Dennis Chattin’s recipe for coaching success includes putting in the effort
By Bill Richardson
It’s not as hard for Dennis Chattin to recruit good golfers to come to Vincennes University as it used to be.
The Trailblazers’ three national championships, won in 2013, 2016 and one year ago, no doubt have something to do with that, but that’s not all there is to it.
“People do, I guess, recognize that we’ve had some success,” said Chattin, who has been in charge of Trailblazer program since 2003. “It certainly helps, if I can get them here to visit, for them to see the three national championship trophies.”
‘A way of making us believe’
Chattin has a believer in Zach Breault, the top player on last year’s squad that won the national championship at Chautauqua Golf Club in Chautauqua, New York. A graduate of Red Hill High School in Lawrence County, Illinois, Breault credits Chattin for his own success, as well as the success of the team.
“He had a way of making us believe that we could win,” said Breault, now a member of the team at the University of Southern Indiana. “He saw to it that our team was really well taken care of. He knew when he maybe needed to step in and say something to you, and he knew when it was kind of time to back off and let you do your own thing.”
Breault says he’s better, for having played at VU, and not just on the golf course.
“With me, it was maybe more mental than it was physical,” Breault said. “But he definitely made me mature as a golfer, a whole lot, for sure.”
Like any winning coach, Chattin gives the credit to his players. But there’s also a philosophy that’s led to those championships, as well as a number of other national placings.
“When I took (the job), I just kind of make a commitment to myself and the university that we would play with good kids, we would play good competition and we would play good golf courses,” said the 70-year-old Chattin. “If you had to boil it down to something, that’s kind of what I’ve tried to do, and it’s been a success.”
In addition, Chattin has always been one to go the extra mile, while coaching and in other aspects of his life. When he has players who are willing to do the same, good things generally happen.
“If you’re going to be successful, you need to be willing to do what other people are not willing to do,” he said. “I didn’t come up with that saying, but it’s a truism, be it in sports, or in a job, or in your family life. You’ve got to put forth the effort and be willing to do what some people aren’t willing to do.”
Much of that work ethic was instilled in Chattin while growing up on a family farm near Bruceville. His class was the first to go all four years to North Knox High School and he graduated from there in 1967. Later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Indiana State University, while also serving a six-year stint in the U.S. National Guard.
He taught math for 10 years at North Knox High School, where he was also golf coach and served as an assistant basketball coach. In his final two years as golf coach, his North Knox teams advanced from large sectional fields to compete at the Indiana High School Athletic Association regional.
In 1981, he switched careers and quickly worked his way through the ranks with Farm Bureau Insurance.
“I decided to give it a year to see if I liked it, and as they say I never looked back,” he said. “Thirty-two years later I retired from the insurance business.”
He worked as an agent for several years, then became an agency manager for Knox, Daviess, Martin and Sullivan counties. He eventually became a regional sales director over 32 Indiana counties, before retiring on Jan. 1, 2013.
A later start than many
Chattin was actually a late-comer to the game of golf. Although North Knox offered the sport while he was in high school, he didn’t begin playing until he was in college.
He credits a friend from Bicknell, Steve Vertrees, for getting him off to a good start.
“We roomed together in college, and he taught me how to play, basically,” Chattin said. “Fortunately, he taught me how to play the right way from the beginning. Not that I was ever a great player, but he gave me a good background.”
Chattin is admittedly old school in his approach to teaching the game and dealing with young players. Team members remove their caps when they enter a building. Also, when the team gathers for meals or meetings, cell phones and other devices must be put away.
“I think a lot of that helps make you a team,” he said. “And I think the kids need to know about social skills. Really, we’ve had fun with it.”
All of the winning has also been fun, too.
“But I try not to make it totally about that,” Chattin said. “I think, as a coach, you owe life lessons to players. I’m old school in a lot of ways, but it’s kind of fun seeing traditions being handed down from one team to the next.”
For how much longer it will continue is anyone’s guess. Chattin has a lot of time invested, and he enjoys the players, the competition and “the coaching aspect of things.”º
“But if I could find the right person to turn the reins over to, I would do so, because I think you need to move things along,” he said. “You need to set it up for the next person and keep the program alive.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue to do what he’s done. It’s already been a busy spring for the Trailblazers, but the most important competition lies ahead. The NJCAA region championship will take place on the Donald Ross course in French Lick, May 12 and 13. The championships are May 21-24 at the Swan Lake Golf Courses in Plymouth, Indiana.
With Chattin in charge, a fourth national championship isn’t out of the question.