Disabato: Lockport needs right man to right the ship
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato November 27, 2013 8:04PM
Lockport's Jake Christensen in 2003. | File photo
Updated: December 30, 2013 12:19PM
This might come as a surprise to many, especially teenagers, but there was a time when Lockport football was the absolute best in the entire state.
The cream of the crop.
The program all looked up to and aspired to be.
And it wasn’t that long ago, friends.
In 2002 and ’03, the Porters won back-to-back Class 8A championships behind quarterbacks Steve Walker and Jake Christensen.
And they were in prime position to make it a three-peat, registering a 9-0 regular season in ’04. But little known Lincoln-Way East, which had opened its doors in 2001, stunned the Porters 14-6 in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs.
It was a shock heard around the Southland — or maybe that was Christensen’s father screaming at the Porters coaching staff afterward.
I kid ... to an extent.
Since that fateful ’04 season, Lockport has gone 38-48 and missed the playoffs (five times) more than it has qualified (four).
It’s a perplexing fall. How does a program win consecutive state championships and go 9-0 the following regular season and then begin a prodigious drop into the sea of mediocrity?
Wouldn’t you think the success would ignite a long-standing winning tradition?
It’s not as if the demographics of Lockport and neighboring Homer Glen significantly have been altered.
Whatever the reason — and I have some to discuss with you in a moment — it cost coach Don McKillip his job Tuesday. Two days before Thanksgiving, nonetheless.
McKillip’s a good guy and knows the game of football. However, those two intangibles do not guarantee success. He guided the ship for three seasons, amassing an 11-18 mark, including 3-6 this season.
McKillip took the fall, but like I said earlier, this program was wallowing in mediocrity for nearly a decade, including the final six of Bret Kooi’s mostly outstanding 17-year tenure. From 2005 to ’10, the Porters finished 3-6, 5-5, 4-5, 4-5, 6-4 and, in Kooi’s final season, 5-5.
The good news, for Lockport fans, is that the school is intent on finding the right man for the job. Lockport will embark on a search similar to Homewood-Flossmoor’s four years ago, when it hired Craig Buzea to right a ship that was badly sinking in 2009. Like 1-8 bad.
Buzea has gone 34-12 the past four seasons. H-F is, once again, a powerhouse.
Which is what Lockport has aspirations to be with its new hire, according to athletic director Brian Goff.
“We want to find someone who can build a program and compete for conference championships and qualify for the playoffs on a regular basis,” said Goff, in his fourth year as A.D. “We want a different face on the program. We’re going to get this right.”
For Lockport, that likely means hiring a veteran coach. Someone who has experience building a program. Someone who will devise an offense that fits the strengths of the players.
Whoever it may be and there are some interesting names already being bandied about, his first order of business should be making a bee-line to the Homer Stallions Youth Football Organization.
If Lockport is going to return to glory, the new coach must resemble the Pied Piper.
He must be able to convince junior high prospects that Lockport is THE place to be. Get the stud player to come to Lockport and the rest will follow.
In recent years, too many top prospects have chosen the private school rout over attending Lockport.
“We have to get the program back to where those kids want to come here,” Goff said. “We have to keep those kids we’re losing. You lose one or two difference-makers each class and it makes a difference.”
Call me crazy, but I believe Lockport will be a desirable destination for many applicants. Great facilties, a great conference and tradition and a top-notch education. The freshmen numbers were good. Enough to field two teams.
Many of the pieces to the success puzzle are in place. The big piece, the right head coach, is what’s missing.
“If I had my druthers, I’d like to hire a guy who has built a program and knows what it takes,” Goff said. “That would be ideal.”