Brian Doll's job as an ambassador for American football in Europe led to some amazing opportunities.
Doll got to meet football heavyweights such as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, former stars Joe Montana, Franco Harris and Phil Simms and former Steelers coach and current TV studio analyst Bill Cowher. The former Elk Grove coach spent time in London and had the chance to work with arguably the world's most recognized professional sports franchise in soccer powerhouse Manchester United.
Yet, after two years, there was still a desire to get back to working with a group of teenage kids who are mostly anonymous outside of their school community. To be back on bus trips to places such as Waukegan and Park Ridge.
"Everyone was telling me I would come back," Doll said with a laugh. "I didn't believe them at first."
But now Doll can be seen tonight, on the visitor's sideline at Schaumburg's Gary Scholz Stadium, in his first game as New Trier's head coach. The excitement of returning to the Friday night lights of high school football for Doll is magnified by now leading the program he played for before graduating in 1995 and worked at for nine years before becoming Elk Grove's head coach in 2009.
Doll was already looking at opportunities to return to the sideline when Dan Starkey announced in late February that he was leaving New Trier for the head coaching job at Lockport.
"It was one of those phone calls you receive from a good friend the day the job opened," Doll said. "This was a job I always wanted and I figured I had to at least put myself forward and go through the interview process.
"I'm absolutely thrilled. It's probably the only job I've ever accepted on the spot. I told my administration it was my dream job and it was always where I wanted to be."
Doll's first shot as a high school head coach turned out to be a dream come true at Elk Grove. The school was energized by a three-year run where the program won 24 of 33 games, made three playoff trips and in 2011 won a Mid-Suburban East title and reached the Class 7A quarterfinals.
But in late May of 2012, Doll got a job opportunity which he felt was too good to pass up by helping to grow the game of American football in Europe. Doll was running football clinics, advancing the NFL's Play 60 youth fitness initiative and promoting the sport to help make the possibility of the NFL having a team in London more of a reality.
"I can say I definitely had an amazing experience with what we were able to develop and grow over there," Doll said. "I got to have some great experiences and help out."
But there were also changes that led to more overseas trips. Doll estimated in his second year on the job he went from Chicago to London nearly 14 times and was away from his wife Annie and two young sons, who are now 3 and 1, for as long as a month at a time.
"It was becoming a little more than my family wanted to handle," Doll said. "We never got completely settled in being here or there and we moved back and forth quite a bit."
Doll's desire to return to coaching was fueled by watching Elk Grove or New Trier games when he was in town. He also believes the experiences of working with CEOs of major corporations helped him with his organizational and marketing skills.
Doll said the numbers are up to 85 players on the New Trier varsity roster and more than 200 in the program. He's also worked to increase interest throughout the school with giveaways such as T-shirts and rally towels for the student section.
He's excited about what he sees on the field as well. He brought back 2011 Daily Herald Cook County All-Area captain Dejan Basara, who played quarterback and seemed to do almost everything for Doll in his last year at Elk Grove, to help install his new offense at New Trier.
Tonight's meeting against his old coaching friend Mark Stilling at Schaumburg should be a good first test, The biggest will eventually be Central Suburban South kingpin Maine South, which last lost a division game in 2000 to New Trier when Doll was an assistant coach.
"It's been amazing," Doll said. "It's been a very easy transition for me and my family and it's been very welcoming from the community and the alumni.
"The best thing we've got going is a lot of excitement in the community."
One that is truly home for Brian Doll.
• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.