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Disabato: Stagg needs to go for broke with football coaching hire

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Updated: January 7, 2013 7:09AM



Bob Fabrizio never imagined he’d be searching for a football coach right now.

Less than a year ago, Stagg had tabbed Mark Kleinpeter as its football coach.

Of course, Kleinpeter was the perfect pick — or at least, that was the ol’ company line many were singing. Kleinpeter had a “great personality” and was a “great fit.”

Ironically, when I interviewed Kleinpeter over the phone days after his hiring, I had a much different interpretation.

In fact, no sooner had I hung up the phone, I turned to my boss and said, “This guy isn’t going to last.”

I had intended to write a column in hopes of firing up Charger Nation, which had endured an 8-28 run under Brian Buglio, about the new football coach.

Well, the mind was willing but my heart suggested otherwise. The column never materialized.

“Mark deliberated with his family and hopes people will respect his decision to resign,” said Fabrizio, Stagg’s athletic director. “It’s a personal decision.”

Here’s the deal, folks: There’s a term the good people at Stagg refer to in the hallways as the “Stagg Way” of doing things.

Among other values, the “Stagg Way” includes coaches from different sports working together and encouraging student-athletes to participate in other sports.

That’s how you develop kids such as senior Steve Kubiak, an all-conference performer in football, basketball and baseball.

Kleinpeter officially “resigned.” In truth, he preferred “My Way” over the “Stagg Way.”

And when you finish 2-7, as the Chargers did in 2012, that doesn’t cut it.

“I never thought I’d be in this situation again a year later,” Fabrizio said. “We’ll post the job through the district process. We hope to make a decision and get back on track.”

Of course, as the AD, Fabrizio will take the fall on this.

But let me make something abundantly clear: If the decision to hire a football coach were Fabrizio’s alone, the Chargers wouldn’t be looking for another coach.

Fabrizio knows football — he was a successful coach at St. Laurence and Stagg — and he knows how to read people. Beyond being a knowledgeable football man, he’s a great person. In fact, he’s the sort of person who’d never call out his colleagues. But sources in District 230 tell me the big issue is there are too many hands in the hiring process.

And that’s where things get tricky.

There’s a fine line to balance when hiring a coach in District 230. The order of priority in recent years has been: salary, personality, winning.

If a candidate is willing to accept a first-year salary, has the personality of a vanilla ice cream cone and equates a conference championship to a Super Bowl, he is encouraged to fill out the employee application.

If a candidate has considerable teaching/coaching experience, a proven track record on the field and illusions of winning a state championship — something Stagg, Andrew and Sandburg never have accomplished in football — it’s thanks for the interest, but no thanks.

That’s why successful coaches, including Crete-Monee’s Jerry Verde, Homewood-Flossmoor’s Craig Buzea and Reavis’ Tim Zasada — names people have thrown at me about taking the job — never, ever would cut it at Stagg.

Beyond the salary, these guys wear their hearts on their sleeve and exhibit way too much passion and excitement for District 230.

They’re not satisfied with qualifying for the playoffs. They want to win it all.

You’re probably not aware that Buzea was going to be named the coach at Sandburg approximately 10 years ago. It was a done deal — I had talked with him and was ready to pen the column — until the last minute, when the deal fell through.

Years later, he landed at H-F and has turned a basement-dwelling program into a perennial power.

I’m a huge believer in things happening for a reason, and every day Buzea should thank his lucky stars the deal fell through. Sandburg’s loss was H-F’s gain.

Me? I’d go after Brett Kooi, an assistant at Lincoln-Way North who won two state titles as coach at Lockport.

Despite what some think, Stagg is not a dead-end job. There are 2,600 students roaming the halls, and the feeder programs are competitive.

The move from the SouthWest Suburban Red to the SouthWest Suburban Blue next season will be tough.

Fabrizio, who will retire after the 2013-14 school year, is confident the right guy is out there.

“Absolutely, this program can be turned around,” Fabrizio said. “We have kids who work extremely hard. Our kids are hungry, tough, hard-nosed and competitive. But we have to get some continuity here.

“We’ve got to get the right guy. I’ve been around this program for 20 years. I feel like we owe it to all the players and coaches and the community who have been a part of this program to get this thing going in the right direction.”

More now than ever.



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