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Two high school football coaching legends retire

With little fanfare, two remarkably similar and remarkably successful football coaching careers came to an end last weekend.

Naperville Central’s head coach Mike Stine walks the sideline during his 100th win.
Naperville Central’s head coach Mike Stine walks the sideline during his 100th win.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

With little fanfare, two remarkably similar and remarkably successful football coaching careers came to an end last weekend.

That’s exactly the way Wheaton Warrenville South’s Ron Muhitch and Naperville Central’s Mike Stine wanted it.

Their retirements had been long in the works, but the pandemic scrambled the details and stretched their tenures months beyond their planned end dates.

Muhitch spent 41 seasons at Wheaton Central and its successor, WW South. As an assistant to John Thorne, he was part of four state titles and two runner-up finishes. Then in his 19 seasons as head coach, Muhitch’s teams went 153-63 with state titles in 2006 (8A), 2009 (7A) and 2010 (7A) and a runner-up finish.

Stine coached for 37 years at Naperville Central, winning a state title and finishing second twice on Joe Bunge’s staff before going 104-55 in 15 seasons as head coach with an 8A title in 2013.

Naperville Central not only knew about Stine’s plans for months, it held interviews for his successor last December. A new coach has not been announced yet, out of respect for Stine’s desire for a low-key farewell.

“I didn’t want this season to be in any way about me,” he said.

Muhitch felt the same way. In fact, he didn’t even think there would be a season. After retiring from teaching, he and his wife have been spending winters in Sarasota, Florida. He considered retiring early in the pandemic.

“I thought about it last year at this time,” Muhitch said. “That would have been 40 years. It sounded like a good time to give it to somebody else and move on. As my wife said to me, “It’s about time you graduated from high school.”

Muhitch understood why football wasn’t played in the fall. “You knew it was the right thing to do for kids’ health and safety,” he said.

But as fall passed into winter with no news, Muhitch said, “my wife and I came down (to Florida) thinking it just wasn’t going to happen.”

Then came January, when state officials gave the IHSA the green light to resume competition and football was back — for a six-game season with no playoffs.

Muhitch knew what he had to do. “I made a commitment to these kids,” he said. “I just wanted to honor that commitment to that senior class.”

He’s glad he did. The Tigers went 4-2, wrapping up their season with an entertaining 28-21 loss to St. Charles North last Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch leads a practice in 2009.
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch leads a practice in 2009.
Sun-Times file photo

Naperville Central finished 5-1 with a 31-30 win over previously unbeaten Maine South. The Redhawks won every game on the field but had to forfeit a victory over Waubonsie Valley because of an ineligible player.

“I’ve loved every second at Naperville Central for 37 years,” Stine said, adding the end of his career “is bittersweet.”

Like Muhitch, he has retired from teaching. Stine and his wife are planning to relocate to Texas, where they’re building a house, so this seemed like a good time to step down.

But neither coach leaves without a lifetime of memories, including their time as friendly rivals in the DuPage Valley Conference.

“Back when I started at Naperville Central in 1984, back then everyone was chasing Wheaton North,” Stine said. “Then you’re chasing Wheaton South and Naperville North.

“The DVC was special. The competitiveness and quality each program brought to the table made us want to be better.”

“The DVC was our starting ground as football coaches,” Muhitch said. “Mike followed a legend in Joe Bunge, I followed John Thorne. At the same time we were trying to continue the same performance level.”

The numbers and trophies suggest that’s just what they did.