- Gordon Herbert signed a new contract as the head coach of the German national basketball team with one condition: it should still allow him to continue living in Uusikaupunki.
Outside, the temperature hovers around twenty degrees below zero, but inside the swimming hall, it’s warm. Basketball coach Gordon Herbert sits down in the hall’s cafeteria after his morning swim and enjoys a cup of tea.
-I swim about three times a week when in Germany, a bit less frequently here. Swimming keeps an old back injury in check,” Herbert explains.
If the weather were more tolerable outside, he would take a dip in the ice hole at his holiday home in Pyhämaa. For the Canadian-born Herbert, the Finnish nature feels like home. He says he enjoys spending time the most at his holiday home, doing yard work.
– I chop wood, do gardening, and heat the sauna. I enjoy being outdoors, doing all kinds of chores at the cottage is therapeutic for me.
In the extreme cold, Herbert borrows his son’s car, but usually, he moves around his hometown by bike. The distances from his home to the holiday house and into town for errands are easily covered on his new electric bike.
“One of the best things about Uusikaupunki is just this: you don’t need a car for anything here, you can cycle everywhere,” he praises.
In Uusikaupunki, the coach can still walk around the streets in peace. This is despite the fact that Herbert successfully led the German national team to a world championship last fall in one of the world’s most popular sports.
There aren’t many greater achievements available in the world of sports – only the football World Cup stands out more. At the end of the year, Herbert was named Coach of the Year in Germany.
The whirlwind has been accordingly intense.
– For the Germans, the world championship is a huge deal. Everyone recognizes me, comes to talk, and asks for photos together. It’s quite nice, but a lot has happened in a few months,” Herbert says. “Of course, it feels great to achieve something this big. But for me, it’s important to also take the time to enjoy the moment amidst all this. It’s possible at home.
For Gordon Herbert, Uusikaupunki is home. His sons Mikael and Daniel were born and raised in Uusikaupunki, and both his home and holiday house are located in the city.
-Actually, I have never owned property anywhere other than in Uusikaupunki. This is my home. I’m not going anywhere.”
For his coaching career, the hometown has a bittersweet significance: in Uusikaupunki, Herbert got his first opportunity to transition from player to coach in the mid-90s. On the other hand, Korihait from Uusikaupunki is still the only club from which he has been fired as a coach.
-Of course, as a beginning coach, I thought I knew everything about everything.
Later, of course, I realized that I didn’t know anything at all. Developing a coaching philosophy takes time.”
Herbert values his first coaching job less than his experience working as a physical education teacher at the then Viikaisten upper secondary school. He obtained his teaching qualification at the University of Jyväskylä.
The few school years spent with young people rise to one of the most important experiences of his life.
-If I listed my most important experiences, the first would obviously be the births of my children, then the time with the German national team, and third the years as a PE teacher. I got to be part of the world’s best education system for those years, be with young people, and learn from them. I wouldn’t be here without that experience.”
64-year-old Gordon Herbert repeatedly mentions retiring from his career during the conversation. The tactic board is not yet hanging on the nail, but retirement is likely to happen in the coming years.
Could the world champion imagine coaching his hometown team again?
-I’ve never won a league championship in Finland, so that interests me. If a Korisliiga team aiming for a championship wanted to collaborate with me, why not. If that team were Korihait, what could be better,” Herbert says.
However, the next big challenge is already waiting next summer. The German national team has an EM bronze and a World Cup gold from recent years, so the only goal for the Paris Summer Olympics is the championship.
For the coach, this goal means long travel days and hard work around the world. It’s part of the job description and suits Herbert, as long as he also has time to spend at home in Uusikaupunki.
The most important condition for signing the contract was that I could do at least half of the work remotely. I try to spend most of my time at home in Uusikaupunki.”
Yet, there is a special dream related to the upcoming coaching years – to coach together with his own son. Herbert’s younger son Daniel is currently working as an assistant coach for the German top-league team Crailsheim Merlins.
“Daniel is becoming a better coach than I am. I see a lot of similarities between him and [Susijengi coach] Lassi Tuovi. I believe that the next top Finnish coach will be Tuomas Iisalo, and then Daniel Herbert. I hope he gets a head coach position in the German top league, and I could be his assistant coach,” Gordie muses. “Or maybe I’ll go and buy Korihait. My son Mikael could run the club. You never know,” Gordon Herbert says, a boyish grin spreading across his face.
You never know.
Korihait’s success benefits the whole city
Even when in Uusikaupunki, Gordon Herbert enjoys going to basketball games. The world champion emphasizes, however, that he doesn’t watch sports in his free time to evaluate or judge teams’ performances.
-It’s been really great to see Korihait doing so well after a long time. I’ve been impressed with the team’s playing spirit,” he says.
Herbert has witnessed from the front row how basketball success has affected the sport’s popularity and the sense of community in Germany, and believes the same is possible in Uusikaupunki, albeit on a smaller scale.
-Pohitulli is still a very atmospheric hall for games, but it’s great that the city is getting a new arena. It allows the operation to grow to a more professional level,” he says. “Hopefully the new facilities will also bring more local business cooperation. The team’s success benefits the whole city.”
Having played and coached in numerous clubs, Herbert reminds that success doesn’t come without years of relentless background work.
-In Uusikaupunki, there probably wouldn’t be top-league basketball without Tero and Johanna Kutila. They have worked for the club for years without counting hours or money. Their work has been invaluable.