Bless you, Dave Connell.
Andrew’s new football coach actually had the guts to utter the two dirty words that are generally forbidden whenever District 230 hires a new football coach: state championship.
Instead of uttering the tired company line of “we hope to be competitive” or “we strive to compete for conference championships,” the new coach laid it on the line.
“I’m coming to Andrew to put some banners up in the building,” he said. “I’ve talked to some alumni. They agree that we have some unfinished business to take care of. We want to be a powerhouse.”
When I asked Connell to clarify what he meant by banners, which also are awarded for conference championships, he cleared up any potential misconceptions.
“By banners, I mean state championships,” he said.
How refreshing to hear a go-for-it-all approach. The odds of winning a state championship in any sport are long.
In District 230, you have a better chance at seeing a cicada than a football state championship. Andrew, Stagg and Sandburg have never accomplished the feat. Let’s take this a step further: None have ever advanced to a state championship game.
It’s one of the great mysteries of my 24-year career, considering all the talent that has resided in the district and, at one time or another, on the rosters of each school’s football program.
More than anyone, Connell understands this. He graduated from Andrew in 1990 and played on the offensive line for Mike O’Neill, who guided the program to its greatest heights. Though, never beyond semifinal appearances in 1991 and 1997.
For the record, Sandburg and Stagg each have advanced to one semifinal: the Eagles in 1993, the Chargers in 2002.
I asked Connell a hypothetical that if in 1990 someone would have been willing to bet him that Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg would not win a state championship in football the next 24 years, would he have accepted the wager?
“I would have made that bet,” Connell said. “You look at the coaches, the feeder programs and the growth in the area and would have thought it would have happened.”
But it hasn’t.
Connell spent two years at Rich South, amassing marks of 3-6 and 1-8 the past two seasons. Those records, I’m sure, aren’t exactly creating a major buzz in T-bolt Nation.
With all due respect, Rich South isn’t exactly a hot-bed for football.
Andrew still possesses the means by way of quality feeder programs to produce highly competitive teams and Connel the work ethic and knowledge to build a winner.
The key for Connell, a Tinley Park Bulldog youth football alum, is to attract the difference-makers. He can’t afford to lose the studs to the many private school options.
“Andrew offers great academics and outstanding facilities,” Connell said.
“Why wouldn’t you want to go to Andrew?”
One reason is the chance to win a state championship, a caveat many of the private schools not only can offer, but have the banners Connell desires to support their boast.
“We have great feeder programs in Tinley and Orland Hills,” Connell said. “We’ve got to get the kids that are supposed to come to Andrew.”
Connell will run a pistol-spread offense with read option ability and a multiple front defense. Players with dynamic play-making abilities should like that.
“The spread offense gets your best athletes space to work,” Connell said. “If we need to add a tight end and come at them (opponents) with a power run game, we’ll do that.”
Andrew finished 5-5 last season, despite boasting a Division I running back in Jarvion Franklin and a senior class that dominated at the lower levels.
Considerable talent departs, which could lead to growing pains next season.
Connell is undeterred.
“This is a special opportunity,” he said. “Just thinking about it gives me chills. My parents still live in the neighborhood. My dad is on cloud nine. A lot of who I am — my character — was formed at Andrew. This is home.”