Grant Blaney, Buffalo Grove coaching legend, dies at 86
Before he was ever formally introduced to Grant Blaney, Buffalo Grove head football coach Jeff Vlk felt like he already knew the legendary Bison football coach.
"When you first come to Buffalo Grove as a teacher, one of the first people they make sure you know about is Grant Blaney," said Vlk, who began his career at Buffalo Grove as an assistant coach and teacher in 2005. "He is a legend at Buffalo Grove."
Blaney, Buffalo Grove's first head football coach, leader of the program's only state championship in 1986, and namesake to the school's football stadium, died Tuesday at 86.
The official Twitter account of Buffalo Grove High School announced the news, tweeting that Blaney was a "leader to generations of student athletes. We thank you for the memories and your influence on our school."
Blaney, who had been ill as of late, was living in Huntley at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Barb, three children and grandchildren.
"When I was first named head coach, Grant came around every now and then. He'd come out to practice and talk, that was pretty neat," Vlk said. "When we were in the playoffs (in 2017) and beat Belleville West (Buffalo Grove's first playoff win since 2002), he was the first person to congratulate me. I remember him saying, 'Way to put Buffalo Grove back on the map.' "
Blaney put Buffalo Grove football on the map originally.
The school, which named its football stadium after him in 2011, opened in 1973 and played its first varsity football schedule in 1974 with
Blaney as a rookie head coach. Just 12 years later, Blaney, who moved across the district to help open Buffalo Grove after serving as an assistant football coach at Wheeling, brought a state championship to the school.
Buffalo Grove defeated Marist 26-6 in the 1986 Class 6A state title game. Blaney's career record at BG was 111-54.
"That 1986 team was a team for the ages," said Rich Roberts, who followed Blaney as head coach at Buffalo Grove after Blaney's retirement in 1989. Roberts, who was head coach from 1990 to 2005, was Buffalo Grove's defensive coordinator under Blaney for years, including the state championship season.
"We had some really good players that year," Roberts said of the 1986 state championship team. "We had four Division I kids and an All-American. We could put points on the board and we had four or five shutouts that year. And we had a great coaching staff. Grant was a very good mentor to all of us, especially me."
Roberts joined Blaney's staff for Buffalo Grove's first varsity season. He was an energetic young coach, who benefited from Blaney's wisdom and experience.
Blaney, who played football at Amundsen High School in Chicago before playing at Iowa State as a center, also coached at Thornridge High School and Wheeling before Buffalo Grove.
"He really took me under his wing," Roberts said of Blaney. "I remember one game where we were winning 28-0 in the fourth quarter and I was the defensive coordinator and I still had my starters in, and he came up to me and said, 'I want you to get the other kids in now.' And I said, 'Yeah, but I think getting a shutout would be really good for the kids.' And he said, 'It would also be really good for those other kids to get in.'
"I never forgot about that. He didn't care about winning by 28 points or 1 point. He wanted kids to have a great experience with football."
Roberts said Blaney was also heavily involved in personally teaching drills at Buffalo Grove's summer camps for kids, and that he often invited opposing coaches to watch practices as Buffalo Grove became one of the first programs in the Northwest suburbs to try to consistently use a two-platoon system.
"Grant was always great about trying new things, and allowing his assistant coaches to be innovative and do things we had never done before," Roberts said. "I owe a lot to him for that."
Above all, Roberts says he owes a lot to Blaney for a great friendship.
While their relationship started because of coaching, it continued long after both Blaney and Roberts left coaching. In fact, Roberts says he spoke with Blaney weekly, and most recently around New Year's Day.
"I lost a very good friend," Roberts said of Blaney. "He was like a second father to me, instilling values and life lessons both professionally and personally. We always liked to talk about the old times and old games and that was so enjoyable to him.
"He loved that time and he was so humbled when the school named the stadium after him, but it was so deserving. Grant was a mainstay at Buffalo Grove High School."