Nearly four decades into his basketball coaching career, former Rochelle varsity coach Russ Zick doesn’t plan on putting the whistle down any time soon.
Zick retired from teaching and coaching at Rochelle Township High School in 2011 and later accepted the head basketball coaching position at Ashton-Franklin Center, where he worked for seven years while leading the Raiders to a regional championship in 2015. The 65-year-old is on the move again, however, as he will leave A-FC and become the next head coach at Kaneland High School for what will be his 39th season of high school hoops.
“It has some similarities to when I took over the Rochelle position,” Zick said. “In both cases, I replaced very competent coaches… It’s helpful when the kids already have a good, basic understanding of basketball. I truly have a passion for coaching, and to me it’s never stopped being fun.”
Zick began his coaching career at 24 years old when he took over the head coaching position at Scales Mound in 1980. He helped the small school win its first-ever regional title, and he coached there for four years before moving on to Paxton-Buckley-Loda, where he coached for 14 years and finished fourth at the IHSA Class 1A State Championship in 1996.
His next 13 years were spent coaching the Rochelle varsity basketball team, compiling a 227-151 record while leading the Hubs to six regional titles. Zick was a mentor for many young coaches throughout his career including current Rochelle varsity coach Tim Thompson, who joined Zick’s staff in 1999 and spent time as a sophomore coach and varsity assistant.
“Not only is Russ a mentor and a really good friend, but he was a great colleague and he taught me as much about education as he did about basketball,” Thompson said. “When I came here, the philosophy of how I wanted to run a team aligned with Russ’s immensely… He doesn’t have an ego about him, and he really let me spread my wings as a coach.”
Another coaching disciple of Zick’s is former Hub basketball player Scott Stevens, who played one season for Zick at RTHS before joining Zick’s coaching staff at A-FC five years ago. Stevens was named head coach of the Raiders earlier this year, replacing his mentor.
“I owe everything to Russ,” Stevens said. “He took a chance on me when I was still fresh out of high school. His humorous nature and his will to draw improvement from all that he’s involved with really helped me see the true value of what it means to be a coach. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today, literally or mentally, without Russ.”
Zick has won 597 games over his 38-year career, and the legendary head coach will have an opportunity to earn his 600th victory this winter. Zick will see many familiar opponents from his time in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference including Rochelle on Feb. 22, 2019 at RTHS. It will be the first time Zick and Thompson face each other as opposing head coaches.
“I’ve followed what Tim has done and he’s one of my favorite people in every way,” Zick said. “By the time we face Rochelle, both Tim and I will be focused on one thing, and that’s making sure our teams are playing at their very best with regionals around the corner.”