s going to be hard to go out there next season and try to out coach someone in the Western Big 6. If you’ve got the talent, you have the chance to win. But it has to be developed."

"I know it can be done. I know that Galesburg, as a community, is eager to buy into this. I hope our kids play like their hair is on fire. We need the fans to be patient, we need to build it right and we need to build it slow. Our focus is going to be on program development. But once it’s done, we’re going to be here to stay and it will get done."

"I hope to be very visible in Galesburg. I want to meet the younger coaches, to help with the young programs."

Houston also wants to revitalize the now-defunct Thanksgiving Tournament. The Streaks will play at Rock Island this year. "No doubt about it, we need to get it going again. We need to entice some teams to come here and play.. Mr. Robson and I have talked about that. It has a lot of benefits in that you can evaluate your team early and it helps support our Hall of Fame because of the annual inductions made during the tournament. It gives us a bridge to the alumni and we need more of that. We need more of our former players to come in and talk tot these kids. I’d love to see that."

Much has been written about the support that the returning Silver Streaks gave to Houston. While he appreciated it and called it honorable, the new Streaks coach has already talked to his team about next season and what he expects.

"When our players put on the uniform, it’s going to be for a purpose," said Houston. "It’s not going to be for looking good in front of their girlfriend in the stands. I’ve already told those guys that the assistant coaching days are over. They may not like me much as head coach."

"Dad," said Katie Houston who was at her Dad’s side, "they’re going to love you."

Jeff Houston laughed. The phone rang again.