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Disabato: Lincoln-Way Central football must hire coach for the long haul

Former Lincoln-Way Central coach Brett Hefner. | File photo

Former Lincoln-Way Central coach Brett Hefner. | File photo

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Updated: December 30, 2012 3:41PM



If it’s going to develop into a consistent winning football program again, the revolving door of head coaches must stop.

Either that, or it’s likely going to remain a middling program, one that can’t sustain success and live up to its glorious past. And it won’t matter if it competes in the SouthWest Suburban Red or GCAC Red.

Lincoln-Way Central is in the midst of searching for coach No. 4 in seven years. The game of musical chairs is better suited for kids parties, not for selecting coaches.

Great programs remain stable — Mount Carmel, Lincoln-Way East, Lemont, to name a few — floundering ones make poor hires and chase their tails.

Lincoln-Way Central is more Lassie than Lenti.

Longtime coach Rob Glielmi retired in 2007. His successor, Tim Dougherty, resigned (cough, cough) in 2009, as did Brett Hefner two weeks ago after a three-year run.

Not surprising, the merry-go-round of coaches has led to a 25-32 record the past six seasons, including three playoff appearances that resulted in one-and-dones.

Somewhere, Cory Paus is shaking his head in disbelief.

“Hiring the fourth coach in seven years is not desirable,” Central athletic director Hud Venerable said. “It doesn’t allow you to build a program.”

Ironically, if anyone knows what it takes to build a football program, it’s Venerable.

As head coach, he built Normal Community High School, after it split with Normal West in 1995, into a champion.

In the first season after the split, Venerable’s team was 2-7. However, the Hudster eventually guided the program to a Class 6A state championship in 2006, a state runner-up finish in 2005 and a 12-1 mark in 2007 before fleeing for the AD position at Lincoln-Way Central.

Don’t get any wild ideas. Venerable is not going to hire himself as head coach.

The appointments of Dougherty and Hefner failed for different reasons. While Dougherty had the luxury of inheriting a successful program from Glielmi, his personality didn’t connect with players. In two years, he was gone.

Hefner was asked to clean up the mess. How messy? There were just 10 seniors when he took over. That’s fine for a Class 2A-size school, not Lincoln-Way Central.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen Hefner, a good man, given more time to right the ship.

The Knights finished 4-5 this season. If they could have protected, instead of blown, fourth-quarter leads vs. Sandburg and Homewood-Flossmoor, I’d wager a month’s salary a search for a new coach wouldn’t be occurring.

Central would have finished 6-3 and made the playoffs. Coaches don’t “resign” after playoff seasons.

And just imagine if Colin McGovern, a Notre Dame recruit who spent his first two seasons at Central, hadn’t transferred to Lincoln-Way West. Ditto Lincoln-Way West quarterback Justin Keuch, who left Central after his freshman season.

The reasons for both transfers vary. However, combine those two kids with Division I lineman Evan Panfil (Illinois) and Grant Bartel (undecided) and Central is a much different team this season.

It’s obvious the feeder programs — the New Lenox Mustangs and New Lenox Youth Football Association — are doing fine work developing talent.

Of course, Providence and Joliet Catholic attract some of those players.

That’s why the next hire, whether it’s from inside or outside District 210, must hit the ground running.

“We’re looking for somebody who has built a program before successfully,” Venerable said. “Somebody who can take our program at its present state and build into something special. It could be inside or outside the district. If they lack experience as a head coach, they better be able to convince us they can build a program. We need a successful builder right now.”

Ideally, Central would like to turn back the time machine 20 years and hire a young Rob Glielmi — that’s what it needs. Glielmi built the program into a powerhouse, leading it to an undefeated state championship in 1997.

I know, that was prior to the four-school split. But the mothership, in terms of wins and losses, is sitting fourth in the four-school race.

“That’s what we’re looking for, the next Rob Glielmi,” Venerable said. “Someone who built it and finished it.”

It’s no secret as to who makes the ultimate decisions in District 210, whether it’s green-lighting an upgrade from sandpaper to ultra soft toilet paper for the school restrooms to hiring and firing coaches: Supt. Dr. Lawrence Wiley.

Knights Nation hopes this hire — the third in six years — is the charm.



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