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updated: 8/14/2013 8:21 PM

With a focus on academics, Rohde regime takes over at Elgin

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  • Kyle Rohde.

    Kyle Rohde.


New head coaches tend, as a rule, to come into programs with visions of grandeur. If they are taking over a successful program, it's warranted to have lofty expectations. If you come in talking immediate resurrection to a struggling program, everyone knows it's pretty much just coach-speak.

Then there's the new head coach who knows what he's up against and faces it head on, in the right manner, and realistically.

That's Kyle Rohde.

Rohde conducted his first practice as Elgin High's new gridiron boss Wednesday, just behind the Memorial Field turf he toiled on as a Maroon prior to playing four years at Millikin University. He has no visions of hoisting any Upstate Eight Conference or state hardware in November. He knows a program that has had one winning season since he graduated in 2002 is not going to contend for championships overnight.

The last two years were not kind to Elgin High football. After going 6-4 in 2010 and making the program's only playoff berth since Rohde and company went to the postseason in 2001 and 2002 under Barry Reade, the Maroons have gone 1-8 the past two years, numbers have dwindled, and academic eligibility has been an issue.

Dave Bierman is one of the finest guys to ever put on a whistle, but it was time for a change and Bierman stepped away from guiding his alma mater after last season ended woefullywith a 49-12 loss to Batavia.

And while Rohde, who has coached at Elgin since 2007, the last three as defensive coordinator, may not have been the No. 1 guy on the administration's list when Bierman stepped down, the vice president of operations for the Elgin-based Howard Sportswear and Graphics, was most definitely the guy who wanted the job the most.

Now he's got it, and he hit the ground running Wednesday, he and his 15-man coaching staff putting the Maroons through the paces, albeit with small numbers Rohde hopes to increase by accomplishing his No. 1 goal.

"Grades are the No. 1 thing," he said. "You'll see our program reflect that. Our freshmen will have mandatory study tables twice a week instead of practice. The No. 1 goal is to get all of them eligible to play football as sophomores."

That's a pretty basic and bold statement for a 29-year old first-time head coach to make. But it's also a fact that Elgin's numbers have dwindled considerably the past few years and one of the major reasons is academic issues. And remember, this is Rohde's school. He has as much Maroon Pride about him as anyone I've ever met. He knows full well he is now in charge of one of the oldest football programs in the state, one that is 23 games shy of having played 1,000 football games since 1897. But it's also a program that has made only 10 playoff appearances, and never more than two straight, since the playoffs began in 1974.

So while Rohde wants badly for the program to succeed, he also knows it's going to take time. Heck, if Elgin started the season tonight it would likely be with 20 varsity players. But that doesn't deter Rohde's enthusiasm.

"I'm having fun and I want to be here," he said. "I plan on being here a long time. It's going to be a process."

One of the first things Rohde did was go out and get a bunch of his football buddies to become assistant coaches -- and trust me, more of them are volunteering than are getting paid. Longtime Maroon assistants and grads Reggie Richardson and Mike Ledbetter are back to join guys like Bryan Creed, Randy Hammer, Aaron Cobbs, Justin Opsahl and TJ Gilboy, among others. Thirteen of Rohde's 15 assistants are Elgin grads. He also has head boys basketball coach Mike Sitter (also an Elgin grad) on his staff and he works daily with Sitter's assistant, Jeff Howard. The support system is in place and strong.

"When I played and when these guys played, we won," Rohde said. "These are all guys I've known for a while; guys I played with and guys who coached me."

Rohde always played on winning teams growing up, at Abbott Middle School and at Elgin High. He has high expectations for the Elgin program but he's not going to be Mr. Nice Guy in getting the Maroons back to respectability.

"I might be mean to you but it's going to be a good time," he said. "I have high expectations for them, and I have high expectations for their grades. It's going to take all our kids being academically sound. I don't find it unrealistic to be a consistent playoff team at a school this size. I want to be in the playoffs in three years."

That may be too late for senior quarterback Ryan Sitter, but he likes what he sees so far out of the Rohde regime.

"I've noticed things running smoother," Sitter said Wednesday during the team's break. "Things are in and out, on time and on schedule. Coach Rohde has brought a lot of discipline to the program and I like that."

Sitter, like his coach, has no visions of championships.

"It's going to take patience," he said. "We have what we have and everything is simple. Baby steps. We want to win but coach is also building for the next 3, 4, 5 years. We just have to be patient."

Patience will be put aside for a week this season, though. Week 3. Friday night, Sept. 13. Memorial Field. Elgin vs. Larkin. It's Rohde's second goal for the program.

"Beat Larkin," he said, with no further explanation needed.

The Town Jug has rested comfortably on the west side since 2010, and Sitter also agrees a priority for the Maroons of 2013 is to change that.

"We've lost three in a row to Larkin," he said. "That's the first step. Winning that rivalry. We go week to week but, yeah, beat Larkin. That would make our season."

And give the Maroons something to build on, a foundation they desperately need right now, but one that appears to have some solid backbone to it in the new head coach.

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