The obituary simply read that 87-year-old Ed Siegel died Wednesday in Indianapolis from COVID-19. But to those whose lives the longtime Pike High School basketball coach in northwest Indianapolis touched, he was more than a man. He was an inspiration.
Siegel, a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, won 458 games in a 33-year coaching career with stops at Indiana high schools in Stillwell, Southwestern, Boonville and Pike.
Among his former players are current Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and Team Penske President Tim Cindric.
“He was a great mentor,” Cindric told NBCSports.com about his former coach. “It was another lesson in effort equals results and prepared me for a leadership role to be a captain of a team. As a high school senior, I was in the spotlight of the Indiana high school basketball that we all knew, which was larger than life as a high school student. He gave you those responsibilities to carry and the ability to lead with your teammates and understand what success really came from.”
Cindric learned the qualities of teamwork and leadership that have carried him far in his racing career. He graduated from Pike High School in 1986 and earned a college basketball scholarship at Rose Hulman University in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Though Cindric is a member of the Rose Hulman Athletic Hall of Fame, it was an engineering degree that paid off for Cindric. He went to work for TrueSports Racing, which featured Bobby Rahal as its driver. Rahal would purchase the team, and Cindric was a team manager before Roger Penske hired him as Team Penske president in 1999.
As the head of the famed Team Penske operation, Cindric utilizes leadership and teamwork on a daily basis. They are the core fundamentals of the team.
He learned those qualities early in life, from Coach Siegel.
“What I enjoyed the most about our team, is it was a team,” Cindric recalled. “Our group really understood what our roles were. We understood our strengths and weaknesses very well. I wasn’t the highest scorer on the team, but I was the best rebounder on the team. That was my role. I knew my role was in the paint and not outside of the paint.
“The mentality that we had and what he coached as to provide what was best for the team to win. There was very little emphasis on individual statistics and individual contributions aside from what the final score was. It was a great atmosphere from that perspective.”
Two of the greatest college coaches in basketball history were from Indiana. UCLA legend John Wooden was from Martinsville, Indiana, and was the first three-time member of the All-America team at Purdue University. Although Bob Knight was from Orrville, Ohio, he was a Hoosier state legend as the basketball coach at Indiana University.
“Coach Siegel was closer to a Bobby Knight than he was a John Wooden,” Cindric said. “He was much more vocal. If you didn’t know him, and if you took what he said personal, you didn’t last very long on the team because you would be frustrated getting yelled at when you didn’t do it right. That didn’t faze me too much. I had been through other athletics and other coaches who approach it the same way. He had a lot of passion and emotion. It wasn’t in some way that was physical. He would yell at you to get your attention, but usually, you deserved it.
“That’s not really my approach. You take your personality and have to develop your personality within the organization that you work for regardless if it’s racing or somewhere else. There is an expectation in terms of the approach the leaders have, and the image leadership portrays.
“Roger Penske is more of a John Wooden character, than a Bob Knight character. In the times I’ve worked for him, I’ve continued to marvel at the way he has been able to control his emotions but have as much passion as anyone else.”
On the basketball court, Cindric was a star at Pike High School. His senior year, Pike was highly ranked before class basketball came to Indiana. The class system started in the 1997-98 season. Cindric’s senior year was 1986, and Pike was one of the top teams in the entire state with realistic expectations of making it to the state’s Final Four.
After winning the Marion County Tournament, Pike was ready to begin its run to the state finals in the Ben Davis Sectionals. But a week before the sectionals began, Cindric broke his ankle in P.E. class.
Cindric played every other game in the sectional until the team met Ben Davis High School on its home court. According to Cindric, Pike lost by 1 or 2 points.
“We lost to Ben Davis both my junior and senior years,” Cindric recalled. “Our claim to fame my senior year was winning the Marion County Tournament. The last time I saw Coach Siegel was a couple of years ago when I was at Indy during the month of May. I was elected to the Silver Anniversary team, which is the 25th anniversary of your senior year. I was elected to that and was with Coach Siegel at the Hall of Fame for that in New Castle, Indiana.
“Without a doubt, he helped prepare you for life. He was the economics teacher and very well-respected in the community and the things he stood for. You couldn’t ask for anyone more committed to the community and to the school.
“Last night, quite a few of my teammates were in the group texts telling stories and reminiscing about all the good things that went on within the team and that era. It brought back a lot of good memories and was fun.”
Siegel coached the Pike Red Devils for 25 seasons, guiding them to their first sectional and regional titles. By the time he retired in 1995, Pike High School had won 19 total titles — county, conference, sectional and regional — in the basketball-crazy state of Indiana. He won five Marion County Tournament titles and eight Central Suburban Athletic Conference titles.
Indiana began the multiclass basketball tournament started in 1997-98. Pike won the first 4A state title.
Siegel demanded excellence of his players on the basketball court and that brought him joy.
Basketball also brought Siegel personal tragedy. His son, Mark, was a member of the University of Evansville Purple Ace basketball team. On December 13, 1977, Air Indiana Flight 216 crashed after losing control shortly after takeoff from Evansville Regional Airport in Evansville, Indiana. Mark Siegel and every member of the team except David Furr was killed in the crash.
Just two weeks after the crash, Furr and his younger brother, Byron, were killed in a car crash near Newton, Illinois.
Mark Siegel was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on March 25.
“I called Coach to congratulate him on that,” Cindric recalled. “I tried to call him a few weeks ago, but he wasn’t reachable.”
Last Wednesday, Siegel lost his battle to COVID-19.
Deaths from COVID-19 are beginning to hit home. The realization is before this is over, everybody will probably know someone who has had to battle this horrible virus that has shut down the world in 2020.
“It helps you realize this is real,” Cindric said.