Mundelein's Calhoun steps down
As he listened to a senior give a touching speech about his head football coach during the team's banquet Wednesday night, Mundelein athletic director Troy Parola got choked up.
He likely wasn't the only one in the room who felt proud or felt a tear well in his eye.
"He's an outstanding leader of young men," Parola said of Larry Calhoun.
Calhoun will be the first to tell you, however, that he did not lead Mundelein to outstanding success the last four seasons.
So Thursday morning, Calhoun gathered his returning players and informed them he was stepping down. He told his assistant coaches following the banquet.
"I didn't want him to (resign), but he felt it was the right thing to do," Parola said. "It's not that we're unhappy with him, at all. ... He's a great man."
Calhoun, who Mundelein introduced as its new head coach in February of 2015 after three years at Elk Grove, took over as the high school's fine and applied arts department chair this past summer. And while the new position required more time and energy for the former business teacher, Calhoun insisted it wasn't the primary reason for him submitting his resignation as football coach.
"The reason is, I didn't get the job done," said Calhoun, whose Mustangs went 10-26 in his four seasons, never making the state playoffs. "I wrote some goals down four years ago when I took the job, and I'm really proud of some of the things we did. I'm proud of our kids, and maybe there are some things they value more highly now. I'd like to think that was partly because of our program. Their performance in the classroom I think has improved. Our culture of service and camaraderie with the rest of the school is all good. But I failed to get us to the level of competitiveness that I think our program should and can be at."
Calhoun saw himself coaching longer, but he holds himself accountable for the Mustangs' shortcomings on the field. Mundelein won just one conference game in each of his four seasons.
"I think Mundelein and our kids have all the ability they need to be successful in this conference (North Suburban), " Calhoun said. "People make excuses about the conference. Certainly it's a tough conference, and there's plenty of argument when we play Stevenson and Warren because they're two-and-half times our size (enrollment). But Lake Zurich, Libertyville, those schools are the same size as us, and I think we should expect to be competitive with them.
"Our expectations aren't high enough, and I didn't create that confidence," Calhoun added. "Our confidence is still fragile."
Mundelein went 4-5 in Calhoun's first season in 2015 -- the Mustangs' most wins since they won five games and went to the state playoffs in 2004 -- and everything the new coach said was "gold," as he put it. Mundelein, after all, had won five games in the previous seven seasons combined.
But what followed was three years in a row of 2-7.
"When you don't have the success, your credibility erodes a little bit," Calhoun said. "To no fault of their own, I think some of our players and parents started to question if we were doing the right thing. I don't think that's the best thing for this program."
Which made his decision to step down difficult.
"I love this job. I absolutely love it," Calhoun said. "I love our kids, and I absolutely believe they can be successful. As much as it hurts me to admit, I don't think I'm the right guy going forward. I think I was the right guy at the time (in 2015), but I failed to do some of the things that I maybe should have done to get us where we need to be."
Another 2-7 record wasn't all that bothered Calhoun this season. In those 7 losses, the Mustangs lost by an average of nearly 34 points per game.
"We didn't play close games," Calhoun said. "That's the problem. I'm not expecting to win every time we step on the field, but we should be competitive. We have the talent and the ability to compete. Some of those 7 losses could have been wins for us if our confidence level led us to prepare in a way that we expected to win.
"Expecting to win doesn't guarantee a win. Expecting to lose pretty much guarantees a loss."
Parola praised Calhoun for his team-building techniques and passion. The Mustangs went on a camping trip in Wisconsin last summer. Before the first game of the season, fathers presented sons with their jerseys. Players wrote "A Letter to Mom." Seniors stood and read them out loud. Mothers wept.
As Mundelein's administration seeks Calhoun's replacement, Parola will look for a coach with similar character.
"I want to find the right person," Parola said. "I want to find somebody that's going to be able to instill what Larry did with some traditions here."