Gary Regal named new Oconto Falls boys basketball coach

Hirst out after seven-year run

Gary Regal, center, was recently hired as the Oconto Falls varsity boys basketball coach. Regal brings plenty of coaching experience with him, having coached at Suring for 27 years, including 14 as the varsity coach. Regal will replace Kirk Hirst, who resigned after the end of the most recent season. (Contributed photo)

The Oconto Falls High School boys basketball team will be under the direction of a new head coach starting in the 2019-20 season after the recent hire of Gary Regal.

Regal will replace Kirk Hirst, who coached the Panthers for seven seasons.

When Hirst resigned following the end of the most recent season, one of the first people he told was Regal, trying to gauge his interest in the program.

Regal, 56, brings plenty of experience into the job. He coached at Suring for 27 years, including 14 as the varsity head coach.

Regal stepped away from coaching in March 2013, but was eager to get back into it a couple years later. Everything fell into place for Regal when the Oconto Falls position was opened.

“A year or two later (after resigning from Suring), I kind of had the itch to get back in (to coaching) but was waiting for a situation that felt right and was close by,” Regal said. “I’ve always had the passion to coach, but sometimes after doing something for so long, you need to get out for a bit. Some little things started to bug me. But now I’m refreshed and ready to go again.”

Along with the vast experience he brings, Regal also has an incredible track record.

Before Regal took over at Suring, the team struggled with consistency, and during some seasons, had difficulty winning any games at all. By the time Regal stepped away in 2013, he had helped build Suring into one of the top Division 5 teams in the state.

Over his final six seasons as the Eagles’ coach, Suring compiled a 128-23 record. During that run, which was Regal’s second stint as the Eagles’ varsity coach, the team won a pair of Marinette & Oconto Conference titles and was the state runner-up in the 2007-08 season.

Regal, who credited Suring’s youth program for the school’s turnaround in his tenure, said he hopes to build off of what Hirst built and take Oconto Falls to the next level.

“My mindset is to have structure all the way from the feeder program up to the varsity program,” Regal said. “Get everybody on the same page — coaches, players and everybody else — and try to build a base from the bottom up.”

“I’m going in kind of blind to the Oconto Falls program, looking from the outside in,” Regal continued. “But we have to put more time in during the summer, a little more commitment. I think it’s a program we can build and I’m going to give it my best shot.”

Hirst, who cited wanting to spend more time with his family as one of the top reasons for stepping down, thanked the coaches, volunteers and parents that helped make his tenure at Oconto Falls a memorable one.

He noted how there wasn’t a solid youth program in place and that the team was not well-respected when he took the job. While Hirst knows the team’s records over the year might not be the best testament to what the team became, he applauded how the athletes handled it all.

“We are now, in my opinion, respected around the area as a program. People generally, when they come to play us, know that it’s not an easy win anymore,” Hirst said. “I think in the past, a lot of people took us for granted and I don’t think anybody can take Oconto Falls basketball for granted anymore and I’m happy about that. The kids really worked their butts off and bought into everything that we tried to do in order for that to happen.”

Jerry Moynihan, Oconto Falls’ athletic director, said the school had six applicants for the position, including one from Illinois. When the interview process concluded, Moynihan said Regal and his track record stood out.

Moynihan expressed optimism in where the program could go under Regal, but also noted that it’s only ready to take that step because of what Hirst accomplished.

“We appreciate all the hard work he put into the program over the seven years,” Moynihan said. “He was an assistant for one year, then replaced Barry Harris, and we are thankful for the time he put in and all the hard work he put in with the kids and program.”

Oconto Falls is coming off a 5-19 season and 2-16 finish in the North Eastern Conference. The Panthers pulled an upset in their first playoff game before being topped in a regional semifinal.