Editor's note: This story was originally published May 4, 2004 in the News-Democrat
In a matter of months, Joe Muniz went from being a volunteer assistant with the Belleville West basketball program to being hired Monday as the Maroons' coach.
The 29-year-old Collinsville High graduate and former Kahoks assistant replaces Bill Schmidt, who had been West's coach since 1988.
"I'm sure it will surprise a lot of people, because this is one of the best jobs in Southern Illinois, if not the state," said Muniz, an assistant under Bob Bone at Collinsville from 1998 to 2003 before coming to West. "I'm sure there's a lot of highly qualified head coaches that applied for the job. But I think my experience in the past has helped me prepare for this — and given me the opportunity to do this.
"You have to be given an opportunity, and I hope to make the best of it."
Muniz, a two-sport star at Collinsville who played college baseball at the University of Iowa, was hired as a math teacher and sophomore baseball coach at Belleville West last summer.
"He really made a great impression on the people at Belleville West in a very short period of time," said Schmidt, whose teams were 243-197 in 16 seasons.
The Maroons were 28-2 this season — losing to Carbondale in the sectional championship — and were 100-23 in the past four years.
West's search for a new coach began after the season ended. Among the reported candidates was Nashville High coach Darin Lee, who decided to remain with the Hornets.
"We had two internal candidate and a multitude of external candidates," said Brent Clark, the District 201 superintendent. "We were very open-minded on the search while keeping a close eye on the internal candidates. We were very methodical and private, and we've ended up with an excellent coach."
Bone gave Muniz a strong endorsement.
"People like him don't come along very often," said Bone, who coached Muniz in high school and later hired him as his freshman coach. "He's a special individual, and they're very fortunate to hire someone of that quality.
"I felt completely comfortable with Joe in any aspect of our program."
When Clark was talking with new Belleville West teachers last August, Muniz seemed strangely familiar.
That's because Clark once was an assistant basketball coach at Carbondale High School, and his Terriers played Muniz's Kahoks three times — including a win over Collinsville at the 1991 Carbondale Super-Sectional.
"He had a pretty good game," Clark recalled. "We had a pretty good game plan for him, but Joe's a competitor. He was always hard to guard, being left-handed and lanky, and he had a nose for the ball."
Coaching basketball at West was a bonus, according to Muniz.
"We didn't have any official openings on our staff, but he was there as much as anybody else," Schmidt said. "That really showed how dedicated he was and how much he really wanted to be a basketball coach. Every decision that was made this past year, Joe was a part of it."
Muniz thanked Bone for allowing him to build coaching confidence.
"I learned so much from him as a player, not just about basketball but life in general," Muniz said. "I owe a lot of who I am today because of the way he was with me when I played.
"He didn't treat me as a freshman coach. He allowed me to do a lot of things to help prepare me for this job."
Clark said Muniz's work under Schmidt and Bone helped create a solid coaching candidate.
"Joe's a class guy, and he has a really good feel for the game, a good way of expressing where he would like to take the program," Clark said. "We felt like a cross-section of those two programs blended itself into some pretty good potential."
The Maroons lose a lot from their 2003-04 squad, including Xavier Price (Purdue), J.B. Jones (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) and Sean McPeak (football at Eastern Illinois).
But starter Arthur Sargent and key reserve Will Jones return with a promising junior-varsity squad.
"These guys practiced every day against one of the best teams in the state of Illinois last year," Muniz said. "The biggest thing we've got to do is get them to the level where they can compete and be successful for next year."