Maine South's Bliss inducted into IHSFCA Hall of Fame
When Charlie Bliss came to Maine South as an assistant football coach in 1989, he was hoping to be able to stay close to the game he loved.
He already had a full-time job, as a firefighter with the Chicago Fire Department. So coaching was his way of giving back.
On April 1 in a ceremony in Champaign, the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association gave back to Bliss an honor that he richly deserved. They inducted him into their Hall of Fame as an assistant coach.
"It was a great weekend," Bliss said. "It was very emotional. There were a bunch of people from the team and coaches. It was just an awesome day."
Bliss has been one of the major architects of one of the highest scoring high school football programs in Illinois. He was part of Phil Hopkins' staff that won two state title games.
Current head coach Dave Inserra, who has been with Bliss first when Imserra was an assistant coach and hen as head coach of the Hawks, said that Bliss was and is a trendsetter.
"Charlie has always been ahead of the learning curve," Inserra said. "We have done things that 2-3 years later come into vogue. We threw the ball over 500 times in the 2003 season. Eat ahead. RPOs, we ran these but several years before they even had the name run-pass option."
Inserra said that offense was critical to the Hawks' success. Maine South has won five state titles and four second-place finishes while qualifying for the playoffs in every season of his tenure.
"Charlie has complete control of the offense," Inserra said. "I trust him to call the game the way he thinks it should be called. If I have a suggestion he listens and considers it. When you watch Maine South football, I believe you are always seeing a game that looks a lot like a college game. The system, the precision and the execution are far beyond normal Friday nights. Much of this credit goes to Coach Bliss and his offense."
Many cite Bliss' ability to change plays on the fly. You can hear his shrill whistle directed at his quarterback, to get the quarterback's attention to change the play.
"Charlie is an innovator with an unbelievable mindset for reading what the defense is giving us," Inserra said. "His greatest asset is changing the call at the line of scrimmage. He whistles with his mouth and the entire offense turns to the sideline, the call gets changed and, presto! Magic happens. It is a joy to watch."
Bliss is also known as one of the top quarterback coaches in the state.
He was an all-city quarterback at Schurz, before playing and starring at Northeastern Illinois University. He then played semipro football for the Racine Raiders and led them to an undefeated season before becoming a Chicago fireman. He recently retired at the rank of Captain.
It is his personality and ability to teach that really has gained Bliss his respect. He has had nine all-state quarterbacks and won three back-to-back-back state championships with three different quarterbacks. He is known by many as true teacher of the game.
"The amount of time Charlie puts in is endless," Inserra said. "The film study and meeting time with his quarterbacks, in and out of season, is beyond compare. He has trained QBs and wide receivers in the area, all free, for close to 30 years. His connection with the offense is special. He knows everyone's strengths and weaknesses and tries to execute the offense for all involved."
Bliss says that he puts all that time because he loves the players so much.
"Over the years, I am guy who just wanted to help kids and be successful," Bliss said. "We ran those showcases and helped kids get exposure to colleges, And we never charged the kids dime one. I did all this for 25 years."
Bliss credits Hopkins and Inserra for allowing him the freedom to run his offense. Bliss also said that assistant coaches Matt Pater, Tom Barrett, John Manchester, Vince Natali and Tom Mende have been instrumental to his success.
"You can give me all the accolades you want," Bliss said. "And I know I went into the Hall of Fame. But every one of those guys is the reason I am in there."