A Q&A with Joe Otis, New Vikings’ Girls Basketball Head Coach

VHS Boys Varsity Basketball 2012 10Joe-OtisIt was announced at the April 16, 2013 School Board Meeting that former Valparaiso High School boys’ basketball head coach Joe Otis will now take the lead job in the school’s girls’ program.

The move was unexpected news to many Valpo basketball fans, including longtime Vikings hoops historian John Knauff. Knauff expressed some surprise with the decision, but ultimately has confidence in what Otis brings to the table as a coach.

“I'm sure he will do a great job with the girls' program and help to elevate it to the state-wide prominence it had under Coaches Ciciora, Kenning, and Kirby,” Knauff said. “He has been successful at every level from junior high to college, so I know he will help the Viking girls' team to improve significantly over the next few years.“

The move leaves the head coaching position for the boys’ program open. Though none are guaranteed the job, Otis leaves the program with three talented, relatively young assistants in tow.

After the change was announced, Coach Otis was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him in regards to the move, the program he left behind, and his future coaching the girls’ program at Valparaiso High School.

Brett Fuller: What was it that made you decide to take the girls’ basketball position?

Joe Otis: Well, the biggest reason was the talented staff of assistants I had in the boys program. Matt Thomas, our JV coach, varsity assistants Brent Kimmel and Ben Lieske, and freshmen coaches John Gutierrez and Casey McKim all do an outstanding job. I knew the boys program would be in good hands. A lot of people don't know that I coached girls basketball in La Porte for 5 years prior to taking the boys job at VHS. I was Skeeter Heath's varsity assistant for 4 years and I coached the Kesling Middle School 7th grade girls my last year in La Porte. Four of my girls from that team have started for the varsity the last 2 years and have had a lot of success. I really enjoyed coaching the girls.

BF: The girls’ program has had a long string of success under Coach Kirby. What do you hope to accomplish with the program?

JO: Well, you mentioned an important name in the history of the girls program. Coach Kirby and I have been friends since his days of coaching the boys varsity at Portage. In the span of 16 years as VHS Girls coach he averaged 20 wins a year and Valpo was the most dominant program in Northern Indiana. In those 16 years he had 4 Indiana All Stars while winning 12 sectionals, 7 regionals, and 4 semi-states. In 1999 he was the Indiana All Stars Girls Head Coach and I was the Boys Head Coach. In short, we're close friends and I'll be seeking his advice regularly.

BF: You have coached girls in the past, what is the main difference between coaching the girls and boys in basketball?

JO: Not much. At La Porte we played 3 games against Skylar Diggins when she was winning state championships at South Bend Washington. Trying to stop her was a bigger nightmare than any superstar boy player I ever coached against.

BF: Are there any players or is there a group of players you are looking forward to working with or whose talent has caught your eye?

JO: No, while my primary responsibility will be the varsity, I'm looking forward to working directly with our players all the way down to the grade school level.

BF: You are leaving the boys’ program with three talented assistants who are all relatively young. Is there a particular skill or talent that you see in any (or each) of them that would give you confidence in them taking over the boys’ program?

JO: Yes, they're all really good at everything. Forget their youth. They can match wits with the best coaches. Some of our biggest wins were a direct result of their tireless efforts scouting and devising offensive and defensive strategies. Ben, Brent, and Matt are all really, really bright not just on the basketball court but in the classroom as well.

BF: What do you see for the future of the Vikings’ girls basketball program?

JO: We're going to improve and we're going to be competitive. We'll be working hard on our offensive skills this spring. We struggled scoring this past year but it wasn't for lack of effort. We're a young team. We will once again play one of the toughest schedules in the area. I'm excited about this opportunity and I'm confident that we'll be fun to watch.