Age and experience -- Antioch's coaching staff has it all
If age and experience equates to wisdom, then the Antioch football coaching staff might be one of the most wise in Lake County. Heck, make that all of Illinois.
Maybe even in all of IHSA history.
Antioch head coach Brian Glashagel, who is 47 and the baby of the group, has purposely surrounded himself with a group of seasoned veterans in order to give his players the chance to learn from coaches who have a wealth of knowledge to share and every experience in the book to draw upon.
"Are we old? Yes. Wise remains to be seen," Antioch defensive coordinator Dave Proffitt said with a laugh.
Proffitt, who is 73 years old and has been a head coach at three different high schools (Weber, Marian Central, Lake Zurich) in his nearly 40 years of coaching high school football, is in his second year of being the defensive coordinator for the Sequoits.
He is the oldest of a group of six assistant coaches at Antioch with an average age of 66 years old. All together, the "Savvy Six," which includes offensive line coach Del Pechauer (68), defensive line coach Mike Gordy (68), offensive line coach Rico Ellis (60), linebackers coach Jim Rejc (68), linebackers coach Andy Bitto (57) and Proffitt, have a collective 394 years on this earth and decades upon decades of coaching experience.
Four of the coaches, Pechauer, Rejc, Bitto and Proffitt, have been head coaches in the past. And Rejc, Bitto, Gordy and Proffitt have all been defensive coordinators in the past.
"If this isn't the oldest and most experienced (high school football) staff ever, it's got to be in the top one or two percent," said Bitto, who is in his first year on the Antioch staff after 20 years as the head coach at Carmel and 33 years in coaching overall. "I really can't imagine this amount of experience ever having been consolidated on one staff before.
"I bet on the low side, every single one of us have coached in at least 500 games. Some of us even more than that. But if you take 500 games apiece for all six of us, that's at least 3,000 total games coached. That's a lot of experience."
And Glashagel is anxious every day to draw upon that experience. He was thrilled to assemble this coaching staff around him.
"It's invaluable having these guys," Glashagel said of the 'Savvy Six'.
"There are so many situations that come up in games that they have been in many, many times. There are tight games, playoff games that they have been in over the years. There are all kinds of times that I bounce things off of them, and they come up with great stuff. It's such a reassurance to have them on the staff.
"When you have four former head coaches on your staff, guys who have coached since the 70s on your staff, that's a pretty good staff. There are other really good staffs out there, but the experience on our staff ... it's just ridiculous."
Bitto and Proffitt were both once in the same position as Glashagel when they were young head coaches. They sought out wisdom and experience for their staffs.
Proffitt hired Lenny Tyrell to be his assistant coach when he took over as head coach at Marian Central and Tyrell was about 20 years older than Proffitt at the time. He had also recently been the head coach at Fenwick.
"An issue for some guys when they hire assistant coaches is ego, but the way I saw it, I was very fortunate to have a veteran like Lenny coaching with me who understood the game so well and could share that with the players," Proffitt said. "For Brian, it's the same way. The ego thing doesn't exist. If he can put his players in a better position to be successful, he's going to do that, even if it means surrounding himself with coaches who have more experience than he has."
When Bitto became the head coach at Carmel, he surrounded himself with veteran coaches. In fact, one of his assistants was the previous head coach at Carmel, Mike Fitzgibbons, and another was an older assistant who was also on Fitzgibbons' staff. That coach happened to be Rejc, who is now reunited with Bitto at Antioch.
To make the connections for Bitto at Carmel even deeper, and potentially more awkward during his early coaching days, both Fitzgibbons and Rejc coached Bitto at Carmel when he was on the football team there as a player.
"It was rather weird and intimidating at first having them on my staff. They were older than me, they had been in the game far longer than me and they had actually been my high school coaches," Bitto said of Fitzgibbons and Rejc. "It takes a lot of courage to do something like that when you're the head coach. But that's why it's great what Brian is doing. He's only concerned with bringing in coaches who are the best of the best as a way to accelerate the learning process for the rest of his staff and his players. It makes the whole program better."
The "Savvy Six" have coached in state championship games, worked with all-state superstars and have seen just about every trend in practice techniques and Xs and Os in football come and go.
Their reach and know-how is far and wide.
"It's hard to find coaches who can do what these guys do and who know what these guys know," Glashagel said. "These guys are grinders, they are old-school and they just don't stop with how they prepare and study the game. I just sit back and realize how cool it is."
The only thing that might outdistance the years and experience in the game for these coaches is their love for football.
All six of the "Savvy Six" are officially retired from their full-time teaching positions, but none of them wanted to walk away completely from football.
Coaching high school football keeps them young and engaged and doing something that they love deep down to their cores.
"For me, the fire is still burning," Proffitt said. "I get very excited and pumped up to do what I'm doing at the age I'm at. I love working with young people. I love helping them learn the game and become better players and people.
"I have eight grandchildren and they are great and I love spending time with them but sometimes in the offseason, I'll get very bored, missing football. I love the game and as long as that fire is there and as long as I enjoy it, I'd like to continue to be involved in coaching."
Bitto feels the same way. He says he's got a lot of coaching left in him.
"Part of it for me is that when I'm coaching, I'm in my own skin," Bitto said. "It's the most natural thing I do. I love helping kids learn and make good decisions and become good people. And I love the camaraderie with other coaches and I love the collaboration with them.
"Coaching is what I have always loved."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw