EDWARDSVILLE — Former Edwardsville High School math teacher and coach Dennis Erlich passed away Monday. He was 69 years old.
Erlich was head coach of the girls golf team from 1994-1997 after arriving in Edwardsville from Red Bud. He also served as an assistant coach for the boys golf team under Dick Gerber before taking the program over from 1998-2005.
In 1996, Erlich started the boys and girls bowling programs at EHS. The Tigers won the boys state title in 2004 under Erlich, who was named National Federation State High School Association Boys Bowling Coach of the Year. He coached both programs until 2006 when he retired from teaching.
After Edwardsville, Erlich coached boys and girls bowling at Belleville West and was later an assistant at Belleville East.
Erlich retired from coaching in 2018, ending a 45-year career. He is a member of the Southern Illinois High School Bowling Conference Hall of Fame and the Illinois Coaches Association Golf Hall of Fame.
A 1969 graduate of Edwardsville High School, where he was a well-rounded athlete, including an all-conference baseball player, Erlich continued his education at SIUE. He played baseball his freshman season before turning to golf and bowling during his sophomore and junior years.
“His bowling career was also outstanding. Dennis was an all-around athlete and he could do anything,” Gerber said.
After graduating from SIUE with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics in 1973, Erlich began teaching and coach at Red Bud. He founded the boys and girls golf programs there and was named the Illinois Coaches Association Golf Coach of the Year in 1979 and 1980. He stayed in Red Bud until 1994.
A call and invitation from Gerber started Erlich’s trek from Red Bud to Edwardsville.
“In 1994, I called Dennis and I asked him if he would like to come to Edwardsville and be the girls golf coach and assistant boys coach because I was looking at retirement in four or five years,” Gerber said. “He said yes and it was a no-brainer for me. That was the start of his career at Edwardsville.
“I knew I had a guy who was a winner and dedicated to both boys and girls golf. I felt that the program was going to be left in great hands whenever I retired.”
With the girls golf program, Erlich’s four years included four state tournament appearances, four regional championships and a sectional championship. He guided EHS to a 17-0 record in 1996.
Kristen Margherio earned medalist honors at the state tournament in 1997.
As head coach of the boys golf team, Erlich led the Tigers to four state tournament appearances, two regional championships and a sectional championship. His 2001 squad went 29-0, which was followed by a 24-1 season in 2002.
Under Erlich, Chris Brant, Andy Gwinup, Brent Holmes, Andrew Jakel and Chris Odom were medalists at the state tournament. Brant had the highest finish of the group, taking third in 2005.
Erlich found plenty of success despite the tall task of following in the footsteps of Gerber, the winningest coach in program history.
Gerber accumulated over 650 wins with state tournament appearances and two runner-up finishes at state, according to IHSA.org, but there was a loss to an Erlich-coached Red Bud team in 1981 that still sticks out.
“In 1981, we went to Red Bud and we got beat by a shot and it was a heartbreaking loss, but it ended up turning out great for us. The kids didn’t want to lose to Dennis, who was a great friend of mine, and we went four years in a row without losing a match,” Gerber said.
After stepping down as coach of the Tigers following the 2005 season, Erlich was succeeded by Dene Schickedanz.
A former head coach at Alton, Schickedanz called Erlich a mentor and friend.
“I learned a lot from Denny, along with (former Belleville East coach) Jim Reynolds, who has passed away as well. Dick Gerber also gave me some great advice, as did Todd Cress when he was head coach at Alton,” Schickedanz said. “I came up under those four coaches and if you look at the entire state of Illinois, I don’t think you can find four better coaches to learn from.”
After learning of Erlich’s passing, Schickedanz went to the driving range to hit golf balls in his memory.
“He had an unforgettable laugh and he was a sweet person and a great coach and a great teacher. We became educators because we love kids,” Schickedanz said.
Erlich’s coaching success extended to the bowling alley.
In 2004, Erlich led the Tigers to their first-ever state championship and Zach Hahs won the individual championship. EHS won by nearly 400 pins despite trailing by 72 pins going into the final three games of the series.
“I knew I had a good team, probably one of the best I’ve ever had,” Erlich said after winning the state championship. “But to do this, you have to have a lot of things fall into line. I just kept telling them to make the cut. And we made the cuts and kept making the cuts. The kids responded to everything very well. It was a dream season.”
After retiring from teaching in 2006 to spend more time with his family, Erlich continued to play plenty of golf.
Erlich’s final round came less than two months ago.
“Andy Gwinup, Vince Hughes and I took Denny out for his last round of golf about a month and a half ago at Stonewolf. We played it up huge like a Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match with a lot of smack talking between me and Gwinup, and Denny and his wife made up a special prize for whoever won,” Schickedanz said. “We thought Denny would be able to play about three holes, but he played all nine holes and he played really well.
“His favorite place to eat was TGI Fridays and we went to the one right by Stonewolf for lunch. Denny was smiling and laughing and having a good time. He was just a great person.”
Erlich is survived by his wife, Susan Erlich nee Twesten of Belleville; sons, Jacob Benjamin Oser of Fairview Heights, Illinois, and Joshua Matthew Oser of Edwardsville; and grandchildren, Jacob Isaac Oser and Adelin Sophia Oser.