Asmussen | Matt Sinclair's redemption tour continues in Naperville

Asmussen | Matt Sinclair's redemption tour continues in Naperville

The Matt Sinclair Redemption Tour continues. And that's a good thing.

The former Illini and NFL linebacker recently joined the football staff at North Central College in Naperville. He will work with linebackers and special teams.

"We're in a very good place right now," Sinclair said. "I think everything happens for a reason."

There was a time, not very long ago, when Sinclair wondered if his coaching days were over.

In late November 2013, on a trip home from Purdue, then-Illini staff member Sinclair pointed an unloaded gun at a car driven by an Illinois assistant.

A passenger in another car saw Sinclair and called police. Sinclair was arrested a short time later.

"I've reflected on that day so many times," Sinclair said. "I put myself in that situation."

Ultimately, Sinclair was found guilty of aggravated unlawful use of weapons and sentenced to 18 months of probation and 100 hours of community service.

"I'm not naive enough to think that won't follow me for the rest of my life," Sinclair said.

Support system

Sinclair, 35, is grateful for his latest opportunity. It wouldn't have happened without the important people in his life.

It starts at home with his wife, Jacqueline, and kids Charlotte and Sean.

"My wife is the best person I've ever known," Sinclair said. "She's the reason I'm able to do what I can do."

Early on after the arrest, longtime Illinois wrestling coach and recently retired YMCA leader Mark Johnson came to Sinclair's defense.

He gave him a job at the Y and, just as important, encouraged Sinclair to pursue his dreams.

"We're forever grateful to Mark Johnson and the YMCA community," Sinclair said.

Sinclair wanted to get back into coaching football and Monticello Hall of Famer Cully Welter hired him as the Sages defensive coordinator.

The ultimate goal was a return to the college game. There were roadblocks. Lots of them.

When you Google "Matt Sinclair Illinois," the fourth item that pops up reads "Illinois football staffer facing gun charges ..."

For most college adminstrators, it's a reason for a quick "Pass."

Why add a guy who has been in trouble when there are other qualified candidates? Why have to answer for the decision?

In the "cover yourself era," it is always going to be easier to just say no. Play it safe.

But Sinclair found people willing to listen. And take a chance.

First, it was Washington University football coach Larry Kindbom, who hired Sinclair as his linebacker coach before the 2017 season.

"He knew that giving me that job and that opportunity would allow me to get another opportunity," Sinclair said. "I'll forever be grateful to Wash U. and to Larry."

Kindbom was right. Other schools were willing to consider Sinclair.

Next, it was North Central coach Jeff Thorne and AD Jim Miller.

Before he was hired by the Cardinals, Sinclair and Miller talked at length.

"At the very end of it, he said 'I know about your situation.'" Sinclair said. "'I've talked to the people I need to talk to. I'm not concerned about it. I trust Coach Thorne. I know our kids will benefit from you being here.'"

Sinclair first met Thorne at former Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer's wedding nine years ago.

"We were standing at the bar and he said, 'I would love for you to join us at North Central,'" Sinclair said.

It finally happened. Thorne had tried to add Sinclair to his staff in recent years but "had trouble for obvious reasons," Sinclair said.

Sinclair's job with Kindbom opened the door at North Central.

Sinclair's new boss is defensive coordinator Shane Dierking, who Sinclair coached at Wheaton Warrenville South.

It is a perfect fit for Sinclair's family. The Sinclairs are going to live with Jacqueline's parents in Wheaton.

"We're going back to where we came from," Sinclair said, "In a lot of ways, the last five years have provided growth in all areas of my life and my family life.

"You realize the people that know you, that trust you, that will go to bat for you. It's a very humbling experience."

Life lessons

There are no guarantees Sinclair will stay out of trouble forever. Just like there are no guarantees for the rest of us.

But I like his odds.

The costs have been significant. Financially, reputationally.

He plans to make the right choices now and into the future. Many people count on him, and Sinclair knows it.

"At the end of the day, all we can do is try to do the right things, treat people the right way, give everybody the benefit of the doubt because everybody has their own situation," Sinclair said.

Sinclair hopes to share his story with the Cardinals.

"I want to talk to the players about this," Sinclair said.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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