Althoff High boys basketball coach Greg Leib in the Crusaders’ game against Quincy during the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic in December (David Wilhelm photo).
Greg Leib isn’t a glass-half-empty type of guy.
Instead, Leib’s cup overflows with joy as he goes about his daily duties at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, where he is the assistant principal, a teacher and the 26th-year boys basketball coach.
“I love going to work,” said Leib, 57. “I start off every day greeting the kids as they come into the building. That’s a great way to kick off the day, and it just progresses from there.
“I feel blessed to have this opportunity and this life I’ve lived. I thank God for it every day. … In high school education, you’re not going to get rich, but you can get rich in relationships. I’m like Warren Buffett when it comes to that.”
It wasn’t an auspicious beginning, however.
Leib was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville when the opening to coach at Althoff became available.
“I wanted to get back into high school (coaching),” said Leib, a native of Flora, about two hours east of Belleville. “I saw Althoff at (a summer) camp and said, ‘Man, those guys are (bad).’ But they had some talent, some size. So I put my name in the hat and figured if I got the job, I would be there a couple of years and move on to greener pastures.”
Leib got the job all right. Those greener pastures? Well, he never pursued them. There was never any need.
“I got here and fell in love with the mission of building better kids for others. I haven’t messed with happy. Some guys jump around, but I’ve been happy at Althoff. I haven’t messed with it, and I’ve been a blessed guy because of it.”
Leib isn’t sure Althoff would have been his first choice had it not been for Glenn Schott, who at that time was the Crusaders’ athletics director and legendary football coach.
Leib said Schott taught him “the Althoff way,” and it made him appreciate the opportunity he earned.
“Coach Schott played a big part in this because he brought me in,” Leib said. “I think he needed another country boy in the school with him. But he brought me in, and seeing how he had dedicated himself to the Althoff way and how much fun (he had) … His approach made an imprint upon me. I’ve been trying to carry that torch. My torch isn’t nearly as bright as Coach Schott’s.”
One might dispute that point, even Schott. After all, Leib has won 395 games at Althoff and 441 overall, including 46 in four seasons at Roxana High. Leib’s 2015-16 team at Althoff won the Class 3A state championship after finishing second in 2015.
“I hate losing more than I like winning, but sometimes you’ve got to go through that in order to grow and to get better, to get where you want to be,” Leib said. “The year we won state, Chaminade beat us in that shootout at Highland. We were up going into the half. You hate losing those games, but that also helped us refocus on what we needed to do. It helped steer us to getting that state championship.”
Leib said the Crusaders’ state-championship team, led by Jordan Goodwin, Tarkus Ferguson, C.J. Coldon, Keenen Young and Brendon Gooch, was “ultracompetitive.”
“That was a fun group to work with,” Leib said. “I still stay in contact with those guys to this day.”
In 2019, Leib was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“As a coach starting out, I never thought about anything like that,” Leib said of the honor. “It was never the goal. It was a byproduct of having great kids and great assistants over the years. I sure haven’t done it on my own.”
Throughout his career, one of Leib’s staples has been a refusal to surrender to negativity. Even after a difficult loss or a stressful life circumstance, Leib tackles it with equanimity.
“I try to because the alternative is really depressing,” said Leib, who has taught math, geography and current affairs at Althoff. “I don’t want to live my life that way. You see some people struggle with that; it’s easy to fall into that trap. I like to see the good in people, the positive.
“You never know what kind of imprint you’re going to have on a student or a kid at school, so I always try to be a positive influence and have a positive attitude with the kids. If we can make a difference, that little difference might help change (their) course and help them have a more enjoyable life.”
Besides Schott, Leib credits three coaching mentors. Jeff Burkett was Leib’s fifth-grade coach at Clay City Grade School, followed by eighth-grade coach Ron Patridge at Clay City Junior High and Tom Welch at Flora High School.
“All those guys were positive influences on me,” Leib said. “Mr. Burkett made me believe I could play the game of basketball. He put me on this journey. Coach Welch knew how to push my buttons. He made me the player I became. He helped make me the man I am today. He showed me you can push yourself and try. You can work yourself toward goals.”
Leib’s brother, Phil, took over the coaching reins at Flora in 2000 and remains at the Black Diamond Conference school. Retirement is around the corner for Phil Leib, but Greg Leib has no plans to step away.
“Every old coach I talk to tells me to keep doing it. Don’t quit,” Leib said. “I still have the energy for it; I still have the passion for it. I’m going to keep doing it. As long as I’m still making a difference and I still have the passion to do it, I’m going to keep going. I still look forward to practice. I’ve got a great group of kids again this year. We try to help them chase their dreams.”