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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."

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Kyle Schwarber took a Babe Ruth swing on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, posed for a moment and dropped the bat out of his follow through, watching that Yu Darvish pitch soar 408 feet out toward the left-center field bleachers.

Those carefree Cubs relievers shown on the video board – wait, was that John Lackey bouncing around? – danced in the bullpen in the first inning. This is exactly what the Cubs wanted: Grab an early lead? Check. Get one of their big boys going? Check. Energize the crowd of 41,871? Check.

That sense of momentum lasted less than the time it takes to buy a beer or go to the bathroom at Wrigley Field, because the Los Angeles Dodgers look like the unstoppable force this October.

Now Wade Davis may never pitch in this National League Championship Series and Wednesday night could be Jake Arrieta’s final start in a Cubs uniform. Winter is coming after a 6-1 loss left the defending World Series champs looking mentally checked out of 2017.

The Cubs played AC/DC and Motley Crue in their underground clubhouse and answered questions about why they believe they can match the 2004 Boston Red Sox who took down the New York Yankee Evil Empire, becoming the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985.

But Kris Bryant’s glassy look and bloodshot eyes told a different story, the reigning NL MVP admitting how “draining” those five games felt against the Washington Nationals in Round 1.

“But you kind of expect that around this time when games mean a lot,” Bryant said. “It takes a lot of energy to get ready for these games, and at the end, you feel wiped out. It’s expected.”

But no one could have predicted this lack of buzz in Wrigleyville, which felt less than a lot of midweek games during the regular season. A silence fell over the old ballpark when Andre Ethier – who has three homers across the last two seasons combined – lined a Kyle Hendricks pitch off the video board in right field to lead off the second inning.

Hendricks – who has made 10 postseason starts across the last three years and kept the Dodgers completely off-balance last October on the night the Cubs clinched their first NL pennant in 71 years – watched in the third inning as Chris Taylor crushed another home-run ball that bounced off the roof of the batter’s eye in center field.

“I wouldn’t say we’re running out of gas,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “Every time we step on the field, I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning. We’re going to come into the clubhouse tomorrow positive and just ready to strap it on.”

The Dodgers will be out for beer and champagne on Wednesday night and the chance to kick back and watch the Yankees and Houston Astros expend all their energy in the ALCS.

Dodger manager Dave Roberts – who pushed all the right bullpen buttons in Games 1 and 2 (eight no-hit/scoreless innings combined) – toyed with the Cubs by letting Darvish hit against struggling reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with a two-run lead and two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Darvish showed bunt on all four pitches – and drew a four-pitch walk and slammed his bat to the ground in celebration. The fans booed after Edwards struck out Taylor on three pitches to end the inning.

“We were there just as much as any other game,” said Ben Zobrist, last year’s World Series MVP. “Mentally, there was no letdown. Physically, there was no letdown. It was just a matter of them capitalizing on some mistakes that we made. That’s part of the game. And they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“They played better baseball than us tonight. That’s why they got the W.”

The Cubs committed two errors in Game 3 and then had a National-style meltdown in the eighth inning, from Zobrist misjudging the flyball to right field that dropped in front of him, to Mike Montgomery throwing a wild pitch, to catcher Willson Contreras getting crossed up on a swinging strike three, his glove nowhere near Montgomery’s 92.7-mph fastball, which crashed into his right arm and ricocheted into the visiting dugout.

A three-run game became 6-1 – and head for the exits and then the offseason. There was Albert Almora Jr. in the ninth inning, driving a ball into the ivy in left field and sprinting right into lead runner Alex Avila at third base, bailed out only because Kike Hernandez waved his hand to signal a ground-rule double.

At least that made All-Star closer Kenley Jansen work the last three outs, accumulated stress that might benefit the Yankees or Astros more than the Cubs.

“They are done,” an NL scout wrote in a text message. “You can see it in their faces.”

For Cubs, it looks like 2015 all over again as Dodgers ready the brooms in NLCS

For Cubs, it looks like 2015 all over again as Dodgers ready the brooms in NLCS

These 2017 Cubs aren’t who they were back in 2015.

But if the Los Angeles Dodgers, up 3-0 in this NLCS after Tuesday night’s 6-1 win at Wrigley Field, sweep away the Cubs on Wednesday, fans will have trouble recognizing the difference.

Just one defeat away from suffering the same fate the pre-World Series Cubs did two years ago, the similarities are most definitely present, chiefly in that the bats have gone completely silent against an elite pitching staff.

Of course you’ll remember that four-game set with the New York Mets, when a young starting rotation looked like it was entering a decade-long stretch of dominance by carving up the then-upstart Cubs. Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom combined to limit the Cubs to five runs over 20.1 innings in the first three games of that series. The Cubs chased Game 4 starter Steven Matz before he completed five innings, but they still mustered only three runs in an 8-3 loss that completed the sweep. And that bullpen had itself a darn good series, too.

The Cubs hit .164 in those four games and reached base at a grotesque .225 clip.

Flash forward to now, and the Cubs are on the verge of another sweep, their offense experiencing similar problems. The batting average through the first three games is .160, the on-base percentage even worse than it was two years earlier, a nasty .202.

And much like in the 2015 NLCS, the Cubs' biggest boppers are struggling mightily. Kris Bryant was 3-for-14 against the Mets, he's 3-for-12 against the Dodgers. Anthony Rizzo was 3-for-14 against the Mets, he's 1-for-10 against the Dodgers. Kyle Schwarber was 2-for-14 against the Mets, he's 1-for-6 against the Dodgers.

“Of course we expected more,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “The Dodgers have pitched well. It’s somewhat surprising. I don't want to use the word disappointing. Our guys are working really hard. They’ve pitched well, hit a couple balls well. But overall, the three games, I guess their relief pitchers have pretty much thrown a no-hitter against us, so they’ve been pretty good.”

It’s true that in three games against the Dodgers, the Cubs already have hit more home runs than they did in the five-game NLDS against the Washington Nationals. But after grabbing early leads with home runs in each of the first three games of this series — off the bats of Albert Almora Jr., Addison Russell and Schwarber, respectively — there’s been little, if any, further damage against a Dodger pitching staff that has looked downright filthy.

The best performance by a starting pitcher came in Game 3, with Yu Darvish turning in the kind of outing the Dodgers envisioned when they made a deadline deal for the former Texas Ranger back in July. Darvish threw 6.1 innings of one-run ball Tuesday, the only real blemish being Schwarber’s first-inning, opposite-field Schwarbomb.

Darvish was so good that in a tight 3-1 game in the sixth inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts let his starter bat with the bases loaded. Darvish made his skipper look like baseball’s all-time genius, drawing a four-pitch walk from Carl Edwards Jr. to force in a run. But, of course, what he did on the mound was far more impactful. He kept the Cubs looking outmatched, something that was a common occurrence against that Mets staff back in 2015.

Yes, there are differences. There’s no doubt the squads are two very different groups. And while Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill were very good in their starts, particularly Hill, the Dodgers haven’t featured a string of sensational performances like that Mets team did. Instead, as Maddon mentioned, the Dodgers’ strength has been the bullpen.

After going oh-fer against Dodgers relievers in the first two games, the Cubs finally snapped their streak with two ninth-inning hits against Ross Stripling on Tuesday. But they’re still just 2-for-34 in three games.

But the biggest difference of all between 2015 and 2017? The expectations.

Two years ago, the Cubs had yet to smash that 108-year World Series curse and were fresh off the franchise’s first postseason series win in more than a decade, just the franchise’s second since capturing the 1945 pennant. The Cubs’ second-half surge that season had them playoff party crashers, a much different role than the defending champs.

This time around, the Cubs entered the season as favorites to repeat. The first half was a big disappointment in the eyes of most fans not so much concerned with the effects of the World Series hangover and more focused on getting back to partying in early November. The second half was more like what was expected. And so while the Dodgers — and the Nationals, for that matter — were better regular-season teams, according to the 162-game records, there were expectations on the North Side for the Cubs to do it all over again.

Instead, with one more showing like this by a slumbering Cubs offense against an elite Dodgers pitching staff, the sweep will be completed at Wrigley Field — and it will be 2015 that happens all over again.