Having lost his wife to gallbladder cancer less than two years ago, Ernie Colombe has had to deal with some extremely difficult circumstances in life that are beyond his control.
Now that some time has passed, and his daughter Katie is graduating from Kaneland this spring, the longtime Knights' girls basketball coach was open for a change. And he made it this week, as he was approved as the new boys basketball coach at Kaneland.
“Peter Goff and David Rohlman talked to me last year, but with my wife being gone and my daughter being a senior, I didn’t want her alone at any games with her dad coaching somewhere else, so I turned it down,” he said. “They hired Russ [Zick], so I stepped away and then it opened again and it worked out.”
Colombe is someone who wants to impact lives within a basketball program that’s also successful. It’s not the quantity of wins per se, but the quality of the relationships formed along the way.
“I honestly just think that something has always been instilled in me that I’ve learned from veteran coaches, and I’ve been around a lot of great coaches at Kaneland,” he said. “When you spend that much time around kids, you want to make an impact just like if you’re teaching English or math. And the only way to make an impact is to develop relationships with the kids and it’s cool to watch them succeed.”
After five losing seasons to begin his tenure as girls basketball coach, Colombe guided the Knights to winning seasons in seven of the past eight years, including four of 20-plus wins.
He came up a victory short of No. 200 as the Knights lost to an undefeated Sandwich team in a Class 3A regional championship game in February. Colombe finished his 13-year tenure as the girls head coach with a 199-166 record.
“I don’t think about [No. 200],” he said. “It would’ve been nice, but I still have plenty of years so I wasn’t too worried. What stands out most is the kids we got a chance to coach and the people I got to work with. Those are the things we’ll always remember.”
The ball is a little bit bigger in boys high school basketball – but the court is the same size, the three-point line is the same distance, the hoops are the same height and the objective remains to outscore your opponent.
“The game is still basketball,” he said. “I’ve always preached to win together you need to win the rebound battle, win the turnover battle and get to the free throw line.”
Moving forward after losing a spouse has to be one of the most difficult things for anyone to face in life, but Colombe has persevered and is now ready for a new chapter in his coaching career.
“Right off the bat we have a challenge to create an identity,” he said. “There have been a lot of changes in the boys program. I think there have been five coaches to come and go since I’ve been the girls coach. I’m hoping I can provide some stability.”
Colombe is the eighth Kaneland boys basketball coach in the last 20 years. The Knights will look to avoid their third straight losing season this winter. They haven’t endured such a tough stretch since losing five straight seasons from 1989-1994.
Colombe replaces Zick, who served as coach for just one season, compiling a 6-25 mark. The Knights return a handful of players from that squad, including Will Cushman, Brett David and Bryce Ebert.