Disabato: Korhonen hoping to help Eisenhower take down Richards
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @disabato October 17, 2012 9:28PM
Gary Korhonen led Richards' football program to 315 wins and two state titles. Friday night, he'll return to his old stomping grounds as part of Eisenhower's coaching staff. | File photo
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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:08PM
Up until 2007, Gary Korhonen manned the sideline as Richards football coach for 36 years, compiling a 315-98 record and two state championships. The man is a legend if ever there was one.
Richards honored Korhonen by naming its football field after him. On Friday night, he returns to Korhonen Field — as a member of rival Eisenhower’s coaching staff. That’s the same Eisenhower Korhonen regularly demolished as coach of Richards.
Such a change in scenery is akin to Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti working for St. Rita.
“It’s going to be the weirdest feeling in my life walking on that field,” Korhonen said. “I’ll have a red Eisenhower sweater on and there’s a sign on the outside of that field and under the scoreboard saying ‘Korhonen Field.’ It will be different.”
Understandably, Korhonen doesn’t want his return trip to Richards as the focal point of Friday’s match-up.
In most years — consider that in the past 40 years Eisenhower has beaten Richards four times, and in the last 12 the Bulldogs have outscored the Cardinals 486-150 — the game would be a sidebar to Korhonen’s return.
Not this season.
First and foremost, the South Suburban Red title is at stake. If Richards triumphs, it wins the title outright. If Eisenhower can pull off the upset, it garners a share of the conference pie and, at 5-4 overall, would qualify for the Class 7A state playoffs.
In addition, history would be made at Eisenhower. The Cardinals, as far as anyone still breathing can recall, never have won consecutive conference titles.
Eisenhower won the title outright in 2011 after defeating Richards’ 23-17 in a triple-overtime classic. That marked the first time Eisenhower beat Richards since 1998 (that coming in the playoffs) and its first conference championship since 1985.
The win also provided Eisenhower with ownership for the first time of the Murphy Cup, named after Ed Murphy, longtime coach and administrator at Richards and Eisenhower, and awarded since 1996 to the game’s regular-season winner.
Korhonen’s move to Eisenhower has nothing to do with any animosity toward Richards. It has everything to do with having an opportunity to coach with his son, Kris, the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.
“To coach with your son, and your son is your boss, it’s something I just couldn’t pass up,” said the elder Korhonen, 72. “I’m very proud of it, and if some people don’t understand why I did it, to coach with Kris, I feel sorry for them.”
Korhonen had three offers to become an assistant when he retired: Mount Carmel, Wheaton Warrenville South and Eisenhower.
If you know Korhonen, he’s not one to sit idly around the house. He’s always been a man in motion, requiring a few hours of sleep a night to function.
He used to leave voice messages on my work phone at 3:50 a.m., sounding as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as a normal person does at noon.
While Mount Carmel and Wheaton Warrenville South offered the chance to be a part of a powerhouse program, the chance to coach side by side with his son at Ike sealed the deal for Korhonen. However, he always will bleed Richards black and gold.
“I’m proud to be a Bulldog,” Korhonen said. “It’s still about helping kids, not about wins and losses or about X’s and O’s. It’s still my job to see that the kids perform at their best and do it with class. I’m doing it at Eisenhower now and I love it.
“I’ve really found a home here. I love the kids. (Eisenhower head coach) Travis (Moore) has been great to me.”
Said Moore: “When ‘Coach K Sr.’ talks, everybody listens.
“He’s been unbelievable. He’s taught me so much. The guy’s a legend. He’s been a wealth of information to me and this program.”
And while Richards is the favorite, Korhonen is confident the Cardinals have the ability to win the game, just as they did a year ago in Blue Island.
Whether they do or not is not a life or death proposition.
Since his retirement, Korhonen had a hip and a knee replaced, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, suffered a stroke and had back surgery.
So much for the golden years.
“Before I retired, I’d never been in a hospital, never been on a pill,” he said. “But I feel great today.
“Of course, I’d like to win. But if we play hard and give it our best, that’s all I ask.”
In other words, the mission remains the same, though his team’s colors are different.