Kroner: Central job's a slam dunk
My dream job is different from my neighbor’s. That is to be expected. We are different people, with different interests.
The same is true for folks in a similar profession. One coach might covet a particular job while another wouldn’t even have enough interest to apply when the opening occurs.
It’s with that mind-set that I consider the Champaign Central boys’ basketball vacancy.
It’s not a consideration for myself as a way to keep even busier than I am. My coaching has been limited to Little League baseball and summer league basketball, and I am quite confident those teams will confirm they were successful in spite of me, not because of me.
Back to Central.
I consider the job from the viewpoint of someone who was born and reared in Champaign County, as someone who started following local high schools through the daily newspapers even before 1969 Central graduate Clyde Turner was in high school.
That historical perspective tells me this is a coach’s dream job. It has to be one of the state’s 10 best.
Not sure which others would rate a berth on the final list, but surely Centralia, Collinsville, Galesburg, Lincoln, Peoria Central or Manual and Quincy would be included.
There must be other folks who share this opinion of the Central job.
Since Scott Davis announced his resignation March 11, about 60 coaches have contacted athletic director John Woods in regards to the opening. He has heard from people in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa and Virginia as well as different regions of Illinois, including Central’s current staff.
Central has a tradition in basketball few schools can match.
In the past 90 years the school has had six head coaches in boys’ basketball. That’s an average tenure of 15 years per coach. None of those six was on the job for fewer than seven seasons.
For the last 57 years, the Maroons’ coach was either Lee Cabutti or an ex-Cabutti assistant.
“Coach Cabutti put a stamp on the program that’s pretty hard to take off,” said Rantoul native Sean Taylor, the head coach of Quincy’s storied program for 10 years. “It was not only the way he coached but the integrity he had.”
Name another high school in the state or country with just six head coaches in a sport since 1923-24.
Cabutti, however, will have no input on the hire. “I shouldn’t,” he said. “I’m a has-been.”
In addition to the longevity of coaches, there is a rich tradition of excellence on the court. In 1980, Central became the first high school in the country with at least 1,000 basketball wins and 500 in football.
As Woods and the selection committee decide which candidates will receive at least one interview (eight people were interviewed for the football job with three receiving a second interview), they can take pride in working for a school tied for first on the all-time IHSA list for boys’ basketball state trophies.
Central (whose athletic history includes Champaign High before a second public school was created in 1967) has earned 24 state trophies in the sport. Galesburg also has 24. Quincy is next with 23.
Mike Reynolds has an idea what the next Central head coach can expect, and it has nothing to do with personnel. The former Danville High assistant and Bismarck-Henning head coach recently finished Year No. 5 as the boys’ basketball head coach at Galesburg, one of the few schools in the state that still sells season tickets.
“Alumni are very interested in how their program is doing,” he said. “The new Central coach will have to dive into the alumni part.
“Since I’ve been at Galesburg, people from Chicago and Texas have followed us. Central and Pekin are two of the premier open jobs in the state. You have to realize the program is bigger than one guy. You are the caretaker at that time.”
That’s a trait Woods and colleagues seek in Davis’ replacement.
“To bridge the past with the present and the future is critical,” Woods said.
Some might say this is not a good time to seek the Central coaching position. The Maroons are coming off a 20-loss season, the fourth in the 105 years the school has offered boys’ basketball. They play in a league (Big 12 Conference) that is gradually falling apart. Mattoon left in 2012. Decatur schools Eisenhower and MacArthur leave in 2014.
Truth is, this is the perfect time for a coach to enter.
There will be more flexibility in the schedule — honestly, Mattoon and the Decatur schools have not been basketball powerhouses often during the past half-century — and the nonconference schedule can be beefed up even more.
Woods is an athletic director who doesn’t want to schedule pushovers.
“I believe if you want to beat them in the postseason, you have to compete with them in the regular season,” he said. “When I started, one of the things we did was bolster our nonconference schedule.”
That pattern won’t change, and this year’s 20-loss season soon will be a distant memory.
Cabutti sees reasons why there has been so little coaching turnover in basketball at Central.
“The school board and administration has not been in the firing business,” said Cabutti, who turned 88 on Friday. “As long as you conduct yourself in a proper manner and have the respect of kids and parents, you can coach forever.
“I had some bad years but never had two in a row. There always seems to be some talent. It was always a great place to work.”
There is one final point to consider, and this one will play a major role in who accepts the offer to coach Central boys’ basketball.
The tradition and history are great selling points, but they won’t close the deal. The next coach has to be a gambler, willing to accept what may be high odds.
A veteran coach who relocates would enter on the salary scale at the level his experience places him. Yet, as far as tenure in the district, he will be near the bottom.
If layoffs are necessary at any time in the near future, his job would be in jeopardy even if he comes in and wins a state championship in his first season.
Cabutti said his hope is that there’d be a way to retain the coach.
“If you were the head basketball coach, you’d be one of (the) least likely to be replaced,” he speculated. “You’ve got to be a little more important. You teach, but you also do something else. You’ve got other responsibilities besides teaching.”
The uncertainty, however, can create a scary situation for someone who has a family and who currently has job security, but it also can be an exciting proposition for someone who has a dream and is willing to ignore the financial plight facing many state school districts.
History tells us there are few better basketball coaching jobs than the one at Champaign Central.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.
90 years of coaches
Champaign High and Champaign Central have had six different boys’ basketball head coaches during the past 90 seasons. The list for a program that is tied for first on the all-time IHSA list for state basketball trophies:
Coach First Year Tenure
Les Moyer 1923-24 15 years
Harry Combes 1938-39 9 years
Harold Jester 1947-48 9 years
Lee Cabutti 1956-57 29 years
Tom Croy 1985-86 7 years
Scott Davis 1992-93 21 years
About 60 candidates have expressed interest in the vacant Champaign Central boys’ basketball head coaching position. Here’s a look at how the process will work:
Monday — Initial screening of all applicants
Week of April 15 — Level I interviews for a number of candidates to be determined
Week of April 22 — Level II final interviews for a number of candidates to be determined
May 13 — The Unit 4 Board of Education will have a recommendation to consider at its monthly meeting