For more than 40 years, Carl Bonner was one of the most soft-spoken, popular and respected coaches in the Chicago Public League. But his players and rival coaches always understood a competitive fire burned inside of him.
"He along with (the late Carver basketball coach) Larry Hawkins were the two greatest inspirations for many of us who went into coaching and wanted to follow in their footsteps," said longtime Dunbar coach Glenn Johnson, who knew Bonner for 40 years.
Bonner, who retired in 1991 after teaching and coaching for 42 years at Wendell Phillips High School on the South Side, died Tuesday of natural causes at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. He was 83.
He coached football for 34 years. His 1973 team, led by Roy Parker, Marty Murray, Glenn Benson and Larry Pruitt, was 10-2 and lost to St. Laurence 40-24 in a memorable Prep Bowl game in Soldier Field. His 1985 team qualified for the state playoff.
Bonner also coached the track and field team, led by Harvey Blair, Vernon Brooks, Willie Collins and Marshall Glover, to the state championship in 1962.
"I just want to be remembered as a man who gave kids a fair shake and treated them like men," Bonner said upon his retirement.
Bonner and his two brothers, Bob, who coached basketball at Du Sable, and Will (Moose), who coached at Hirsch, were legendary figures in the CPS.
Some of the outstanding football players that Bonner produced were lineman Chris Hinton, who played at Northwestern and was the No. 1 pick of the Indianapolis Colts; running back Mitchell Brookins, who played at Illinois and with the Buffalo Bills; running back Mike Pruitt, who played at Purdue and with the Cleveland Browns; tight end Milton Biggins, who played at Miami (Fla.) and with the Miami Dolphins; and running back Larry Murray, who chose baseball and played for the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees.
"He was a father figure for a lot of us," said former Phillips coach Pierre Henderson, who played for Bonner. "He was always there for you. He always stuck with you even when you screwed around and messed up. He was there for you when you came back."
Former Julian coach and Pubic League sports supervisor J.W. Smith said Bonner was "one of the greatest coaches in Public League history, one of the greatest developers of young men and a person who touched so many lives in so many ways."
Hubbard coach Elton Harris said: "We lost one of our pioneers, a person that you had to listen to based on what he said and how he said it, a person that you listened to unconditionally without question."
Former Robeson coach and Public League football supervisor Roy Curry said the city "has lost a great one who paved the way for a lot of young black coaches like myself, Lonnie Williams, Terry Lewis, Al Scott and J.W. Smith. He was one of the first to come into the system and do so well."
Funeral arrangements are pending.