Central getting 'a jewel' in McClain
CHAMPAIGN — Wayne McClain can get right to work when he arrives in town.
One item on the to-do list for most people when they relocate from out of state is to find a place to live.
“I still have a house here,” Champaign Central’s new boys’ basketball head coach said. “I never moved.”
An assistant for 11 years at the University of Illinois, McClain followed former Illini coach Bruce Weber to Kansas State last summer. His family remained here.
Soon, they will all be together again unless, McClain quipped, “they change their mind while I’m en route.”
Central’s coaching search to replace veteran Scott Davis ended Tuesday with the announcement of McClain’s hiring.
It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Sometimes opportunities present themselves,” McClain said. “You only get so many chances to be granted an opportunity. This can be a great one.
“I’m up for the challenge. I still have a passion for basketball. This is a win-win for me and, hopefully, a win-win for the kids.”
The 58-year-old McClain said he plans to return to Champaign as many weekends as he can during the next six weeks.
“I’ll finish up the academic year here (at Kansas State), and it will be closer to Memorial Day that I’m back for good,” McClain said.
He is one of the most successful boys’ basketball coaches in state history and will turn his attention to reviving the historically solid Central program.
McClain guided Peoria Manual to three consecutive state championships as head coach, extending a streak of titles to four that started in 1993-94 when he was an assistant under the legendary Dick Van Scyoc. McClain was an assistant at Manual for more than a decade before replacing Van Scyoc, who retired as the state’s all-time winningest basketball coach.
He plans to bring the same philosophy to Central that worked well at Manual.
“Obviously, we are going to guard,” McClain said. “That’s one of the things you can do every night and be consistent at. It will be huge for us, to get after people.
“I want to get up and down the floor, make games a track meet from one end to the other.”
McClain was an Illini assistant for 11 years before joining a Kansas State program that garnered a share of the Big 12 Conference crown.
Weber said Central is getting more than a basketball coach and a person who won more than 88 percent of his games during his first six years at Manual.
“I’ve had the good fortune to be with him the last 10 years,” Weber said. “Obviously, he is a great basketball coach. His record proves that.
“Anyone who has been around him knows he is a better person. It’s great for Champaign Central and the community to have him back. Everyone knows what they created at Peoria Manual, the winning culture there. I think he will bring that to Champaign.”
Central athletic director John Woods said he received 44 “formal applications” for the position and communicated with nearly three dozen candidates either by phone or through email.
Of that group, 10 were granted an interview. McClain, a former National High School Coach of the Year (selected by USA Today in 1997), was one of four to receive a second interview. Woods declined to name the other three finalists, although he said, “it was as deep of a pool as we’ve ever seen.”
“One thing that stood out was that with Wayne’s family in Champaign, he wants to come home and get back to the community he felt a part of when at Illinois,” Woods said. “He is excited to be our seventh head coach in the past 90 years.”
Davis was Central’s coach for 21 years.
McClain’s wife Robin (the Unit 4 director of transportation), son Sergio, daughter Brindeshie and grandson Sergio Jr. all live in Champaign.
Sergio, who played under his father at Peoria Manual before embarking on a career at Illinois, said he is glad to see his father return to the area.
“When a situation like this came about, this was a family decision on how to be reunited as a family,” Sergio said. “It didn’t matter about what level it was at.”
Sergio has a coaching background, having served at Parkland College with the men’s basketball team for one season. He currently coaches the Springfield Xpress, a semi-pro team that plays in the same league former Illini Jereme Richmond played in with the Sauk Valley Predators.
Sergio said if an assistant coaching position at Central was offered to him and the school could match what he’s making coaching the Xpress, he’d gladly accept the role.
“I’m happy for him,” Sergio said. “It’s an opportunity for him to prove once again how great a coach he is. Central is a good fit for him. If there’s anybody other than myself that I would want my kids playing under, it would be him.”
In seven years at Manual, the Rams were 177-35 under Wayne McClain. His first three teams won state titles, and each of his first six teams won at least a regional crown.
Joe Henricksen, publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, said the move should benefit Central given McClain’s high school basketball background.
“He was not just a tremendous coach in Peoria but a figurehead,” Henricksen said. “He was someone who was great for student-athletes and youth in a lot of ways. He’s really going to provide a presence. He did that at Illinois almost as a father figure to a lot of those guys. I think it’s a great hire for Champaign Central.”
Even after being offered the Central job, it wasn’t a given that McClain would accept.
“We talked about it again this morning,” Weber said Tuesday afternoon. “It was a tough decision.”
Beyond the X’s and O’s, Weber said Central has attracted a quality person.
“He cares about the players,” Weber said. “All the years, all the players we’ve had, they will tell you he cared about them more than just as a basketball player. When good times or bad times, he was there for them.
“That toughness and defense they had at Manual has been the foundation of his programs, along with his dedication. There is no doubt he will put hours and hours in. He said it will be a year-round job.”
Former Illinois player Sean Harrington, who also worked with McClain on the sidelines at Illinois, said McClain’s hiring gives instant buzz to the Maroons’ program.
“He gets the most out of his players,” Harrington said. “Any time you’re bringing in a coach that’s won three state titles, that brings excitement to the community and the school. They should expect a fun style, and I don’t think you can find a more qualified high school head coach.”
Even if he hasn’t coached a high school game since 2001.
“He will have the respect of the players,” Harrington said. “It’s difficult now for some of them to follow their high school coach with what AAU programs are going on today and the different people in their ears, but he will bring that credibility.”
Former Central coach Lee Cabutti — for whom the court at Combes Gym is named after — is a fan of the selection.
“I doubt if they’ve ever hired a coach with the credentials he has,” Cabutti said. “He knows how to coach and has been a winner. I can’t hardly believe it.
“I think everybody will feel very positive about this.”
Derrick Booth played at Peoria Manual when McClain was an assistant with the Rams, and the 1991 graduate now coaches his alma mater.
“Champaign Central struck gold,” Booth said. “That was my initial reaction. Not only Champaign Central but also the community. He’s going to be such an asset. They got a jewel.”
One of McClain’s future competitors — Centennial’s Tim Lavin — was a little less enthusiastic.
“Good for them,” Lavin said. “He proved himself in the past and was good enough to be at Division I. I’m sure he will bring great things to them.”
McClain departs from the college game after 12 total years as an assistant.
“I appreciate him helping us establish the program at K-State,” Weber said. “He said, ‘What do you think?’ and I told him, ‘You have to do what’s best for your family.’ Once the season ended, it became a tougher thing for him to be away (from family).”
Woods and McClain will work on putting together the Maroons’ coaching staff, which will include two full-time assistants. As of Tuesday, no one had been offered a position.
“We will interview all worthy candidates and start assembling a staff,” Woods said.
Wayne McClain was a physical education teacher while at Peoria Manual. There are no teaching openings at Central, but Woods said McClain could serve as a substitute.