With the legendary Gordie Kerkman stepping down as coach at West Aurora on Thursday after 39 years and a remarkable 805 victories, another high-profile high school coaching position is open in Illinois.
Even with Thornton, Proviso East, Warren and Lockport all still looking for new coaches, the West Aurora job stacks up as arguably the best of the bunch.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report ranks the top four high-profile high school coaching jobs that are now open.
N0. 1: WEST AURORA
Why it’s open: After four decades, one of the state’s best jobs is open as a result of Gordie Kerkman calling it a career after 39 years.
The history: In 50 years this program has had just two coaches ––Kerkman and John McDougal. In those 50 years, the Blackhawks have finished among the top three teams in the state seven times, winning a state championship in 2000, and have won 14 sectional championships.
There have been a couple of dips here and there over the years –– the Blackhawks were just 36-44 from 1992 to 1994 and went without a regional title from 2007 to 2010 –– but the consistency over the past five decades has been so impressive. In Kerkman’s 39 years, the Blackhawks averaged nearly 21 wins a season.
Why it’s so appealing: From a historical perspective, West Aurora basketball, as shown, is pretty special. But there is so much more that makes this job attractive, including the stability of the program and the great interest in West Aurora basketball, including a loyal and unique fan base the majority of high school programs simply don’t have.
While the Blackhawks do lose the nucleus of this past year’s sectional championship team, including Illinois State recruit Roland Griffin, there is some good, young talent in the program. Freshman Cameron Donatlan was an impact player at the varsity level this past season, while the sophomore team finished a perfect 25-0.
No. 2: THORNTON
Why it’s open: Troy Jackson stepped down as head coach after 12 highly successful seasons in Harvey.
The history: Is there a basketball program with more history and tradition in Illinois? Quincy, maybe. But we’re talking about a program with an endless list of accomplishments and headline players. In all, 17 different Thornton teams have reached the state finals, including 11 top four state finishes and two state championships. The individual talent is long and illustrious.
Why it’s appealing: It’s Thornton. Thornton basketball. It’s the crown jewel of south suburban high school hoops. There’s the iconic gymnasium and the Boudreau Room, with trophies and memorabilia showcasing the proud history of the program. There is certainly an aura that surrounds this particular coaching job.
There is no program in the Chicago area that has enjoyed a longer, high rate of success. Incredibly, since 1930 eight of the nine head coaches at Thornton have had a winning percentage of .700 or higher, with seven of the nine having taken teams downstate over the past eight decades.
But, again, it’s a job where you will regularly have a combination of outstanding athletes and basketball players, where you can win big and it’s still important and relevant to the community.
According to sources, three names who are in the mix as the search heads down the final stretch are Keithan Holmes, the current Thornton sophomore coach, and a pair past Thornton icons in Tai Streets and Lloyd Batts.
No. 3: WARREN
Why it’s open: After just three seasons, Ryan Webber bolted and returned to the Quad Cities area, where he was named head coach at United Township in East Moline earlier this week.
The history: While the history of the program isn’t as long and illustrious as some of the other programs on this list, the last 25 years have been awfully good.
After coach Darrel Bader built up the program in the late 1980s and early 1990s, coach Chuck Ramsey took it to another level in his 19 years as Warren became a state power. From 1999 to 2012, Ramsey’s teams averaged 22 wins a season with 11 regional and six sectional titles. Warren finished second in the state in 1999 and 2011.
Why it’s so appealing: Talent in high school basketball is generally cyclical, and there appears to be a bit of a downward cycle in comparison to the talent this school was churning out during the Ramsey years. But with some very high-level success in the program’s recent history, there is a basketball tradition established.
Plus, there is this number: 4,262. That is the current student enrollment at Warren, which makes it one of the bigger high schools in the state, which provides a large pool of student-athletes for a coach to build with.
Interestingly, veteran coach Don Kloth was hired this past year as a part of Webber’s staff. Might the former Zion-Benton head coach, who won 528 games with the Zee-Bees, be a potential candidate at Warren?
It could become more interesting if rumors that new outside hires in the school district will be very limited in what they will be paid and the years of experience they will be given. That could increase the chances for internal candidates, including Kloth, who is already retired.
No. 4: PROVISO EAST
Why it’s open: Donnie Boyce, a former Proviso East star and state champion and a coach who won big the past four years, was suspended this past season and ultimately let go by the Proviso District 209 School Board this past winter.
The history: What more can you say about Proviso East basketball and all the individual icons –– from Doc Rivers and Michael Finley to Dee Brown and Shannon Brown –– who have passed through the Maywood school? This is one of the elite, most recognizable programs in state history.
Check out these numbers over the past 55 years: 42 regional championships, 14 sectional titles and 10 trips to state, including four state championships and a pair of state runner-up finishes.
Why it’s appealing: The term “appealing” in this case is a bit subjective and depends on the individual candidate. That’s because this has always been a very “political” coaching position, one where there has been coaching turnover and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Plus, there always seems to be some sort of turmoil surrounding the program.
But you can’t deny the history and tradition of this program, as well as the constant flow of super, high-level talent. Plus, there is always an opportunity to compete for championships on a regular basis.
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