The interview committee tasked with hiring Larkin's seventh football coach had a strong, positive feeling about former Hersey and Harper coach Dragan Teonic early in the process.
"He was able to communicate as a leader and detail the structure of his program within the first interview," Larkin athletic director Mark Ribbens said. "After the first interview there were comments like, ‘Don't interview anybody else. He's our guy.' "
Teonic, 34, was eventually chosen from a crop of 44 candidates to lead the Larkin football program. The Elgin school made his hiring official Monday via news release.
"I'm excited to get started. I'm itching to go," Teonic said. "I can't wait to meet the kids and get going with them and see where we are. I want to get an actual, honest assessment of where we are and try to improve."
Improvement was Teonic's calling card in four seasons at Hersey before his teaching position was eliminated in March. He took over the Huskies in 2010, in the wake of back-to-back 1-8 seasons. Hersey went 3-6 in Teonic's first season and finished 4-5 in 2011 and 2012.
The turnaround was completed last fall, when Teonic led the Huskies to a 6-4 record and their first playoff berth in nine years. Hersey lost to Fenwick in the opening round of the Class 7A playoffs, 28-6.
"Dragan turned this program around," Hersey athletic director Steve Messer said Monday. "It was at a very difficult place when he came in. We didn't have a lot of kids out, we didn't have a competitive drive and we didn't have a real good commitment. That commitment now is 100 percent better than what it was. It was a complete turnaround. Even when the kids knew Dragan was looking for a job, they didn't quit lifting. They kept working hard and they're ready to go. A big part of that is what he and his staff did with these kids. They really bought in.
"We were very pleased with the work he did here, and Larkin is getting a very good coach who is going to bring a lot of excitement around football, no doubt about it."
Larkin has not reached the playoffs since Dave Bierman's 2006-07 squad finished 5-5. The program has not enjoyed a winning season since Matt Gehrig led the Royals to a 5-4 finish in 2010-11. That team fell just shy of the playoff points necessary to make the postseason field.
Teonic inherits a team that went 3-6 last fall and graduated a large senior class. He replaces Mike Scianna (11-25), who stepped down after four seasons to spend more time with his family.
"I'm excited because the program is in better position, I think, than the Hersey program was when I started that one four years ago," said Teonic, who will teach physical education at Larkin. "They've been competitive. They've had some real competitive games the last couple of years, and Mike has done a good job building a foundation there. I think they have some real good athletes and they have the ability to be a good football team."
Teonic began his coaching career as an assistant at Harper College under National Junior College Athletic Association hall of famer John Eliasik, his former coach. At the age of 20, he became an assistant coach at Riverside-Brookfield under IHSFCA hall-of-famer Otto Zeman.
Teonic was hired as Harper's head coach in 2006. The Hawks led the conference in passing in his first season and made the playoffs with a 6-4 record.
In 2007, the regional finalists led the country in passing. The 2008 Hawks (11-1) led the nation in passing yards and won a NJCAA title.
Teonic returned to the high school ranks as an assistant coach at York in 2009. He took the Hersey job the following year.
In his 14 seasons at various levels, Larkin's new coach has coordinated defense, offense and special teams and coached nearly every position group. He said Monday he won't know what role he will take on Larkin game days until after he meets with and finalizes his coaching staff. He said he will adjust schemes to accentuate the strengths of his returning players.
"We're going to have a set of offense, defense and special teams plays that we run as a staff, and from there we'll figure it out based on our athletic ability," Teonic said. "We don't have a set offense that we have to run or a set defense. We'll adjust it to (the players).
"Then we'll take a look at the staff. I haven't had a chance to meet with anybody yet and find out what anyone's strengths are yet. From there, I'll decide if I need to coordinate a certain side of the ball or the other. I'll see what our staff needs and try to scratch where it itches."