BESSEMER – When Mark Movrich left Bessemer to coach the Lady Samsons of Gogebic Community College, the question quickly arose as to who would take his place as the head basketball coach of the Bessemer Speedboys?
Movrich left no doubt that he was a big supporter of junior varsity coach Jim Partanen. When Partanen was recently hired for the job, Movrich talked about how he had paid his dues in the coaching profession and why he was such a good choice.
"Jim's been involved with the program so long (38 years) that I think he's earned it," Movrich said. "We've coached together for 27 seasons when he was my JV coach on the boys and I was his assistant with the girls. He will be successful for various reasons. He's very knowledgeable about the game and he gets along well with the kids. As a teacher and a coach, he always puts the best interest of the kids first. The kids talk highly of him. Jim's been in our system and program for many years, so it should be an easy transition for the kids."
Partanen also received compliments from rival coaches to the west. Hurley coach Gary Giancola said he coached against Partanen on the junior varsity level for about 12 years and their teams had good, competitive battles, especially in the now-defunct Holiday Tournament.
"He's a good choice and will do a great job," Giancola said. "You can't get anyone more Bessemer than Jim. He's very ready to be a head coach. First, he has a calm demeanor and has gathered the respect of his players. He's very professional, organized and meticulous. He has good rapport with officials and coaches and people trust him. There will be some very good games played this season between the teams in our area."
Both Movrich and Partanen said the "calm demeanor" part can be deceiving to people watching Partanen coach. Movrich said he and Partanen approach the game the same way and both have an intense, competitive side. Movrich kind of laughed when he said that Partanen sometimes has a "calming presence" to him and then there are other times, such as when he got a technical foul in a varsity game, even though he was the JV coach.
"I'm very competitive in wanting to win every game," Partanen said.
Ironwood boys basketball coach, Pete Lewinski, also coached the Ironwood girls team and boys JV team and he said he coached against Partanen in about 15 intense, rivalry games. But Partanen is generally regarded as one of the "nice guys" in coaching and was even invited to Lewinski's surprise 50th birthday party in Ironwood.
"Jim's a good coach and a good man," Lewinski said. "He's been around the game and knows basketball. He'll do a fine job. I think the transition from the player's standpoint will be smooth. We've coached against each other for a long time and now the renewal of that has come full circle. We played competitive games with our girls teams and now it's the boys."
And what was Partanen's reaction to being hired as the boys head coach after being involved in the Bessemer basketball program for so long?
"I'm excited," Partanen said simply. "But I know going from JV to varsity will be a big change. You're much more in the public eye."
It's been a long basketball journey for Partanen. He started coaching grades 5-8 at St. Sebastian in 1975 and then took over as Bessemer's junior varsity girls coach from 1979 through 1985.
In 1988, Partanen was Bessemer's freshman boys coach and then moved up to the JV team in 1992. He was also the girls varsity basketball coach from 1994-2005.
In all, Partanen has been involved in Bessemer's athletic programs for 38 years, 34 as a coach.
Partanen said he has been mainly influenced by three coaches in his coaching career: Dave Johnson (1969-71), Carl Gregas and Movrich.
"Dave Johnson was a defensive coach, especially man defense," he said. "We spent a lot of more time on defense then. I got a lot of coaching philosophy from Carl Gregas on things like how to use personnel. And I was with Mark for so long, a lot of his thinking has rubbed off on me. A lot of the things we'll do will be the same, but there will be some new wrinkles, too."
After being around the game for so long, Partanen has some definite ideas on how it should be played. He will expect 100 percent effort from his players and developed his ideas on competition after being at Movrich's side for so long.
"I want our players to compete every minute of every game," Partanen said. "We want to win, but if we really compete and lose, that's OK. We want to compete and improve every game and by the end of the year be playing our best basketball."
Partanen said that when he first started in coaching, there was more of an emphasis on defense than offense, but that has changed over the years. The reason is simple. If you want to come out the winner in a game, you have to put more points on the board than the other team, so you've got to work on your offense.
And Partanen learned long ago one of the keys to being a successful coach.
"In high school, you can't recruit, so you try to adapt what you do with the talent you have," he said. "You have to find out what your players can do well and put them in situations where they can be succeed. You're not going to press if you have big, slow kids."
In his later years in coaching, Partanen said he has given a lot of his players as much playing time as he could. Players are more motivated and he had a lot of "interchangeable parts." Now, if a real good player is injured or fouls out, he has a player to put in who has played that position.
After 38 years of preparation, Partanen is more than ready to be the Speedboys new head basketball coach.