In this May 2, 2017 file photo, Bob Heideman surveys the courts during a Great Northern Conference boys’ tennis match between Rhinelander and Lakeland at the RHS tennis courts. Heideman said this week he is retiring as head coach of the RHS boys’ and girls’ teams at the end of the month, ending a nearly four-decade tenure with the program. Heideman was nine wins shy of 600 for his high school coaching career. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
5/22/2020 7:33:00 AM Heideman retiring again as RHS tennis coach Coach: 'It was a good time for a new start'
A little more than two months ago, before his induction into the Wisconsin High School Tennis Coaches Association's Hall of Fame was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bob Heideman said he was taking his coaching career on a year-by-year basis.
Fast forward to May, and the longtime Rhinelander coach has said the time to retire is now.
Heideman informed the School District of Rhinelander last week that he will be hanging up the racket and the clipboard effective at the end of the month, marking the end of career that saw him as the head coach of either the RHS boys' or girls' tennis team, or both simultaneously, for 36 consecutive years. He confirmed the decision to the River News Monday after informing his players.
For his part, Heideman said he is still in good health, and the desire to coach still burns. However, he said being at home during the state's Safer at Home order gave him time to contemplate his long-term future with the program.
"The calculus added up to where it was a good time for a new start," he said.
With a new start comes an abrupt finish to a coaching career that included 591 career victories, 21 conference championships, 22 subsectional titles, two sectional titles and 51 individual state tournament entries.
Heideman had three stints as the head boys' tennis coach, from 1985-2009, 2011-2014 and 2016-2020. He led the girls squad twice between 1989-1996 and again from 2007-2019.
"The guy's a legend, especially in the Northwoods," RHS activities director Brian Paulson said. "I know people know of him down south but, you look at the Northwoods, everybody knows who coach Heideman is, what he's done for the program, the hours he's put in, the summer tennis lessons. That's what makes a program."
Both Heideman and Paulson indicated that Heideman would continue to act as head coach through the end of the month. Heideman is still allowed to maintain virtual contact with players through what was to be the final day of the WIAA state tournament in each respective sport - June 13 in the case of boys' tennis.
Under a provision by the WIAA that allows spring sports teams up to 30 days of contact beginning July 1, the RHS boys' tennis team is scheduled to have a two-week season this summer culminating with matches against Antigo and Lakeland July 13 and 15. Both Heideman and Paulson said the plan is to have current assistant boys' tennis coach Matt Nichols oversee the program while the search for Heideman's full-time replacement takes place.
"There is no expectation for coach Heideman to be a part of anything during the summer and we would ask Matt to fill in through the end of the summer," Paulson said.
In retiring now, Heideman finishes with a career dual-meet coaching record of 591-241 - a .710 winning percentage. He logged 331 wins with the boys' program and 260 wins with the girls' program. Heideman said the prospect of earning his 600th career win did not weigh into his decision to retire now. What did weigh into his decision, he said, was his relationship with the players.
"Even at this point, a difficult decision, because there are a number of athletes, tennis athletes, at Rhinelander High who've got kind of the tennis bug," he said. "It will always be hard to not stay involved with them. That's still there."
Heideman admitted delivering the news to his players was, "more difficult than I thought it would be." That was aggravated by the fact that, due to the current social distancing guidelines that are in place because of the coronavirus, Heideman was relegated to having to deliver that message via text, rather than in person.
"I regret that but it seemed, given the circumstances (the best way)," he said. "I would have preferred to do it face-to-face, there no doubt about that, but I also didn't want them hearing it from someone else."
Heideman admitted the ongoing pandemic played a supporting role in his decision to retire now.
"What is happening with the COVID situation doesn't ease my mind," he said. "For somebody else, it may not matter. Right now, you hear such disparate things."
The 2020 WHSTCA clinic and banquet were canceled March 12, on the eve of what was supposed to be Heideman's induction into the Hall of Fame, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Heideman indicated he did not want to go through the emotional "roller coaster" of building anticipation for an abbreviated season in July, only to have it potentially wiped away due to the uncertain future of the pandemic.
"The factors were there kind of before the COVID situation," he said. "They fell a little more in place as the spring went on but then, just the way this COVID thing has evolved, was the part of the impetus to take advantage of what was there. It kind of brought me to that conclusion."
Heideman said he had a laundry list of people to thank for being a part of his long tenure at RHS - including assistant coaches and ADs he has worked with over the years, players, their parents and his own family.
"We should be so happy for him," Paulson said. "Everything he's given us, everything, his whole heart all these years - his wife giving all that time with him being gone. It's sad, but you've got to move on."
The person or persons who inherit the RHS tennis program will take over a dynasty that has only gotten stronger over the last decade. The RHS girls' tennis team has won nine of the last 10 Great Northern Conference titles. The RHS boys' tennis team was looking to achieve the same feat this spring, having won the last six consecutive conference championships.
That was coupled with tennis courts that were renovated and resurfaced in 2013, giving RHS the opportunity to host conference and subsectional tournaments. The program is also gearing up for the future. Sport courts in the Hodag Sports Complex, currently under construction, will give the team a place to practice and play during the winter months and in inclement weather. The facility is expected to be completed this September.
"I think that the right coach will look at that as an opportunity, a big one, to help build the program," Heideman said.
Paulson would not indicate if Nichols was a potential candidate to take over the coaching mantle on a full-time basis, but Heideman said he was comfortable with the direction of the program.
"First and foremost I think, right now, the program has the highest chance of being left in good hands," he said.
This is not the first time Heideman has tried to step down. Heideman has twice in the last 11 years tried to step back as the head boys' coach - with Ken George at the helm in 2010 and Mike Messerli the coach of record for the Hodags' 2015 conference title. Employment forced Messerli to relocate outside the area following the 2015 season and, with no other known applicants at the time, Heideman threw his hat back into the ring to retake the reins of the program.
"Bob's never going to leave the program high and dry," Paulson said. "We definitely have some tennis people in-house and I think we'll be able to go from one person to the next with that much tennis knowledge."
Heideman's retirement leaves Paulson with two head coaching vacancies to fill for the fall sports season. The school is also in search of a head volleyball coach after Brianna Scheuermann resigned this winter following two seasons on the job.
Paulson indicated that he planned to conduct interviews for the volleyball opening in the next couple of weeks.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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