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  • Val T.

Where are they now? Garrett Winegar

Rochester grad balances being husband, father while guiding Fishers to 4A title


BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

After winning the Class 4A semistate at Elkhart North Side Gym, the Fishers boys basketball team headed home driving south on U.S. 31 on March 16.

That’s when Garrett Winegar asked the bus driver to stop at a truck stop when the bus reached Rochester, so the team could take a photo with their newly earned trophy.

The Fishers coach wanted to remind his players from where he came.

Winegar’s coaching journey reached its apex two weeks later when Fishers beat Ben Davis 65-56 to win the state title.

In barely more than a decade, he has gone from coaching the seventh-graders at Jackson Creek Middle School in Bloomington to winning a state title.

But it all started here for Winegar, a 2010 Rochester grad and a reserve on Rochester’s 2009 Class 3A state runner-up team.

“I really enjoyed going to Rochester schools and growing up there,” Winegar said. “I have so many great friends still from there and was able to play for so many good coaches all the way through. And I think that really develops you. For me, athletics was something that certainly developed a work ethic and got me focused in the right direction. … That’s something I look back on fondly.”

At 32, Winegar has already been a player for a team that played in a state championship game, been an assistant coach in a state championship game and been a head coach in a state championship game.

Fishers had never so much as won a sectional prior to the 2023-24 season, and the possibilities of that changing might not have seemed high last July when Jalen Haralson, a 6-7 forward who is considered one of the country’s top recruits – he’s ranked No. 9 in ESPN’s Class of 2025 rankings – chose to transfer to LaPorte LaLumiere.

Led by Indiana All-Star Keenan Garner and Stanford football recruit JonAnthony Hall, Fishers proceeded to go 29-1 without him. They avenged their only loss to Carmel in the sectional and later beat No. 2 Noblesville on Noblesville’s home floor to win their first sectional.

Then they beat No. 4 Kokomo and eventual Mr. Basketball Flory Bidunga in the regional. Then they took down Crown Point and Fort Wayne Wayne in the semistate.

Finally, they beat Ben Davis, who had won state the previous year.

“I don’t know if it’s changed much,” Winegar said when asked how winning state has changed his life. “Obviously, I think it validates what we’re doing in our program. It was really exciting to see our players experience that. I had an opportunity to play in a state championship game or be a part of one as a player and then as an assistant coach and then to do it as a head coach and to just see it through the players’ eyes, it was awesome for them to have that experience. But as far as changing my life, I don’t really know that much has changed.”

He said he began to feel good about the team’s chances as early as the open gyms during the fall.

The regional win over Kokomo was the team’s second win of the season over the Wildkats. Winegar said a 77-55 win over Kokomo on Dec. 9 in the regular season was a sign of what the team was capable of doing.

“Probably the Forum Tipoff Classic this year,” Winegar said. “We played Kokomo in the featured game … about a month into the season. We really played well, and the way we were moving the ball and how connected we were on the floor, and I think we ended up winning the game by 20 or so against Kokomo, who was a top five team in the state. I think we all kind of realized we have a chance here to do something special. At that point, you had been able to see the other teams in the state, and we knew there were some really good teams, but we thought we had the chance to play with anybody, and from there, the rest took care of itself, I guess.”

Winegar took over the Fishers job in May 2020 after one season as the head coach at Warren Central. He replaced Matt Moore, who left to take the Warsaw coaching job.

Warren Central went 18-6 in his only season as coach. Prior to that, he had assisted Criss Beyers for three years in which the Warriors went 76-6 and won a Class 4A state title in 2018. One of the star players on the 2018 team was David Bell, who later played football at Purdue and is now a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns.

When Beyers left to take the Franklin Central coaching job, Warren Central’s first hire was Kristof Kendrick. But after Kendrick left Warren Central before coaching his first game to take an assistant coaching job at Bradley University, Warren Central then hired Winegar.

“He has a great basketball mind,” Warren Central athletic director Marques Clayton told the IndyStar upon hiring Winegar. “He reminds you a lot of a young Brad Stevens or similar to a coach like Ryan Osborn (at Carmel). He’s kind of in that same vein. I think he’s one of those coaches that if you don’t hire him now, it might be hard to hire him 10 years from now because he will be long gone somewhere else.”

Before arriving at Warren Central, Winegar also spent a year assisting Bloomington South coach and IHSAA all-time winningest coach J.R. Holmes.

The middle school opportunity in Bloomington arose while he was studying in the sports journalism program at Indiana University. By Christmas of his first year, he said he told his father that he thought he wanted to pursue coaching.

He said he left Warren Central for Fishers because Fishers was closer to where his family lived.

“We had a lot of young talent coming back on that team,” Winegar said of his year as the Warren Central coach. “Some guys I was really close with. I had no intentions of leaving. But we lived in the Fishers area. We were at that time about eight or nine minutes from the high school. … We lived in that area. That’s where my kids were going to grow up at the time. That’s where my wife was. When the job opened up, it just made sense for my family.”

Winegar’s first Fishers team went 14-7 in 2020-21. They improved to 21-3 in 2021-22. They dropped to 14-12 in 2022-23, which included an 0-4 record in overtime games and two other losses by five or fewer points. He said he started three sophomores, a young team in the competitive battleground of central Indiana basketball.

Winegar’s style combines X’s-and-O’s strategy, player development and motivation. Add in fundraising and other parts of the job plus his job teaching physical education and weights, and being a coach can be all-consuming.

“It’s so year-round now with limited contact,” Winegar said. “Spring limited contact started the Monday after the state finals game. So we played the state finals on a Saturday, and you could start two days a week two days later. So even when I just played 15 years ago or however long it was, there was so much more time when you weren’t with the team, or it was more unstructured open gym-style whereas now all fall from Labor Day to the season and then in the spring you can go two days a week or five or six weeks, there’s really no down time.”

Winegar speaks of holding players “extremely accountable.” In an era where players often have their own personal basketball trainers, Winegar draws up player development plans that are individualized for each player. The key is making players feel like family.

“In today’s game with today’s player, I think the relationship piece is huge,” Winegar said. “We hold our guys extremely accountable. We’re going to coach them hard, and they have to know that you love them and you care about them in order for players to want to do what we ask them to do. I mention it’s so year-around, but on top of that, just the demands of being a basketball player at Fishers in the 4A level and our sectional, it’s a commitment and it’s a full-time job in itself. I think that relationship piece is as big now as it’s ever been.”

Winegar said his Fishers team’s camaraderie set it apart.

“This team was probably as connected and loved each other as much as any group I’ve been around, and when you enjoy going to practice every day, and I think they did,” Winegar said. “Obviously, there are ups and downs in the season, but when you enjoy what you’re doing and you enjoy who you’re going to work with every day, I think that leads to positive results on the floor.”

And while he speaks of his team as a family, his own personal family controls to grow. Winegar became a father during the season when his son Ruckus was born on Dec. 22. He followed sons Guyton, 4, and Griff, 2.

“Having three kids at the house is no joke,” Winegar quipped.

In an on-court interview at Gainbridge Fieldhouse after winning state that was broadcast over the public address system, he called his wife Sable the “MVP” for taking care of their children. A game day during the season could mean he is away from home as early as 6 a.m. if some kids need to get to school early for some early morning extra shooting to as late as 10 p.m. if the game is on the road.

For home games, Winegar gets to spend time with the kids during the JV game. By the time the varsity game starts, the kids need to be home to make their 8 p.m. bedtime.

“I think being a dad, especially, you know, you start to see things through yourself as a dad when you coach whereas maybe it makes you a little more empathetic to the players now,” Winegar said. “You start to see your own kids in them a little bit. And you’re around these guys so much, you start to love them like your own kids. So I think for me, it’s maybe softened me a little, not that it’s going to change the standards or how we’re going to hold them accountable but maybe improve my ability to deliver that ability a little bit better. And I think as a husband, I hope that being a husband makes me able to just see things from a different perspective. You always have things with your wife that you’re not going to agree with and the same thing with your players. I think if anything, I try to make sure that being a coach doesn’t make me worse at those things, and sometimes it does.

“But, yeah, I think being a dad has definitely shifted my perspective a little bit on how I talk to the guys at times and deliver the message that needs to be delivered.”

Meanwhile, his Rochester family stays close. His parents Dee and her husband Mike and stepsisters Lauren, Megan and Mallory all follow the Tigers as do his sisters Kacy and Karli. Sister Karli Murphy, a 2014 Rochester grad and a former Lady Z basketball player, keeps stats on an iPad near the bench.

“She’s right there with me every game,” Winegar quipped. “Sometimes she has to calm me down a little bit.”

He also said many Rochester friends and former teachers sent him congratulatory notes and texts on winning state.

A mentor was Rochester assistant coach Rex Reinholt, who was an assistant coach during his playing days and who was somebody he later contacted for coaching advice.

Another ally is Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Pete Smith, a 1979 Rochester grad who  coached Guerin Catholic to state titles in 2012 and 2015. Smith is retired from coaching now but still works as a broadcaster for ISC Sports Network, and he has broadcasted many Fishers games.

“He’s been awesome,” Winegar said. “Obviously, he covers some of our games because he does stuff with ISC, but he came this year and spoke to our team in the middle of the season at practice, and over the last four or five years, even when I was at Warren, he’s just been extremely supportive of me as a coach, and I’ve really appreciated of it. That’s been great to have someone else in the profession who has had a ton of success in it and is there supporting me that’s from Rochester. It’s always funny. You think you’re from this small town, but it’s just amazing how many people have connections to Rochester. Like when I say I’m from Rochester, so many people will say, ‘Oh, I know this person there,’ or ‘I used to go to Lake Manitou,’ or whatever the case may be.”

Asked what his career goals are, he said his short-term plans remain to stay at Fishers. But he also has longer-term plans at the next level.

“I think in the back of my mind, going to college is always something that I have in mind,” Winegar said. “I just don’t know when that looks bright, and it’s probably not anytime soon. I have a 6-month-old, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and I’m enjoying this phase of life being able to at least be home as much as I can while they’re at home while they’re little, but if a few years pass – three, four, five years, whatever that looks like – if things continue to go in this direction and my kids are starting to get in school, maybe I would consider that if the right opportunity came. That’s kind of where I’m at with it. As far as the high school game goes, I’m really excited about what we’re building at Fishers. You get to a point where where are you going to go at the high school level? We kind of have our program built how I want it, and I’m not sure I want to go do that again, but I think the opportunity to coach in college and coach at that level is always something that has always excited me. It’s obviously very hard to get that opportunity, so it’s something I’ll always be thinking about and trying to work toward at some point.”


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