When Mike Donatucci retired two seasons ago as head coach at Fremd, many observers thought his retirement would be brief.
It was. Donatucci spent last season as the Schaumburg defensive coordinator -- and again many people figured it would be just a matter of time before Donatucci took the head coaching reins.
That day came Friday when Donatucci was announced as the head football coach at Hoffman Estates -- the fifth since the school opened in 1975. Donatucci replaces Eric Ilich -- who resigned two weeks ago.
"I think this is the right place to be," said Donatucci, the winningest coach in Mid-Suburban League history. "I wasn't interested in going any place else. I was happy at Schaumburg. They treated me very well and the kids were great."
Donatucci returns to where he began his high school coaching career in 1979, serving as an assistant under Jim Rucks and Bill Gourley. Donatucci departed as the Hoffman Estates defensive coordinator in 1992.
Donatucci spent 19 years as Fremd head coach and compiled a record of 137-63. He guided the Vikings to the IHSA playoffs in 16 straight seasons, reaching the quarterfinals four times.
"Leaving Fremd was pretty emotional for me," said Donatucci, who was selected to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame last February. "So I wasn't looking for a head coaching job. But when this came up, this is the only place I would go.
"The reason I went back is that I felt that the community and school in the late '80s and '90s gave Jim Rucks and I great support. If it wasn't for what happened here back then, I would have never got the Fremd job."
Donatucci takes over a program that has been mired in last place in the Mid-Suburban West Division for many seasons. The Hawks have won just 10 games in the last 11 years and have not qualified for the playoffs since 1994.
"I have heard good things about the underclassmen here," said Donatucci, who was selected MSL coach of the year four times. "The sophomores were 8-1 and are a tight-knit group. The freshmen were 5-4 and have some size and talent. So, I'll get to work on it beginning on Monday."
Hoffman Estates principal Jim Britton and athletic director Steve Lacni was excited about Donantucci's return.
"We're so excited to have Mike back in the orange and blue after so many years," Britton said. "Obviously he's an exceptional coach, but it goes beyond that. He's an outstanding person and leader."
"We couldn't be more thrilled to have Mike as a Hawk again," Lacni said. "His success goes deeper than just wins and losses on the field. We're looking forward to the immediate impact he'll make on our football program and in our school."
Fremd head coach Lou Sponsel, who took over the Vikings after Donatucci retired, looks forward to coaching against his mentor.
"I think it is great for the conference to have a coach like Mike coaching here," Sponsel said. "Mike is a builder. He creates solid people. I am sure he will bring in great people as assistant coaches."
Donatucci becomes the second area coach to retire and then return as a head coach. Three years ago, former Stevenson coach Bill Mitz took over at Jacobs High School in Algonquin. Mitz has taken Jacobs to the state playoffs in all three years there.
Donatucci also reached out to Wheeling coach Brent Pearlman before accepting the job at Hoffman Estates.
"I talked to Brent about the things that confronted him when he took over the Wheeling job," Donatucci said. "The programs are very similar. He was very helpful."