HAMMOND | Howard Ullrich is very nervous about this Saturday. Really, his knees are knocking and there aren't much of his fingernails left.
Thinking about the coming day causes serious head pain.
Yeah, the boys basketball team he is an assistant coach for, the Bishop Noll Warriors, will take on Indianapolis Park Tudor in the Class 2A state championship game at Conseco Fieldhouse. But that isn't what has his hair falling out.
There is a much bigger issue at stake.
"I promised the guys if we got to state I'd wear a shirt and tie," Ullrich said. "But I don't wear a suit and tie. Ever. I've got one. It's the one I'll probably get buried in. The guys got us there so I'm going to have to wear it. Oh, God."
Ullrich, born and raised in Hammond, graduated from Noll in 1973, where he played football. He was in the stands that March when Tom Ispas led the "stall ball" Warriors to the semistate semifinal.
Ullrich then started hanging around former Noll coaches Bob Bradtke and Larry Seffner.
"I was picking their brains, learning everything I could," Ullrich said.
Then he started a 20-year coaching stint in the CYO circuit at St. Mary's in Griffith. Jason Hawkins played for him there before moving on to Noll and eventually Valparaiso University.
With four boys and a daughter, life had settled in pretty well for Ullrich. One of his sons, Nick, was on Griffith's 1997 state championship football team.
Ullrich received a call from Hawkins, who was named the new coach at Calumet College.
"Coach, I need you," is what Ullrich heard.
So for three years "Coach Howie" was with the Crimson Wave. That was where he met Noll coach Drew Trost, who is best friends with Hawkins.
Ullrich's phone rang again after three seasons in Whiting. Trost asked Ullrich to be his right-hand man. And with Joe Ullrich on the Warriors' roster, it was a perfect match.
"(Howard) has so much game experience he has been a big help to me," Trost said. "I knew certain things about the game when I started. I knew how to run practices and how to get the kids ready to go.
"But Howard's game experience has helped a lot. There isn't anything in a game that he hasn't seen before."
Ullrich has been with Trost for five years now. Trost is like a son to him.
Unlike the bigger, more affluent public schools, it is Trost and Ullrich who wash uniforms together. They have a team dinner each week where the two spend off-the-court time with the Warriors.
Ullrich works at Praxair, Inc. in East Chicago, where he monitors the pipes that carries industrial gas to the steel mills. But it's been inside area gyms where the light in Ullrich's eyes expands.
On Saturday, in his "wing-dinger of a suit," Bishop Noll will take the floor at Conseco Fieldhouse. It's the biggest game in the player's lives. It's the biggest game in the coach's lives.
"It's going to remind me of 'Hoosiers,'" Ullrich said. "We've got to tell the guys the rim is still 10-feet tall. It's a thrill of a lifetime and we're going to enjoy it."