Patience pays off for Geneva's Wicinski with Hall of Fame selection
Humbled by his selection to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Geneva football coach Rob Wicinski says he shares the honor with everyone who contributed to building the Geneva football program into a winner.
"You can't do something like this by yourself. There's absolutely no way," Wicinski said this week after the IHSFCA released its list of 16 inductees for 2016. "I've had a lot of good people around me and I've had a lot of great players. It's not bittersweet, but there's a lot of people who put a lot of sweat equity into the success of this football program. It's not just me. I'm getting the benefits and rewards from it."
A graduate of Ottawa Township High School, Wicinski went on to play linebacker at Northern Illinois. He returned to Ottawa and spent three seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater followed by seven more as an assistant coach at Niles North.
His career as a head coach didn't go smoothly at first. He took the reins at Niles North in 1994, but his teams went 3-24 in three seasons.
He got a second chance at Geneva in 1999, but it took time to turn around a program that endured an 0-9 season the previous fall. His first four Geneva teams lost 31 of 36 games.
"They had to have some patience up top," Wicinski said. "They had to understand it was going to take some time, the administration, (athletic director) Jim Kafer specifically. The good thing is he was new too. I suppose if he had been here for awhile, he would have probably kicked me down the curb, but he was new too and trying to figure it out. The two of us tried to figure this thing out. He was patient and the principals above him were patient."
The Vikings finished 5-4 in 2003, but they narrowly missed the postseason.
In 2004, Geneva went 11-2 and ended a 12-year playoff drought before bowing out against Bloomington in a Class 6A semifinal. That began a streak of eight straight playoff appearances and 12 in 13 years.
In 2008, Wicinski led the Vikings to a school-record 13 wins and a second-place finish in Class 7A. His teams have gone 117-65 (. 643) in 17 seasons at Geneva.
What was the key to turning the program around?
"It all started in the weight room," he said. "We just started pounding weights. We could see success in the weight room even though we didn't see it on the football field. But we could see our gains and see that we were getting stronger, getting faster.
"But you had to have that one game where they had to perform on the field and believe. They did, eventually."
Wicinski will be inducted to the IHSFCA Hall of Fame at the organization's annual luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign on April 2 at noon.