Tony Monken's new gig at Vernon Hills comes with a priceless perk
The headaches are gone. Long gone.
"I've been headache-free for seven years," Tony Monken said with a chuckle, but with a certain seriousness in his voice.
"I used to have so many of them."
Back when Monken was the head football coach at Vernon Hills, he got not only the real kinds of headaches, the achy, annoying ones that make your entire body hurt, he also got the figurative ones, the irritating problems common within so many high school athletic programs that every head coach deals with. Many of those headaches would keep Monken up at night.
"There are so many things a head coach has to do; you are pulled in so many different directions," Monken said. "Sometimes you just need to get away from it."
And sometimes, you need to come back, which is why Monken is back on the sidelines at Vernon Hills after a six-year absence.
But the 56-year-old Monken, who retired as a teacher from Vernon Hills at the end of last school year after 19 years, isn't the head coach again. He's the Cougars' new offensive coordinator. And there's a perk involved in his new position that is priceless for him.
And we're not even talking about the fewer headaches that come with being an assistant coach rather than a head coach.
This season, Monken will get to work closely with his youngest son Thomas, who transferred to Vernon Hills from Libertyville last winter. Thomas is the Cougars' starting quarterback.
"It's awesome getting to play for my dad," Thomas Monken said. "And it's great to be back at Vernon Hills. It brings back so many of my memories of football when I was younger."
Thomas and his older brother Anthony spent much of their childhoods at Vernon Hills football games. They were in the stands as toddlers and then they moved to the sidelines, where they were the ball boys for their dad's teams.
To be able to come full circle is special for Thomas, and his dad.
"To be able to do this with Thomas is so special," Tony Monken said. "Football is so unique with the amount of work you put in and the game-planning and a full week of build up for one night. Thomas and I talk about film and plays and everything a lot. To be able to spend that time with him has been great."
Time was one of the primary reasons Tony Monken left Vernon Hills in the first place.
He was named the first head football coach in school history when Vernon Hills opened its doors in the fall of 2000. He spent 12 years in that position building the Cougars into one of the top smaller-sized programs in Lake County, with four conference titles, including back-to-back undefeated runs through the North Suburban Prairie in 2009 and 2010, and two trips to the state quarterfinals.
But in 2012, he unexpectedly announced that he was resigning from his position. He wanted to watch Anthony play high school football. Anthony was the starting quarterback at Libertyville.
To get his coaching fix at the time, Monken coached Thomas' youth football teams in Libertyville. Those teams won three straight TCYFL Super Bowls.
Then, when Anthony graduated from Libertyville in 2014, Tony dabbled with some assistant coaching jobs at Buffalo Grove and Highland Park high schools.
That's when he realized that while he didn't miss the headaches of being a high school head coach, he did miss the coaching.
"I really didn't get into coaching because I wanted to be in charge," Monken said. "I got into it to coach football. As a head coach these days, it's getting harder and harder to actually coach. There are so many other things to do. I like working with the kids on the fundamentals, and really teaching them."
Timing worked out for Monken with the Vernon Hills job.
It just so happened that legendary coach Otto Zeman, who came to Vernon Hills from Riverside-Brookfield to run the offense, told head coach Bill Bellecomo last year that he would not be returning for the 2019 season. And when Thomas Monken made his transfer to Vernon Hills official last winter, Bellecomo and Tony Monken started talking about the open offensive coordinator position.
Bellecomo was an assistant for Monken at Vernon Hills and is one of several coaches that have been with the program since its inception.
"I tried to get Tony to come back a few years ago," Bellecomo said. "Finally, he felt the timing was right. It's been great having him. When I first started, I was a youngster and Tony was a mentor. Tony's dad Bob was also on the staff back then and he was a mentor as well. Tony and I have been friends for so long. It helps to have that kind of connection.
"And it's great to watch him having so much fun. He'll tease me sometimes when there's something I've got to do and he'll say, 'Glad I don't have to deal with that.' I think he's really happy not to have to deal with the administrative part of coaching. He's happy to just be coaching."
And both Tony Monken and Thomas Monken, a senior who completed 16-of-25 passes for 227 yards in the Cougars' 43-0 win over Grayslake Central last week, are happily cherishing every minute of this new arrangement.
"It's a special year, but it's also a little bittersweet," Thomas Monken said. "It's awesome to be playing for him one last time. But the sad part is, it is one last time with him."
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