Another Rucks joins the football coaches' Hall of Fame
Jim Rucks did not originally plan to follow in the coaching footsteps of his dad, Wally.
After playing football, basketball and baseball at the University of Illinois, Jim Rucks graduated with a finance degree and headed into the working world. It was far from a perfect fit.
So Rucks, who was coached by his dad in football and basketball at Waukegan High, changed course. He returned to Illinois to get a degree in education and work as a graduate assistant coach for the football team.
"It wasn't fun and I missed competing," Rucks said of his brief foray in the business world. "I got into coaching and I really liked it."
Which is evident in a career approaching four decades at Illinois, downstate Dwight, Hoffman Estates and now Rolling Meadows.
Rucks is following his late father into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Fittingly, the induction ceremony will be April 18 in Champaign during the annual IHSFCA clinic.
"It was emotional and I thought about what I had done to deserve it," Rucks said of getting the news a couple of days before Christmas that he would become a Hall of Famer like Wally, a 1988 inductee. "I've had great support and I couldn't do the things I've done without my wife (Cindy) and my two daughters (Melissa and Lindsay). No matter, good or bad, they're there.
"It's nice and it's a great honor. I'm happy for my wife and kids because it's all about them and not about me."
Matt Mishler has also been there with Rucks as a player and a coach. Mishler was Rucks' starting quarterback when Hoffman Estates made its last playoff appearance in 1994 and he just completed his fourth year as Meadows' head coach with Rucks as his offensive line coach.
"I thought it was awesome and probably long overdue," Mishler said. "The amount of time he's given to high school football is really amazing.
"What he did at Hoffman as a head coach is probably overlooked at this point by some people, but he had such a long career there and did such a great job there."
Sports were always a big part of the Rucks' family as Wally had football coaching success at small downstate schools Toulon and Winchester before coming to Waukegan in 1959. Jim Rucks was a three-sport star at Waukegan and part of the 1969 basketball team that suffered the third of its 6 losses to eventual state champion Proviso East and future NBA big man Jim Brewer in the state quarterfinals in Champaign.
Rucks then went to Illinois, and the amazing feat of playing football, basketball and baseball did not come at the expense of the classroom as he earned football academic all-American honors as a sophomore. When he returned to get into coaching, he spent two years on Bob Blackman's staff and then a spring with Gary Moeller before going to Dwight.
After three years there he got the job at Hoffman in 1980. His second team just missed making the program's first playoff trip and everything finally clicked in 1988 with a perfect regular season and trip to the second round of the playoffs.
"We had great coaches who really worked hard like Mike Donatucci, Mike Battina and Ward Nelson," Rucks said. "That's part of what made it easy.
"We had good coaches and good kids who had a great work ethic. They would do whatever was necessary to win and they were coachable. They were good hard-nosed kids and a lot of that came from their parents."
The 1994 team quarterbacked by Mishler capped a five-year run of playoff trips and saw Hoffman become the first team in MSL history to win three straight outright division titles. Ironically, Mishler was a three-sport prep athlete who went to Illinois and initially didn't plan to get into coaching.
"He was a big part of me wanting to do this," said Mishler, who has won three MSL East titles at Meadows. "I had a winding path to this career but it was something I always looked at, playing for him."
Hoffman and Rucks parted ways after the 2005 season but he was brought on as an assistant at Meadows by then-head coach Doug Millsaps. Mishler said Rucks' experience has been invaluable to him and their players.
"The No. 1 thing of all the things he brings is his ability to relate to all of the kids, which isn't necessarily easy," Mishler said. "Year-in and year-out they will literally do anything for him. That's his biggest strength and I know it was when we played for him.
"He shows kids, first and foremost, that he cares about them. He hasn't changed but kids do, and he still manages to relate to them because he shows he cares about them, has a passion about the game of football and high school football in particular."
And that's why Rucks keeps coming back each fall.
"It is so much fun," he said. "Cindy keeps asking me, 'Are you going to continue to do it?'
"I said, 'As long as I'm having fun and feel I'm helping Matt and making our kids better, and as long as Matt is happy with the job I'm doing, I'll continue coaching.'"