Phil Smith Jr., one of our most frequent commentators, has an interesting question: Who are the top 20 high school football coaches in Illinois?
He thinks the quality of football in Illinois is improving because (1) the Chicago Public League has introduced an elementary school program to promote more interest among pre-teens and (2) the quality of college programs has improved at smaller colleges.
Right on both counts. Former Julian coach J.W. Smith, who once was the supervisor of the Public League's sports programs, deserves credit for starting the elementary school program. It has been very successful and helpful in improving programs at several schools, including Morgan Park, Hubbard and Simeon.
Many Illinois products who weren't recruited by Illinois, Northwestern, Northern Illinois or Big Ten schools have been able to develop at Southern Illinois, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Augustana, College of Du Page, Joliet Community College, Illinois Benedictine and North Central.
The 20 best coaches? I will address that subject in my forthcoming book on high school football in Illinois, which will be published in 2009 by University of Illinois Press.
My top 10 are Murney Lazier, Evanston; Gordie Gillespie, Joliet Catholic; Bob Shannon, East St. Louis; Tony Lawless, Fenwick; Frank Lenti, Mount Carmel; Bob Reade, Geneseo; Tom Kavanagh, St. Laurence; Fred Cameron, East St. Louis; Deek Pollard, Pittsfield; and Paul Adams, Deerfield.
The others are Dan Sharp, Joliet Catholic; John O'Boyle, Stockton; Gary Korhonen, Richards; Pat Cronin, St. Rita; Harvey Dickinson, Hinsdale; Bill Duchon, Glenbard West; Dan Darlington, Morris; Bernie O'Brien, Chicago Vocational; Tom Peeler, Peoria Richwoods; and Matt Senffner, Providence.
Most of them I have observed personally. The list isn't based solely on winning percentage, career victories or championships but also on their ability to communicate with athletes, their vision of the game, their inventiveness and the respect by which they are viewed by their peers.