CHAMPAIGN — Way back in 2001, Chuck Clutts heard about the softball opening at Parkland College.
Actually, his daughter Michelle told him about it.
Then the coach at Centennial, Clutts applied. And athletic director Rod Lovett said "You're the one."
This weekend, the living legend coaches his final home games with the Cobras. The 71-year-old, who is retiring after the season ends, has 768 wins. And counting.
Clutts took over a program short on tradition when he replaced Marcus Green.
In his first year, Clutts led the Cobras to the regional championship series, which it lost.
In 2002, the team went to the NJCAA national tournament despite not winning its conference. And finished second in Phoenix.
The corner had been turned.
"Nobody knew who Parkland College was," Clutts said.
Until they did.
In a five-year span, Parkland finished as national runner-up three times.
All done with area players.
"I took it on my shoulders that central Illinois could produce good softball players," Clutts said.
Clutts has sent his share of players on to four-year programs. But lately the numbers have slowed a bit, as more student-athletes decide to concentrate on the "student" part.
"I've had four or five first-team All-Americans say 'I'm done. I'm going to get my education,'" Clutts said.
That's fine with Clutts. His highlights as a coach aren't the trips to the national tournaments. It's the number of Academic All-Americans his program has produced.
"That's what they're here for," Clutts said. "I tell the kids, 'You're here for a reason: get an education. If you get to play softball, that's a big plus.'"
As a coach, Clutts found a style that worked for him. His top priority has been the games, followed by recruiting and then practice.
"If you don't recruit, you don't have nothing," he said. "A lot of people tell me 'You're a great coach,' I said, 'No, I'm a good coach. I've got great players,' "
Recruiting to C-U has been easy for Clutts. Many of his players are from smaller high schools. Moving to a larger city is a draw.
"Our school has more people than their town has," Clutts said. "They come here and they're like 'Wow, this is great.' They really like it."
The Dixon native has lived in Champaign since 1976. He first came here to manage a Walgreens in Urbana.
The company moved him from Sterling to Joliet to Springfield to here. When the company wanted to send him to Iowa, Clutts said "pass."
"I love Champaign," Clutts said, "so I'm not leaving."
He played baseball and softball as a kid. While still in high school, he coached a Little League team.
When his son Ryan went to Centennial High School in the mid-1990s, Clutts took the proper tests so he could be a volunteer coach with the Chargers.
There was an assistant coach opening at Centennial. Just to get the interview experience, Clutts applied. And got the job. (Notice the trend).
Clutts worked two years on Terry Workman's staff. Then, became the head coach when Workman moved on.
"I learned a lot from him," Clutts said.
Workman must be an excellent teacher. Clutts has multiple 60-win seasons with the Cobras.
Clutts is an old-school coach, who believes in teaching the fundamentals.
"We try to make our team fun," Clutts said. "I give them crap and they give me crap right back. We laugh about stuff. But when I get upset, they know it. I'm not a yeller."
His players can always kid him about his name. Not that someone called Asmussen should ever mention it.
"I actually make jokes about it myself," Clutts said. "It is what it is."
Rain, rain, go away
The Cobras, 31-17, have three scheduled doubleheaders this weekend, which started with Friday's sweep of John Wood. Danville Area Community College visits today for a 1 p.m. doubleheader and Lewis & Clark is in town Sunday, with first pitch slated for 1 p.m.
"We've got to get them in," Clutts said.
After today's games against DACC, Parkland will honor Clutts with a recognition ceremony.
There will be a cookout for current and former players, family, friends and fans.
After the season ends, Clutts might need to find a hobby.
He used to play golf, but hasn't picked up a club in nine years. He likes to hunt and fish.
"I might go out to the range and see if I can still hit it," Clutts said.
Though he is saying goodbye to Parkland, Clutts might not be done with the sport.
"It's a possibility," Clutts said.
No matter what's next, Clutts appreciates his time at Parkland.
"My experience has been great," he said, "I really enjoy it here. I'm just blessed they hired me here. It's turned into a tremendous athletic school."
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.