FEEL GOOD FRIDAY: Windlan sees son's state title as 'sweet redemption'

Thursday, April 11, 2019
The Windlan family celebrates the Class 4A state title won last month by Karsten (center) with the Carmel Greyounds. Also pictured (from left) are Stacey, Sydney, Tod and Kennedy Windlan.
Contributed photo

A year ago, a lot of things in Tod Windlan’s sports-dominated life were in disarray.

On April 20, 2018, he was fired as head girls’ basketball at Carmel despite having led the team to three straight sectional titles. As a result, his coaching future was in limbo.

His son, Karsten, had just completed his first year on the Carmel boys’ basketball team that ended with a tough loss in the state championship game to Warren Central.

His youngest daughter, Sydney, had battled arm problems and had a subpar junior softball season at Purdue-Fort Wayne. She had surgery after the season.

Fast-forwarding to April of 2019, each of those situations is in a better place.

Tod just completed his first season as head girls’ coach at Greencastle, and enjoys both his coaching position and his job as athletic director at Greencastle Middle School.

Karsten, now a senior, greatly improved his position on the Greyhounds and helped lead the team to a state title with a championship game victory over Ben Davis.

Sydney is healthy again, and has started 23 of her team’s 33 games as an outfielder.

Things are well again in the Windlan sports arena. What a difference a year makes.

Making adjustments

Karsten Windlan began his junior year at Pendleton Heights a year ago, but transferred to Carmel around Thanksgiving to be around his father more.

“He had a great sophomore year at Pendleton Heights,” Tod said. “He was their second-leading scorer, and they were 17-7. They were really good.”

The switch of schools was inspired by something Windlan’s wife told him during one of Karsten’s first two years of high school.

Stacey Windlan had noticed Karsten looking up in the stands at her during games when Tod was somewhere else coaching for Carmel. She asked Karsten why he did that.

“He made the statement that he was seeing if she was videoing when he made a good shot, so she could send it to Dad,” Tod said. “That really bothered me. It was very obvious that he missed being around me, and when we made the switch [to Carmel] it was tough on him.

After being a starter at Pendleton Heights, Karsten initially had a big role in the Carmel rotation. As last year wore on, though, his role diminished.

“He had a really good regional and semistate, but played about a minute or minute and a half in the state championship game,” Tod recalls. “Two or three weeks later, we were dealing with the situation I was in.

“To say his junior year was fun.... it was not.”

The family sat down after that, and discussed Karsten’s future.

“I told him I’ll make sure he would go wherever he wanted to go, but just for him to let me know what he wanted to do,” Tod recalls. “He said he wanted to stay at Carmel and win a state championship. The guys were really loyal to him, and to me.

“As the whole process played out this year with him, and we were in that final game, I kind of thought this was sweet redemption for the Windlan family.”

Windlan had considered filing a lawsuit after his dismissal, but never did.

“Karsten has to finish his high school career there, and I just wanted the whole thing to be water under the bridge,” he said. “I don’t have to walk back into that gym any more. There are a lot of great people there; 95 percent of the people there were wonderful. It was just the other five percent.”

Life lessons

Windlan was thrilled that all five of the family members were there at the state title game, although not easily.

Sydney had played a softball doubleheader earlier in the day, but drove two and-a-half hours to get to the game, arriving just at tipoff, while Kennedy traveled from her home in Mississippi.

“It says a lot about him that is one of very few kids at that age who saw his Dad go through a grieving process,” Tod said. “It’s all right to see your parent cry and grieve. I think it’s good that he saw that, and it will benefit him later in life to know that no matter what happens there is always prosperity on the other side.”

Tod noted that Karsten had set a goal with his teammates to get back to the state championship game and win it.

“He had a great year,” Tod said. “We were at the bottom of the pit a year ago, and now we’re pretty high up with what he’s done and with his recruiting process. I’m going to watch Sydney play at Butler [Thursday], and it’s great to see her healthy again.”

Coaching conflicts

On the surface, a simple solution for Tod to be at all of Karsten’s games during his senior year would have been for him to take the year off and continue to teach at Carmel.

But in the big picture, it wasn’t that simple.

“I wanted to continue my career, and I didn’t want to not coach and just teach, and give in to the perception that ‘he probably did do something wrong because he’s not coaching any more’.

“It’s always been a passion of mine,” he continued. “My dad taught and coached for 41 years. The passion was still in me to coach, and the desire was still there to make kids better in basketball and in life.”

Before landing the Greencastle job, Windlan had some interviews but didn’t like how the conversations went.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m blessed that someone took a chance on me. The horror stories were out there.”

“All I was doing was defending myself,” he said. “I’m not sure why I was defending myself when nothing was really done wrong.”

Windlan is a prime example of WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get.

“I know what I did as a coach, and what I’ve done for 15 years, and I’m not going to change the way I coach kids,” he said. “But for people [at Carmel] to be so vindictive and lie, and try to drag you through the mud, what comes around goes around eventually.

Greencastle girls’ basketball coach Tod Windlan directs his team during a timeout last season.
Banner Graphic/JOEY BENNETT

“Especially in this profession,” Windlan added. “You can’t please them all. If you do then you’re not coaching.”

Incidentally, after several players transferred to other schools the Greyhounds had a 14-11 record this year and lost to eventual state champion Hamilton Southeastern in the sectional finals.

“What happened there didn’t just affect me, but it affected the lives of many people,” Windlan said. “Some of the kids left over there were playing with kids who were against me, and that’s never good for team chemistry. That was a big problem there this year.

“I’m convinced if I had stayed, and all those players had stayed, that Hamilton Southeastern might not have been the team cutting down the nets this year.”

Modern problems

Windlan was able to make it to a few of Karsten’s games while both seasons overlapped, and was able to use 21st century technology on days when the Tiger Cubs played at the same time.

One of those instances resulted in an unusual technical foul on Windlan at Northview as the junior varsity teams played in the auxiliary gym of a girls’/boys’ doubleheader during the other gender’s varsity game.

Windlan was sitting on the Tiger Cubs’ JV team bench and also following Karsten’s game at Center Grove online by using assistant coach Kevin Kendall’s phone.

“His phone got better reception than mine in their gym,” Windlan recalls. “At one point, I said aloud ‘that was a dumb foul’ after Karsten did something. The referee thought I was talking to him and I got a technical foul.

“That was a first.”

Father-son time

While Tod has only coached girls’ teams in high school, he has coached Karsten on several occasions during his youth.

“From third grade through fifth or six grade, I coached him on a travel team we had in Anderson,” he recalls. “In the summer between his sophomore and junior years, I coached a travel team called Indiana Elite Diesel. We had Andrew Owens and Luke Heady from Carmel and a lot of good players.”

That team also had a promising young player from Putnam County named Allen Plunkett, who would go on to become South Putnam’s career scoring leader.

Modern technology also allowed Windlan to frequently watch film with his son.

“I had access to his Hudl [online video storage] account, and we watched a lot of film together,” he said.

To watch Tod Windlan coach basketball, observers wouldn’t take long to observe the fire in his belly as he strives for flawless play.

That fire is apparently hereditary.

“He definitely has a fire within him,” Tod said. “My wife sent both of us a text this week about Tony Bennett from Virginia talking about Kyle Guy and some of his players.

“He said that the bigger the game, and the bigger the stage, the brighter the lights are those outstanding players have that ‘it’ factor. Some players don’t like that stage.”

Stacey Windlan told her son “you have that.”

“And he does,” Tod said. “The bigger the game, the more he is ready.”

Colleges are taking notice

College coaches may not have known that Karsten played most of the state championship game with a badly sprained ankle

“I saw him grab it on the bench,” Tod said. “I knew it was bad, and I don’t think too many people knew about it. There was nothing that was going to keep him from playing, though.”

Karsten had 11 points in the state title game, but had enough 20-plus scoring nights that college coaches are taking more and more notice of the 5-11 guard with a 36-inch vertical jump who plays bigger than his size.

“He’s had some Division I interest lately, and lots of schools in D-II, NAIA and junior colleges looking at him,” Tod said. “We’ll be taking a lot of visits in the next month see what he wants to do and figure out the best situation for him.”

An unusual year

Windlan’s first Greencastle team went 14-8, with two of those losses to eventual state runnerup Benton Central and two others to sectional champions Danville and Northview.

The team’s lengthy list of injuries was well documented during the season, and Windlan said that fact kept the team from being at its best.

“We were never healthy the whole year,” he said. “In the sectional game against Benton Central, they had a big run to start the second half and we had a 9-0 run after that. If they don’t make a bad call on a free throw in the fourth quarter, we can cut it to a one-possession game.

“If we could have won that game and gotten out of the sectional, we thought we could make a long run in the tournament like they did,” Windlan said. “We were right there.”

The future

Windlan coached his first four seasons of girls’ basketball at his alma mater of Frankton from 2004-2007.

He has made six job changes during that span, a fact that led many Putnam County sports fans to question how long Windlan would stay in Greencastle from the moment he arrived.

Windlan does not fall into the category of vagabond coaches who stay at a school through a strong senior class, enjoy success and then move on to greener pastures when the cupboard is bare.

Some of his changes were due to unavoidable factors, such as Anderson Highland closing its doors. He coached at Hamilton Heights without a teaching job, taking the school to the semistate in 2013.

“If they had a teaching job for me, I’d still be there,” he said. “I loved it there.”

The ability to land in Greencastle, despite the lengthy drive from Anderson, was a “blessing in disguise” to Windlan since a job change did not seem imminent.

“lt wasn’t on the horizon for me to be looking for a job,” he said.

Now the question lingers of how long he stays.

“I’m just going year to year,” he said. “That’s a tough question [if Greencastle is a long-term position], considering we have Karsten getting ready to go on to college and Sydney graduates this spring. In the last week or so, there have been a lot of people in the basketball community to reach out to me to see what my interest is.”

Like everyone, Windlan knows he needs to (and will) do is what’s best for him and his family.

“You have to sit down and ask what the best situation is for you and your family,” he said. “What’s the best insurance plan, what’s the best basketball situation for me to be in, what’s the best job to have......... those are all things to be considered.

“I have a great job here, and the people have all treated me great,” Windlan added. “We have seven players coming back, and we will be better next year if they work hard in the off-season. We have a lot of parts to work with. If I would leave tomorrow, or leave in 10 years, I could honestly say they have treated me as well as any school system I’ve been to.”