In an age when coaches come and go, and the only constant seems to be change, Marty Gaff's 30-year tenure at Kouts is a testament to the coach and the school system.
You don't have to look far in the Porter County Conference to see recent examples of good coaches being run out of jobs, and the likable Gaff has reciprocated Kouts' solid leadership with unwavering loyalty.
"It's a good community, a good school," Gaff said. "I can't emphasize that too much. I've had two principals, Paul Rommelmann and Terry Brownell, who are good friends and good supporters, and that makes such a difference when you come to school every day. I've enjoyed coaching and teaching here. I have fun with the kids. I've been so fortunate to deal with so many good kids. Even in years when we weren't as successful, I still had good kids, which makes it a whole lot easier."
At age 63, the reasons why Gaff is retiring as a coach and history teacher are all positive. He wants to spend more time with his wife Sally, their three daughters, who all live in Valpo, and their two grandchildren, and to sneak away from the winter cold to Florida on occasion.
"It's going to be a big change. I'm excited to see what comes next," Gaff said. "I've thought about it for a long time. I've been running in and out of gyms since I was 10 years old. Basketball ties you down a lot. It takes a family commitment. It takes everybody being involved and my wife and daughters have been a huge part of it. There just comes a time when you start looking at other things you want to do."
Gaff told Brownell after last season that 2012-3 would be his finale. He told his players in the preseason. Kouts is 18-2 and is in a run of success that should continue. Like Sally's often told him, there's always going to be another promising player or group that entices you to keep coming back.
"When they work hard for you, they make it a fun job," Gaff said.
Keith Nuest has been Kouts' scorekeeper for all 647 of Gaff's games, 391 of which have ended in victory. He credits Gaff for taking no opponent lightly, regardless of record, while playing an uptempo style atypical of most small schools.
"I don't have anything bad to say about him except that he is a Cardinals fan," Nuest joked. "Probably a whole lot more important than his wins and losses is the fact that he has been a great role model for his players. He is in it for the kids, first and foremost, and not his own personal achievement. He has served as a coach, a father, a counselor, a teacher and a friend to nearly 150 former players."
Gaff will coach his last regular-season game tonight against LaCrosse, which was gracious enough to switch the site, given the circumstances. With his last state tournament just days away, Gaff said he hasn't had the time to wax sentimental, living purely in the moment.
"I haven't thought a lot about that," he said. "The season's such a rush, you're going like crazy, it's hard to think about anything but what's next, and that's LaCrosse."
While his players certainly want to make Gaff's last ride a memorable one, he doesn't want that to be their cause.
"You'd like to go a long way every year," he said. "It's really not even been talked about. It's a team. You do it together. I want them to be successful, as basketball players, as students, as people in life. The important thing when they get out of here is that they're ready to go out in the world."
Gaff has lived in Kouts since he was hired there and will continue to do so in retirement. After all, it's home.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.