Hal Chiodo was born and raised in central Illinois, went to college there and coached Morton's football team to the state playoff 12 times in 13 years. But he always believed that coaching in the Chicago suburbs "is big-league for a high school coach in Illinois" and he finally got his opportunity to do it.
Chiodo, 52, is the new coach at West Chicago. Talk about a challenge. West Chicago is 54-181 since 1981 with only one trip to the state playoff. It competes in the Du Page Valley, which is generally regarded as the strongest football conference in the state.
West Chicago once was a powerhouse. In 1973, Paul Unruh produced an outstanding team led by future NFL player Scott Dierking. In 1974, after Dierking graduated, Unruh led his team to a state championship.
But then West Chicago joined the Du Page Valley against the likes of Wheaton Warrenville South, Naperville North, Naperville Central, Wheaton North and Glenbard North. How tough is that? Well, Chiodo is West Chicago's third coach in three years.
"Being a football coach is in my blood and I can't gt it out of there," said Chiodo, whose father was a Hall of Fame coach at Normal University High. "My dream always was to move to the suburbs. Before I retire, I wanted a chance to be involved in it. It's very difficult for Downstate coaches to find good jobs in Chicago."
Chiodo resigned at Morton after last season. "I felt I had done all I could at Morton," he said. He mailed out 30 applications. He was one of six finalists at New Trier and a finalist at Lincoln-Way Central. He also interviewed at Richards and was offered the head coaching job at Granite City.
But he landed at West Chicago. He was in San Antonio for his son Joe's graduation from Air Force boot camp when he got a call. Five days later, he interviewed for the job. Two days later, he was offered and accepted the job.
"We're ready to move up. We're not happy with where we're at. We're ready to rock and roll," said West Chicago's new athletic director Doug Mullaney, who coached York's baseball team to a state championship in 1993.
"I had seen West Chicago win the state title in 1974 and I saw Scott Dierking win a state wrestling championship. I knew they were in the Du Page Valley, the best conference in the state. That's the biggest thing that appealed to me," Chiodo said.
"I knew they hadn't had much success in a long time. When I went to Lexington, they had a tradition but they had won only one game the previous year. We went to the state quarterfinals in my first year and to the state final two years later."
Chiodo said he couldn't be happier with what he has seen at West Chicago in the short time he has been there. He welcomed 120 players at summer camp, including 40 seniors. He is teaching them a lot of what he learned from coaching legends Gordie Gillespie of Joliet Catholic and Bob Reade of Geneseo and former West Chicago coach Bob Stone, including the double-wing offense.
"Coaching is getting the best athletes in a position to be successful, to give them opportunities to be productive and to find ways for them to make plays," he said. "These kids are hungry. They are willing to listen and they have a great attitude. I can talk about what we will do but you have to win to develop confidence."
It all begins on Aug. 29 when West Chicago hosts Evanston.