Longtime Geneva coach Wicinski retiring
Whether a season played out 0-9 or 9-0, Geneva's Rob Wicinski kept his perspective and coaching approach consistent.
"It was just all about having a good time with these kids, developing some character and [helping them] be able to handle some adversity when [they] get older," Wicinski said.
"The little things you have to run into with football -- they don't seem so little when you're 16, 17 or 18 -- but, that's nothing [like] what you're going to run into in life. That was kind of the mantra and how we approached the direction that we wanted to take the program."
Wicinski, who led Geneva to 11 playoff appearances highlighted by a second-place finish in Class 7A in 2008 and won 129 games in 22 seasons as Vikings' head coach, officially announced his retirement on Monday.
The 2016 Illinois High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame inductee, a graduate of Ottawa Township High School, went on to play linebacker collegiately at Northern Illinois and spent seven seasons as an assistant at Ottawa before going on to Niles North and eventually coming to Geneva in 1999.
"Rob was one that gave me the opportunity to come to Geneva back in the day," Geneva athletic director Dave Carli said. "I owe him a lot, not only professionally but family-wise, too. He's a great man, a great mentor and I appreciate everything he's done for me personally and for my family.
"But, also for the school and student-athletes across Illinois. He's a good person. Just a really good person, so I really appreciate all his time and commitment. I look forward to seeing him in retirement in the days and upcoming years. Hopefully, he enjoys it."
Wicinski says he didn't enter coaching for the winning.
"It came, but I didn't get into it for the winning," Wicinski said. "You like to win, you compete and you are practicing to win ... but, from the get go, I started off at Niles North High School and I was [winless] my first season there as a head coach."
Wicinski served at Niles North for nine years from 1988 to 1996, going 3-24 in three seasons as head coach from 1994-1996.
He went 0-9 his first season at Geneva, and 5-31 his first four seasons, but the program's turnaround came in 2003, a 5-4 season marked by a four-overtime thriller against rival Batavia. The following season, Wicinski's Vikings went 11-2 to end Geneva's 11-year playoff drought, the start of a stretch of eight straight playoff appearances and 11 in 12 seasons.
In 2008 Wicinski and the Vikings won a school-record 13 games, reaching the Class 7A state championship game.
"When I came to Geneva, I was [winless my first season as head coach in 1999]," Wicinski said. "I think if you get caught up too hard as a young coach with the wins and the losses, I think [it] could be a difficult ride. It was always about the relationships that I built."
Those relationships span from myriad coaches and players that cycled through his programs.
"I just could not do this without good men, good coaches around me," Wicinski said. "And, I just can't thank the players enough. I had a lot of good players; I had good character kids, you know? All that played hand-in-hand. If you can just get the good-character kids to believe in something and believe in a philosophy, the wins will take care of themselves."
The Vikings went 2-4 in Wicinski's final season for the 2021 shortened spring slate, a credible bounce-back from the 0-9 finish in 2019.
"Anytime you run into any kind of adversity, which we did going [0-9], you always re-evaluate," Wicinski said on the possibility of retirement at various stages leading up and during the 2021 season. "Every year is a re-evaluation. We only have a year contract by law, anyways, so you always re-evaluate once you get to the end of the season on what it is that you need to do better ... I think it's a continual process throughout the 22 years I was there."
"Just take yearly stock, yearly inventory and see where it lands," said Wicinski, who added he was nearing the end of his teaching tenure. "Teaching goes hand-in-hand with the coaching. I've always looked at myself as a teacher first and the coaching came along afterwards."
As for Wicinski's next steps with his newly-found time off on the horizon, he's not quite sure, yet. Plenty of people have already asked him.
"I know what I'm not going to be doing: That's worrying about fourth down," Wicinski laughed. "I know I'm not going to be worrying about that."
Re-connecting with friends and family, however, will be atop his list.
"Football can take a lot out of you when you get submersed in it, as a lot of the sports" Wicinski reflected. "When you get submersed in it, sometimes, you forget to take care of the important things. You get a little narrow-minded sometimes or narrow-vision, so I'm going to try and expand my horizons that way."
Wicinski added one final tidbit of coaching wisdom:
"You can't do it by yourself," he said. "As I've said before: 'Don't blink' because it goes very fast.' I tell these parents when they come into the program: 'Don't blink because your boys will be seniors before you know it.'
"It takes a village. It takes a village to make this thing happen," Wicinski said.