AL HAMNIK: 'Coach Nick' made it a joy to play football at Andrean, Whiting

2014-04-12T17:15:00Z 2014-06-04T19:30:04Z AL HAMNIK: 'Coach Nick' made it a joy to play football at Andrean, WhitingAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 12, 2014 5:15 pm  • 

It costs nothing to be nice, to make others smile with a sense of humor that entertains without offending.

That's hard to find today, particularly in sports.

Coaches are screaming at officials, players, media, fans, even the guy working the clock and scoreboard.

They seem to have the shortest fuse in football.

Nick Crnkovich was different, bless him. He was a winning coach, smart and perceptive, but did it with little fanfare. He wasn't loud or pompous. If he won or lost on the final play, his mood was the same. Once a gentleman, always a gentleman.

Leo Durocher was wrong. Nice guys do finish first.

On April 6, the region lost another beacon when "Coach Nick" died at age 80, leaving behind more friends and admirers than he ever dreamed of having.

It was easy to like the man who brightened everyone's day with his wit and charm, and Crnkovich did that coaching at Andrean (1967-71) and Whiting (1972-80).

That was obvious when more than 30 ex-players showed up to celebrate him receiving the Gary Old-Timers' Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 at Avalon Manor.

He was so moved, I saw a tear well up in his eye.

"We lost a good guy," said former Whiting star Dave Harangody, a '76 grad. "Nick was low key and kept everything loose. It was a joy to play for the guy. My favorite coach of all time."

Younger brother Mark also starred for Crnkovich, who gave nicknames to everyone he coached and taught. Years later, he still remembered most.

Mark was "Goober," Dave was "Goats," current Whiting mayor Joe Stahura "Staha" and one particular player was referred to as "Old Style."

"Besides our father, Nick had the biggest impact on our lives," Dave said, proudly.

"He was like no other coach we ever had," added Stahura, a '74 grad and standout linebacker. "He was defensive-minded and would often punt on third down so we could get the defense back on the field. That was our strong point.

"We scored a lot of points on defense."

Stahura said Crnkovich would've punted on first down if they let him. It drove offensive coach and long-time assistant Ed Fritz crazy, often leading to sideline "debates" that were quite animated.

"People thought we were fighting but we hit it off real good. Our personalities intertwined," Fritz said. "Nobody could be mad at him."

A 1951 Whiting grad, Crnkovich's humor made school fun for all students, whether or not they were jocks.

"He taught history his own way," Fritz recalled. "He'd show a movie, then run it backwards, and kids got a kick out of it."

Gary Meyer coached boys basketball at Whiting from 1976 to 1981 before moving on to Logansport and then Chicago Heights Bloom. He and Crnkovich were friends for more than 35 years.

"I've encountered my share of football coaches in 35 years but he was probably the nicest person to work with regarding the football-basketball situation at high school," Meyer said.

"He had the best-conditioned kids I've ever had step on the basketball court. When we got to the (Gary) regional final in '81 against Andrean with Dan Dakich and Jim Bullock, five of my top seven players were football players."

Visitation is today at Elmwood Funeral Chapel in St. John; burial mass Monday at St. Maria Goretti in Dyer.

There will be more smiles than tears. Coach Nick would want it that way.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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