After a rare year away, Al Biancalana is back on a basketball bench.
Biancalana, a 2015 Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee with 32 years of coaching experience at the high school and college level, was announced as the new head coach at Glenbard East on Wednesday.
He replaces fellow IBCA Hall of Famer Scott Miller, who retired after his 21st season leading the Rams.
Biancalana resigned as head coach at DeKalb in April 2019 to take a dean's job at Glenbard East, with the hope that he would eventually take over at Glenbard East.
"Scott and I have had a really good relationship for many, many years. He was the first person to come to me with the opportunity," Biancalana said. "He has done a tremendous job developing this program. He wanted to make sure when it was his turn [to retire] the program would be in the hands of someone who has the same kind of passion that he does. He has done a wonderful job of building a foundation and developing a culture."
Biancalana began coaching at 16 years old, when he was cut from his sophomore team at Holy Cross in River Grove. He got cut again his junior and senior year, and his senior year of college was the freshman coach at Weber High School.
He went on to coach high school with IHSA regional titles at York, Stagg and Downers Grove North, and also at Clovis, Calif., and Fresno, Calif. Washington Union. In 1988, Biancalana led Washington Union to a California Division IV state title and was named California Coach of the Year. Biancalana, with a career record of 416-219, also was a Division I assistant at Bradley from 1999-2005 and at Illinois-Chicago for four seasons prior to going to DeKalb where he won five straight conference titles.
Taking a year off was difficult, as Biancalana said he left behind probably his best team at DeKalb. But the opportunity to go to Glenbard East, five miles from where the 59-year-old Biancalana lives with his wife and three children, was too great to pass up.
"It was the first time in 43 years I was not in front of a team. To take the year off was difficult and leaving what we had at DeKalb was hard to do," Biancalana said. "At the same time it's changed my life and given me renewed energy."
Biancalana didn't coach last year, but he was hardly far from the game. He attended every Glenbard East varsity game, and also watched the sophomore and freshman teams. He visited area coaches, and got to a couple practices of every high schools every week.
"No. 1, it was quite refreshing," Biancalana said. "I had an opportunity to evaluate each one of our players in the program, and got a really good feel for how we need to move forward in terms of skill development and concepts. It was a great use of my time in terms of becoming a better coach."
Miller won 358 games over a 24-year career, the last 21 at Glenbard East. His 2011 team took third in Class 4A. Last year's team went 22-10 and won a regional title.
Glenbard East athletic director D'Wayne Bates, while tipping his cap to the job Miller did with the Rams, said he looks forward to the program's next chapter under Biancalana.
"Al brings a ton of coaching experience including high school, collegiate, and the professional levels," Bates said. "Being an administrator/dean this past school year afforded him an opportunity to comprehend the bigger scope of Glenbard East, our diverse communities, and how athletics is an important part of total curriculum."
Biancalana faces the challenge of a prime offseason cut off before his first season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he's undaunted.
His first year coaching in California, he didn't get there until the middle of August. He missed the entire summer program, and didn't meet his players until after Labor Day. Then they won the state championship.
"Here's the thing – in these times, personal safety is the most important thing and it drives any conversation," Biancalana said. "As much as you'd like to be with your guys, safety takes precedent. There's a slim chance we could get together later this summer in small groups and I would relish any opportunity.
"It will be different, but no matter what the situation you have to make the best of it."