Chad Hollwedel admits that he’s known for quite awhile that the time had come for him to step away from coaching.
After 12 years serving as head coach of the Centennial varsity boys basketball team, compiling 193 victories and a handful of championships along the way, a number of personal and professional factors coincided to convince Hollwedel that he was ready to “start the next chapter,” of his life.
But as much as he felt mentally prepared to officially deliver the news to Centennial Athletics and Activity Manager Jeannie Prevosto and the members of the Eagles’ basketball program in early May, it didn’t make things any less emotional.
“I always felt like I wanted to be able to step away on my own terms and the more I sat and thought about it, it just seemed to make sense to turn things over to someone else. To do this job at the standard I have always held myself to takes a certain amount of energy … an energy I’m not sure I have anymore,” Hollwedel said. “It’s still incredibly difficult, especially because I’m an intense competitor. And I’m going to miss the relationships with the players and parents probably the most. They are the ones that have made it all worth it.”
While his tenure as varsity coach officially started in 2007, Hollwedel has actually been a part of the Centennial basketball program in some capacity for the last 22 years. He started as an assistant under the school’s all-time wins leader Jim Hill (271 victories from 1984 to 2007) and later took a stint as JV head coach before eventually assuming the varsity reigns.
It took two years of under .500 basketball for Hollwedel to get the system he wanted in place, but in the decade since he has led each of the last 10 Centennial teams to a winning record both overall and in county play.
Hollwedel says each of his teams created memories that still stick with him, but there are two squads in particular — 2010-11 and 2014-15 — that seem to come up a little more often when he digs through the memories.
It was that 2010-11 team that secured the program’s first region championship, making it all the way to the state championship game before losing to Milford Mill.
“That team was special because we weren’t particularly good at the beginning of the season, but we kept getting better as the year went on and ended up going on an unbelievable run,” he said. “They were the first team that showed everyone else after them that we could do it. And it showed because we ended up going back there [to the state final four] the following year as well.”
While neither of those initial region championships led to the ultimate prize, Hollwedel said he thinks they paved the way for the 2014-15 squad to finally break through for program history in the form of a state championship.
That season, the Eagles won a county title, won a program-record 25 games and captured the region championship courtesy of a buzzer-beating shot against River Hill.
“There were no individual egos on that team, just a group of guys that all filled into roles that they kind of defined for themselves,” Hollwedel said. “The pieces just fit together so well,”
For a cherry on top, Centennial defeated Westlake 57-43 for the 3A state title. Hollwedel vividly remembers those moments immediately after receiving the state championship trophy.
“I remember turning and seeing that entire side of the arena filled with red and raising that trophy to the crowd … I still get goose bumps thinking about it. That was such an overwhelming and satisfying moment,” he said.
This winter was satisfying for different reasons, among them being able to coach his son Ryan, along with his group of childhood friends, in his final year of high school. Ryan will be continuing his basketball and academic pursuits at Hood College next winter.
It’s the potential opportunity to watch him, along with his daughter Emily — a varsity volleyball player at Centennial as a sophomore this past fall — that weighed heavily in terms of Hollwedel’s ultimate decision.
“I’m excited to be able to finally just be a dad, to be able to sit in the stands and just watch,” he said.
As he looks back, Hollwedel is quick to credit the success of the program to the staff around him. It’s in that light that he hopes his successor is someone promoted from within, specifically naming current JV coach Chris Sanders as someone he thinks is more than ready for a varsity opportunity.
“I remember having to wait for Jim to step away to finally get my chance, so I feel like it’s a very similar situation now,” he said. “There’s no way we could have accomplished what we have without coaches like [Chris] and the continuity that they have provided for our program.”
Hollwedel adds that he will continue teaching Physics at Centennial and plans to continue attending games and being a part of the school community, just in a slightly different capacity.