BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – After twice dipping into the coach’s pool and hiring young, inexperienced high school coaches, the Kokomo Wildkats went a different route in finding the boys basketball programs 25th head coach – in fact, they chose a coach with a state championship resume.
A mere 13 days after the resignation of Matt Moore, Kokomo hired former Indianapolis Tindley head coach Bob Wonnell to lead the Kats – a move that Athletic Director Jason Snyder is thrilled with.
“He is super energetic and super passionate and has and extremely strong background,” said Snyder. “He could potentially take us to the next level. I think kids will respond to him.”
Wonnell said he was thrilled to have been offered the Kokomo position.
“I must admit, after I was offered the position, and said ‘Yes’, I made sure I was alone – and then I did a little fist pump before calling my wife, my Mom, and my son Bobby,” said the new Kats coach. “I was so thrilled to be the Kokomo High School boys’ basketball coach. I cannot wait to meet the players and get started.”
Wonnell arrives in Kokomo weeks after stepping down after leading Tindley to the IHSAA Class 1A state championship. At the time, he told Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star that, “There comes a time where you want to try something different.” Turns out, that was a jump to Class 4A and a premier program and conference in the state of Indiana.
“The passion he shows towards his players and the program and what he wants to do here at Kokomo is exciting,” said Snyder. “He referred to Kokomo as a blue chip program and he really wants to bring championships back to Kokomo. And I think he is excited about being a part of the Kokomo community.”
Wonnell coached Tindley for 10 seasons, amassing a 155-87 record. During his time leading the program, the Tigers had winning campaigns eight times and won three sectional titles. He coached Tindley during its first year as an eligible IHSAA tournament program.
“I feel the experiences at Tindley have prepared me for this wonderful opportunity at Kokomo,” said Wonnell. “I consider Kokomo a dream job. I was proud to simply receive an interview. As someone who loves the game of basketball, I was a competitor who always wanted to play at the highest level possible, and against the best players possible. Now, I wish to coach at that highest level, and Kokomo and the North Central Conference offer me that chance to coach in the best, and most historic, conference in the state of Indiana.”
“He really developed the Tindley program,” added Snyder. “It is an academy and really focuses on education and he did a fantastic job in that environment. We are really excited about him.”
Snyder said Kokomo is getting the best candidate available despite the position being open less than two weeks.
“We were very fortunate to have some outstanding candidates that applied,” said Snyder. “They all wanted a short process because of the summer being here. So we got the interviews done quickly. If we didn’t feel this was the best fit for the basketball program, we would not have announced it today. We are very confident that Coach Wonnell is the best candidate for our program.”
Wonnell is a 1996 Beech Grove High School graduate where he played football, basketball and baseball. He went on to play basketball at Marian College for two seasons before transferring to Earlham College. Wonnell had a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in education.
After graduating from the University of Indianapolis, he was hired as an assistant coach at Cardinal Ritter for one season. He departed and spent a year at Morristown and three seasons at Arlington as an assistant before landing the Tindley job. But he is now leaving the smaller school behind and is ready to roam the sidelines of one of the most famous gyms in Indiana.
“Memorial Gym is one of the largest stages in the state, as well as one of the most historic,” said Wonnell. “What a beautiful facility. I have never coached in a gym with more than two baskets. I am looking forward to building on the history of the Kokomo program.”
Wonnell, who is licensed to teach history and physical education, has been married for 13 years to Monica, and they have three children who will enroll in the Kokomo School Corporation – Bobby (13), Rilyn (12) and Russell (4).
“I love to coach basketball at all levels and genders,” said Wonnell on his IHSAA state finals biography. “With all my free time, I enjoy spending time with my wife, kids and family, who mean more to me than anything in the world.”