OAK CREEK – Great football coaches, like great teachers, never really retire. They just move on to something else.
Head coach. Offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach. All different roles and different levels of responsibility. Defensive coordinator. Secondary coach. Consultant. If a team doesn’t have a need at one position, it usually has one at another.
No wonder the great ones usually don’t just ride off into the sunset.
“Football, you never get away from it completely,” Bill Bartholomew said.
The former Milwaukee South coach knows firsthand. He started coaching in 1961 and has been at it almost every year in some capacity ever since.
Bartholomew’s career could be put into three great acts. Act 1: The South years where in 30 seasons he put together a career that got him enshrined into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995. Act 2: The assistant years, a run that had him coaching defensive backs at Concordia, Kenosha Bradford and Oak Creek. Act 3: Let’s call them, the special advisor years. The 80-year-old can’t handle the daily rigor of coaching, but is as sharp mentally as ever, something his son Mike, the Oak Creek head coach, calls upon regularly.
Put it all together and that’s more than 50 years of coaching experience, an experience that will be coming to an end as he knows it in a few weeks.
Mike Bartholomew has announced that this is his last season as the Knights coach. He is moving to Las Vegas where his wife has taken a job thus pulling the curtain on perhaps the most rewarding act a father can witness.
What better compliment than for a son to follow in his father’s footsteps? Mike did that in teaching and coaching. And he’s been pretty successful while adopting a philosophy he has been pretty good at it. And then do it while using the philosophy he watched his father employ.
He kept his cool. He didn’t play favorites.
“We try to do the same thing where we’re going to treat everybody the same,” Bill said. “That’s extremely important. I don’t think you get an entitled athlete at Oak Creek. We try to be pretty tough on them and have pretty high expectations for them.”
Mike Bartholomew is a 33-year coaching veteran and has been a head coach for 17 seasons at Milwaukee Bay View, Kenosha Bradford and Oak Creek. This is his 11th season at Oak Creek where he has compiled a 63-33 record and conference titles in 2012 and ‘14.
Truth be told the father and son have been a package deal over the years. When Mike was an assistant at Concordia and the team needed a defensive backs coach, guess who got the call? And when he took over the programs at Bradford and Oak Creek, guess who was one of his assistants?
He’d love to do more, but Father Time has a way of putting a damper on those kinds of things. Bill always had back problems dating back to his youth even though he went on to play football at Marquette University.
“Pretty much I’ve had back problems all along,” he said. “I had surgery in 2013 and I had a fall on ice in 2014 and so I’m still managing. I had another surgery about a month ago, so we’re working to get it better.”
Bill Bartholomew still manages to stop by practice once a week and his son always gives him a call on the way home from games to get his thoughts.
“He’ll say he noticed this and he noticed that then I’ll take a look at it when I watch the film,” Mike Bartholomew said. “He’s always right.”
Those calls were invaluable. So was his father’s presence over the years.
Wherever Mike Bartholomew lands in Nevada, it will most likely be as an assistant, but he is still going to need some of his father’s advice.
That would have been a challenge a generation ago, but videotape has been replaced by video that can be watched from anywhere thanks to the Internet. Those 1,800 miles between Milwaukee and Las Vegas aren’t as far as they used to be.
“I’m not a technological person because I’m 80 years old and I don’t have the kind of expertise that I probably should have, but Mike does,” Bill Bartholomew said. “He uses Skype and all the other things that are necessary for communication, so maybe I’ll get into that a little bit more.”