Asmussen: Coaching, Holecek a good fit

Asmussen: Coaching, Holecek a good fit

We should have known he would be good at it right away. John Holecek always has had a winning touch.

At Illinois, he was the underappreciated linebacker on an all-star defense. Dana Howard, Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice got more credit, but Holecek was the glue.

The NFL scouts liked his talent, with the Buffalo Bills taking him in the fifth round of the 1995 draft. He had a nice run with the Bills and Falcons before retiring and moving back to the Chicago area.

What to do? What to do? What to do? The answer should have seemed obvious: coaching. Except for that nice wife at home, Patti, and the three kids who enjoy seeing Daddy.

With the family's blessing, Holecek went into high school coaching, first as defensive coordinator with a new program at St. Ignatius. That led to Holecek's current job, head coach at Loyola Academy.

The Ramblers had a solid regular season, finishing 6-3 and earning a spot in the Class 8A playoffs. They play a first-round game tonight at New Trier.

"I think we played to the best of our ability," Holecek said, sounding like an old coach. "We got the most out of them. We got beat by three real good teams."

Those three teams are Chicago Mount Carmel, Chicago St. Rita and Fenwick, who enter the playoffs a combined 22-5.

Picking it up

Holecek figured the first year as head coach wouldn't be easy. He was right.

"The first year is a little bit of a learning experience in all aspects," Holecek said. "Time-wise, it was crazy and busy – very, very busy."

Jake, Nick and Luke, all 4 and under, haven't seen as much of Dad as in the past. But the season can only last until Thanksgiving weekend, then Holecek will have his weekends off.

"(Patti) understands football season," Holecek said. "She's dealt with it during the NFL."

There is no comparison between Holecek's NFL job and the one he holds now.

"In the NFL, it's high pressure, but it's just you that you have to take care of," Holecek said. "It's a lot easier because you're just taking care of yourself. This, there are so many moving parts. A lot of them, you don't have control of."

With a team of 60-plus players, there are bound to be a few off-the-field issues. You don't want to get in trouble with Holecek in charge.

"I always pictured myself as a players coach, but there are certain responsibilities that you do," Holecek said. "If you don't, there are going to be consequences. I'm one of those big believers that if the truth hurts, let them die. These kids are grown up enough to handle the truth. I tell them exactly what I think and what they need to do."

On the field, Holecek is calm. Mostly.

"There's nothing you can do on game day to change things other than to make your calls," Holecek said.

Holecek calls the defense, and two longtime Loyola assistants are in charge of the offense. Holecek trusts his staff, a good sign for his coaching future.

Back for more?

Holecek doesn't know how long he will keep coaching. Or at what level.

"With such a young family, I'm not sending out resumes," Holecek said. "I don't know what the future holds. I'm trying to take it one year at a time."

He learned from a string of successful coaches at Illinois and in the NFL. He was recruited by John Mackovic at Illinois and played for Lou Tepper. Both left an impression. Mackovic for his professionalism and Tepper for his perfectionism.

"Tep was a real black-and- white guy who wanted things done exactly his way," Holecek said. "I'm much more of a laid-back style, like my last coach, Wade Phillips," Holecek said. "I want them to do the right techniques, but little things I don't stress about."

Bob Asmussen covers college football for The News-Gazette. You can reach him at 217-351-5233 or via e-mail at

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