In a Monday news release formally announcing former Marist offensive coordinator Mike Fitzgerald as new St. Francis varsity football head coach, St. Francis athletic director Dan Hardwick stated they secured a like-minded individual.
"Mike really fits the mission and vision of St. Francis High School and I couldn't be happier to welcome him into our family," Hardwick stated.
"I'm excited to be at St. Francis because the kids choose to come there to be challenged more than just academically and athletically. St. Francis takes time to develop the overall person and the overall character," said Fitzgerald, 33.
"I want to instill values through the football program, and I think if I instill those values, winning is a byproduct of that process."
An all-state receiver and kick returner out of Kent Denver in Colorado, Fitzgerald did the same at Lake Forest College from 1999-2002. He was named an offensive captain and most improved player before moving on as an assistant coach at Carroll University in Wisconsin. He returned for two years as Lake Forest's offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator.
Working alongside former Lake Forest College roommate Pat Dunne for six playoff seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Fitzgerald helped Marist to a 50-19 record with a Class 8A championship berth in 2009. Last fall the RedHawks lost 27-21 in the semifinals to eventual state champion Naperville Central.
Prior to the Dunne-Fitzgerald brain trust arriving at Marist, the Redhawks had made the playoffs twice in 11 years.
A physical education and health teacher at Marist whose faculty role at St. Francis will be determined, Fitzgerald accepted the St. Francis position last week from among three finalists, ending a process that began with the Dec. 8 retirement of Greg Purnell. In seven seasons Purnell compiled a record of 47-26 with five playoff appearances, and won the 2008 Class 5A state championship.
While Purnell was successful using mainly a ground-based Wing-T scheme, Marist excelled with a spread offense that ran up to 85 plays a game, according to Marist athletic director Bob Lim.
RedHawks quarterback Jack Donegan threw for 3,242 yards and 33 touchdowns last season and Notre Dame-bound receiver Nic Weishar finished with 237 career receptions according to the Illinois High School Association, surpassing Montini's Jordan Westerkamp for Illinois' all-time mark.
"I think what Fitz does is when you watch a team like Oregon, or a team that goes, goes, goes, that's what Fitz does," Lim said. "He relates well to kids. He's a player's coach, so I think they're going to have a lot of fun over there."
However, Fitzgerald said he'll adjust the offense to available personnel and talent.
"We're going to put them in a position to be successful. It's going to be tailored around the individuals and what they do well," Fitzgerald said.