Disabato: Ferguson transformed St. Rita hockey into a state power
Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 802-8837 September 12, 2012 7:28PM
St. Rita has won the Kennedy Cup five times under Craig Ferguson's tutelage. | File photo
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Updated: October 15, 2012 9:24AM
He sat at his desk, just hours before a pivotal Kennedy Cup semifinal game in February against Providence, trying to devise a plan that would move St. Rita closer to capturing its fifth straight Cup.
Then it hit him, like an unsuspecting hip check into the boards.
“I was just sitting there thinking that there were 100 other things I would rather be doing than going to the game that night,” Ferguson recalled. “Right there I knew it was time.”
The Mustangs would complete their sweep of the Celtics that night and eventually execute their Drive for Five days later.
Ferguson, though, knew the desire and commitment needed to front a high school program no longer was in him.
The 60-plus game seasons, constant traveling and never-ending demands to attract up-and-coming talent to St. Rita had taken its toll on the man commonly referred to as “Fergie.”
On Monday, he informed his team of his decision, effective at the end of this season.
“The season is a grind and I’m just tired of it,” he said. “The winning and losing, there’s a lot of pressure with that. I enjoy going to practice and the teaching part of coaching. That’s exciting, and I love it. I look forward more to the practices than the games.
“Plus, there are other things I want to do in life, and the desire to do some other things excites me.”
Let’s put one rumor to rest: Ferguson will not coach at another high school. He made that clear.
You eventually may see him coaching a youth hockey team, where development takes precedence over wins and losses.
But the 2012-13 season, when St. Rita will be defending its Kennedy Cup and state championship, will be his final one at the high school level.
It will represent the proverbial icing on a cake that’s filled with championships.
Ferguson, 51, has more Kennedy Cup championship rings than he does fingers — 12 in all, including three as a player at Mount Carmel.
Ferguson won four Kennedy Cups coaching the Caravan before health issues forced him to resign in 2000.
Four years later, he stunned the high school hockey world by landing at, of all places, St. Rita. The top coach and one of the greatest players in Mount Carmel history had turned in his brown and white for blue and red. The Mount Carmel community took the news like a slap shot to the cranium.
The Caravan’s loss, however, was St. Rita’s gain. The Caravan hockey program, for the most part, never has recovered.
“There were some nasty emails,” Ferguson recalled. “St. Rita welcomed me with open arms.”
At the time, the Mustangs were a lot closer to the outhouse than the penthouse in the Catholic League.
It didn’t take long for Ferguson to build St. Rita into arguably the state’s top program. Along with those five straight Cups, Fergie has guided the Mustangs to a pair of state championships the past three seasons and five consecutive Final Four appearances.
How’s the view from the back seat, New Trier?
Ferguson has left a legacy second to none as a hockey player and coach.
St. Rita already has hired his successor in Brian Coleman, a 1999 St. Rita graduate.
But without Ferguson, will the Kennedy Cups continue to spilleth over in the school trophy case?
Fergie is confident Coleman will keep St. Rita hockey among the elite.
“Brian has been successful in everything he’s done,” Ferguson said. “I think very highly of him. He’s a great person. The program will be in good hands.”
Ferguson will remain at St. Rita as its director of admissions and a part of the hockey program, but from a distance.
He’s sure his wife, Maureen, will keep him busy.
“She’ll make sure I have something to do, just not with her,” laughed Ferguson, who has a daughter, Katie, 21, and son, Michael, 19. “We have two great kids, and because of the demands of hockey, Maureen pretty much did that on her own. I’ve had great assistant coaches. It’s been a total team effort, but it’s time to go.”
Let the Farewell Tour Begin.