ROCKFORD — Matt Huels has coached high school basketball for nearly 20 years after graduating from Rochelle Township High School in 2002. When a rare opportunity to take the next step in his career arose this past month, Huels didn’t hesitate to seize the moment.
Huels will begin a new chapter in his career as the next head coach of the Byron High School boys basketball program this coming year. Huels will succeed Tom Schmidt, who resigned this year after leading Byron to a 223-104 record over the last 11 seasons. Huels went 17-14 as the head coach of the Guilford High School girls basketball program this past year.
“It was a pretty tough decision,” Huels said. “I was coaching somewhere where nobody had really done anything, and we were really starting to reap the benefits of what we’ve built… Growing up in Rochelle, I always thought the Byron job was one of the top-10 coaching jobs in northern Illinois. The community really rallies around the team, and when there’s a Byron basketball game, most of the town wants to be there.”
Huels has spent the last four years building a successful girls basketball program at Guilford, going 52-62 overall and helping the Vikings earn their first winning season (15-13) in over 20 years during the 2016-17 campaign. Huels also has three years of assistant coaching experience with the Harlem High School boys basketball program and two years of assistant coaching experience with the Guilford boys basketball program under his belt.
“What really drew me to coaching was when [Rochelle] lost against Moline in the [IHSA Sectional Finals] in 2002,” Huels said. “One of my coaches mentioned to me that I could be like one of them, and that I could go back and coach the game… It’s basically about teaching, and there are so many more resources available now than when I was playing. It’s a sport where players and coaches can get better every day.”
Huels played four sports at RTHS including football, cross country, basketball and baseball. He spent four years with the RTHS boys basketball program, learning under mentors like Russ Zick and current head coach Tim Thompson, who took over the program when Huels was a sophomore. Huels said that Zick, Thompson and even former football coach and athletic director Kevin Crandall were his biggest role models in becoming a coach himself.
“Tim called me when he found out I got the job and we spoke for about 20-to-30 minutes,” Huels said. “Coach Zick has always checked in on me and he’ll stop by me house around Christmas time, since he has family in Rockford, and we’ll just talk about sports. Watching how coach Crandall built up the football program… You look back and see some of the things they did that led to their success.”
Huels graduated from Northern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in education in 2007 before competing his master’s degree in education, with an emphasis in Autism education, through the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2017. Huels currently teaches physical education at McIntosh Elementary School in Rockford, where he lives with his wife Erin, his son Carson and his daughter Teagan.