Less than two weeks ago, I interviewed Richards football coach Gary Korhonen for a chapter in my new book on high school football in Illinois. We talked for more than an hour and, in closing, he said he had "no plans to retire at this time." He said he was healthy, enjoyed what he was doing and he wanted to keep doing it until he didn't enjoy it anymore.
So imagine my surprise when I was informed on Friday morning that Korhonen had announced his retirement from coaching, effective immediately. Oh, he'll finish out the school year with his teaching responsibilites but the winningest coach in state history won't be on the sideline next fall.
Gary and I have been friends for a long time. He served on the Sun-Times football coaches board for many years, helping to select the All-Chicago Area teams. We are the same age. I've watched him develop a struggling program in the 1970s into one of the state's premier programs in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
He did it with class. He said he wasn't as smart as his rivals so his strategy was to gt up early and outwork them. He took tough, gritty, blue-collar, lunch-bucket kids and turned them into razors, streetfighters with helmets and shoulder pads.
I always got a kick out of reminding him that the guy whose name was on the building, H.L. Richards, was my principal at Blue Island (now Eisenhower) High School in 1958, the year both of us graduated from high school. He was a city kid from the North Side. He went to Amundsen.
He won 306 games and two state championships in 36 years. Few coaches have achieved as much. But he accumulated many more friends along the way. He always credited his assistant coaches for the success of the program. Without them, he said, he would be nothing.
The coaching fraternity has lost one of its most distinguished members.