Two of my favorite people in the high school coaching profession, Murney Lazier and Gary Korhonen, will acknowledge milestones in their careers within the next few weeks. They are the winningest coaches in state history. But their accomplishments are so much more than scribbling X's and O's on a chalkboard.
Lazier, who won a remarkable 88 percent (125-17-4) of his games in 18 years at Evanston, will have the stadium named in his honor during ceremonies on Oct. 20. Imagine, only 17 losses in 18 years. No one, before or since, has posted a higher winning percentage.
Korhonen figures to record the 301st career victory in his 36-year career in Illinois on Sept. 28 when his Richards team hosts Evergreen Park, one more than Bron Bacevich of Peru St. Bede in 1933-53 and Matt Senffner of Providence in 1968-2005. He actually will have won 310 in his career but nine were accomplished at Elkader, Iowa.
Both are different personalities but they share the same philosophy. It's all about the kids.
"The team belongs to the kids, not Lazier or the parents or the school administrators," Lazier said. "You do everything you can to make them be good, do everything to be sure they will win. Every kid is equal. There is no inequality in the program. I never asked them to do anything that I didn't do myself. I tried to make football as much fun as possible."
Korhonen said: "It's not about me but about everyone else I'm working with. Nobody ever works for me. I work for everybody. Without my assistants--past, present and future--I would be absolutely nothing. It's also about the kids we coach. If accolades come my way, it's OK. But I'm more focused on what they have done. My major accomplishment in life isn't 34 wins in a row or two state titles or more wins than anyone else. It is the fact that I have sent 274 kids to college. I'm most proud of that."
Lazier took great pride in motivating his players. He was a stern disciplinarian and a master innovator. He took no guff from players, parents or administrators. When a group of outsiders once attempted to oust Lazier from his job by charing him with racism, the parents of the black athletes on his squad laughed. "He treats everyone the same," one parent observered. "Like dirt."
Korhonen has never forgotten his roots as a lower-level coach. He is humble to a fault. When asked to single out the best players he has produced, he doesn't mention All-Staters or players who reached the NFL. He mentions hard-nosed kids like Jason Orozco and Johnny Newton and Jeffrey Shepard who succeeded by getting their noses bloodied and their jerseys torn and muddied.
"If I weren't a coach, what would I be?" Korhonen said. "I'd be whatever my wife Eileen told me to be. Her calling in life is to be a single parent with four kids--and I'm the oldest kid. If I wasn't a coach, I'd assist her for the rest of my life."