When Matt Urbanek was hired as head coach of the International Falls High School boys' basketball team in 1998-99 he faced an immense challenge.
The Falls, known as the home of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski and for 18 appearances in the boys' hockey state tournament, had never made a trip to the boys' basketball state tournament.
It took just two seasons for Urbanek and the Broncos to end the drought. In 1999-2000, the Broncos defeated Pine River-Backus to their first Section 7AA basketball championship. The Falls went on to lose to Staples-Motley in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament.
Urbanek will step into another rebuilding situation at Brainerd High School, which hired him as head coach this week. The Warriors have suffered through four consecutive losing seasons, during which their winning percentage is .344.
"The challenge is there to build a program," the 27-year-old said Wednesday on a visit to Brainerd. "I want to build a program that consistently is a contender. I think I have the ability to do that. That challenge is something that invigorates me. That is something I am excited about. I think there is great potential to do that here."
Urbanek will be the Warriors' fourth head coach in seven years. Bill Heitkamp resigned after the 1995-96 season, Mike Zauhar resigned following the 1998-99 season and Brad Amundson's contract was not renewed after last season.
Urbanek isn't daunted by the coaching turnover in the Warriors' program.
"The opportunity is here to help build a program," he said. "It's an opportunity to work with the younger levels. It's an opportunity not just to build one or two good seasons but to build excellence over time. That opportunity is very attractive to me.
"I will do a couple basketball camps right away in the beginning of June. I'm going to get right into it."
BHS activities director Todd Selk said Urbanek was one of 29 applicants, all but four of whom had head coaching experience.
"I wanted to hire someone that is as excited about us as we are about him, and we found that person," Selk said. "I believe this is a tremendous opportunity, but more importantly Matt believes it's a tremendous opportunity. He's going to bring the energy that's needed to get this program to the level we want it to be at. He's going to do it first-class. He's a first-class type guy. He's going to do it the right way. There's a past tradition that we need to rekindle.
"He's the complete package. He will be every bit as successful in the classroom as he is on the basketball floor."
Urbanek graduated from Luther High School in Onalaska, Wis., in 1992 and from Winona State University in 1997. He played football, basketball, baseball and golf in high school. An eye injury prevented him from competing in college athletics.
In his first year at International Falls he was the girls' basketball head coach. In his first season as boys' basketball head coach the Broncos tied a school record for victories (20). In his three seasons as boys' head coach the Broncos were 52-25.
Urbanek looks forward to meeting Warrior players, getting to know and work with them.
"We will take basketball seriously but at the same time we will have a lot of fun," he said. "Kids have the rest of their lives to be adults. We're playing a sport. We're going to do everything we can to succeed. We're going to work as hard or harder than anybody else but we're going to have a lot of fun doing it. Basketball is a game."
Urbanek is tentatively scheduled to teach social science at BHS.
"The opportunity to be an educator in the Brainerd school system influenced me," he said. "I view myself as much as a teacher as a coach. I have had many people who have told me that Brainerd is a very strong school district, a stable school district. I want to be part of that, the athletic program, the tradition and the other sports."
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