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Nudo hopes to restore magic at Fenwick

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Nudo hopes to restore magic at Fenwick

Gene Nudo has been a winner everywhere he has been. He is good at building things, wearing different hats, juggling different jobs and turning chicken feathers into chicken salad. Now he hopes to restore the glory to Fenwick's once glorious football program.

Fenwick is synonymous with the Chicago Catholic League. The Oak Park school was dominant in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s under legendary coach Tony Lawless and in the early 1960s under John Jardine.

Johnny Lattner, who later was a Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, played on two of Lawless' Prep Bowl teams that lost only two games in two years. Today, his grandchildren wear the Black and White.

Jardine's 1962 powerhouse, led by Jim DiLullo, was one of the best teams in state history. DiLullo rushed for a record 224 yards and five touchdowns as the Friars crushed Schurz 40-0 in the Prep Bowl before 92,000 at Soldier Field.

But Fenwick has been fair to middling to mediocre to downright disappointing ever since. Eleven coaches have come and gone. The last moment of glory was 1995, when Paul Connor's 12-1 team lost to eventual state champion Maine South 24-21 in overtime in the state semifinals.

Nudo, 53, hopes this is his last job. He resigned as president and general manager of the Chicago Rush in the Arena Football League on Dec. 12 and was hired as Fenwick's new football coach on Dec. 15. He actively pursued the job. "I got the itch," he said. The man who started Driscoll's dynasty wanted to get back into coaching.

"I like the challenge that Fenwick presents," Nudo said. "I want to write my own chapter in the history of Fenwick football. I have always admired the Chicago Catholic League. I know we have a long road ahead of us. But I'm excited about the challenge. I will try to do at Fenwick what I did at Driscoll. Now the challenge is to get the kids in the weight room and get them in tune with what the new coach is all about."

As he did at Driscoll -- he coached the Addison school to a state championship in 1991 and left a legacy that two of his disciples, Tim Racki and Mike Burzawa, used to win seven state titles in a row in the 2000's -- Nudo plans to re-brand Fenwick's football program.

"At Driscoll, they looked like egg yolks with yellow jerseys and black pants. So I changed to Pittsburgh Steelers uniforms, black helmets, gold stripes," he said. "At Fenwick, I want to move the (black and white) colors around, give them a different look, maybe silver helmets. And I want to incorporate the school's coat of arms shield, too."

Another major change could be coming. School officials are exploring the possibility of building a football stadium to call its own instead of playing its home games at Morton in Berwyn or other sites. A Lawless Stadium or Lattner Field would honor what those icons have meant to the Oak Park community and Fenwick football.

In the meantime, Nudo is preparing for Jan. 3, which will be his first day at Fenwick and his first meeting with the football team. He already is evaluating tapes of the 2011 season. He is excited about coaching Pat Hart, a 220-pound All-Catholic running back. He will be running behind three 270-pound offensive linemen.

"I met all the boys at the football banquet last week," Nudo said. "My message on Jan. 3 will be: 'Hard work isn't an easy thing but if we can't have fun with football, there is no need to be out for football.' I have always been able to laugh at myself with other people. But there is a time for hard work and we will try to blend both."

Nudo knows the assignment won't be easy. But he has been there before. There was turmoil in Fenwick's program last fall. Coach Joe DeCanio was asked to resign after the third game and was replaced by athletic director Scott Thies. DiCanio was 45-38 in seven years.

"We need to put the turmoil of last fall to rest and have everybody rowing the boat in the same direction," Nudo said. "They did some good things last year but they didn't do them long enough. They lacked consistency."

Nudo's philosophy? "We will play football like our hair is on fire. We will fly around. The kids will get dirt under their fingernails. I think I'm a better coach than I was 20 years ago. Defensively, we will hit everything that moves. We will force people to make quicker decisions," he said.

"Some people say that Fenwick can't win because its academics are too strong. But I believe you can be an athlete and still be a student. We will coach the kids we have."

Born and raised in Norridge, Nudo is a 1976 graduate of Ridgewood. He played football for Mike Mariani. After attending Triton College for two years and Illinois State for two more, he left 11 hours short of a degree. He got into the business world for six years, selling windows and doors and working for Kellogg's food division.

From 1979 to 1983, he was a volunteer coach for Al Marks at Ridgewood. In 1981, he became head coach of the River Grove Cowboys in a minor league football league. He won the national semi-pro championship in 1985 and was runnerup in 1985 and 1986.

In 1986, he got a call from Jim Foster, founder of the Arena Football League. Foster was looking for players to fill rosters in his new league. Nudo liked what he saw of the venture -- 8,000 people showed up for a game in Rosemont and ESPN televised the inaugural 1987 season -- and became an assistant coach of the Chicago franchise.

When the Arena League almost folded in 1988, Nudo decided he needed more security. He joined Rich Marks' staff at Driscoll. When Marks left, Nudo became became head football coach in 1989. He guided Driscoll to the state title in 1991. In 1995, he left to become director of football operations for the Arena League.

Later, Jerry Colangelo and his son Bryan convinced Nudo to come to Phoenix to be an assistant coach with the Arizona Rattlers in the Arena League with an assurance that he would move into the front office after one year. He was with the Rattlers for 13 years, the last two as head coach, until he was fired in 2007.

He got back into the private sector, running camps for kids in the Phoenix area and selling industrial equipment before the building industry went south with the economy, then was hired as president of the Dallas Vigilantes in the Arena League in 2010. He also was an assistant varsity coach at a high school in Phoenix.

Then the phone rang again. The Chicago Rush was calling. They offered him a job as president and general manager of the Arena League team. When ownership walked away from the Rush and the league took over the team, Nudo knew it was time to move on. "I didn't like the way things were looking for me. I began to look for something else to do," he said.

He heard that Fenwick was looking for a football coach. He called, visited with athletic director Scott Thies and met with principal Peter Groom, who was a player at Marmion when Nudo was coaching at Driscoll. "We rehashed old war stories," Nudo said. A week later, he accepted their job offer, then talked to the parents and players from all three levels of the program at the football banquet.

"I spent 25 years in professional football and it was wonderful up until the end," Nudo summed up. "Now I have an opportunity to help young people again and teach them that hard work and sacrifice generally equates to success. I believe in my ability to lead young men."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

As we mentioned above, Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game. He was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”