Cubs

Gordon Tech's Winiecki is a hall of famer

Gordon Tech's Winiecki is a hall of famer

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 11:16 a.m.
By Taylor Bell
CSNChicago.com
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Tom Winiecki didn't want to be a football coach. So who would have dreamed that he would coach for 31 years?

Oh, he loved to play the game. A Leo graduate of 1958, he started on the Lions' 1956 Prep Bowl Championship team, then went on to be a two-time letter-man at Michigan State. But that's when the 5-foot-10, 215-pound tackle figured his football career was over. He had other plans.

"I had planned to be one of three things; a union representative, a government representative or work with the unions in some capacity," said Winiecki, who was completing his degree in economics. "Chicago is a big union town and my father was a steelworker. I knew one thing for sure, I didn't want to coach."

But Larry Bielat, a Michigan State teammate and a Gordon Tech graduate, got a job at Gordon Tech on the recommendation of Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty. When Daugherty asked Winiecki what he wanted to do, he agreed to join Bielat as an assistant in 1963. Three years later, he became head coach.

"I figured coaching would be like the Peace Corps, that I'd get out after a few years. But I really enjoyed it," Winiecki said. "I respected what coach Jim Arneberg had done for me at Leo. We had a lot of good times. I loved my relationship with the coaches and the kids."

So much so that Winiecki turned down an offer from former Mount Carmel coach Frank Maloney to join Maloney's staff at Syracuse. He had other offers, including Illinois.

"But it came down to the fact that I'd rather have Frank's friendship than having to protect his back," Winiecki said. "I always enjoyed the relationship that I had with coaches in the Catholic League and at Gordon Tech in particular."

From 1966 to 1996, Winiecki posted a 192-112-2 record and won a state championship in 1980. He is most proud of the players he helped to send to college and the 13 present and past coaches who developed under his leadership, including his son Steve, now head coach at Deerfield.

It all adds up to a distinguished career that has earned a spot in the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame's class of 2011. Winiecki and 19 other honorees will be recognized on Wednesday at Hawthorne Race Course, 3501 S. Laramie in Cicero.

Winiecki will feel at home. The class includes four other Chicago Catholic Leaguers--former Big 10 official Frank Strocchia, Loyola football coach John Holecek, basketball coach Tom O'Malley and the late Mike Rabold.

Winiecki served as president of the Catholic League's athletic directors for 13 years and Strocchia was a longtime commissioner of the Catholic League. Strocchia was also a well-known football official and spent many Sundays arguing with Winiecki on the sideline.

"He worked in the Big 10 with Bo (Schembechler) and Woody (Hayes) on Saturdays, then worked Catholic League games at Gately Stadium on Sundays," Winiecki said. "I told my kids: 'Don't give him any lip.' He gave so much to the league. He brings back old memories. It's ironic to see us going into the Hall of Fame together."

Others who will be inducted at the 15th annual event are former Proviso East and Marquette basketball star Glenn "Doc" Rivers, now coach of the Boston Celtics, former Julian, Illinois and Denver Broncos' football star Howard Griffith, and former Robeson, Colorado and Dallas Cowboys football star Mickey Pruitt, now football coordinator for the Chicago Public League.

Also former NFL players Dave Casper and Paul Flatley, volleyball coach Therese Boyle-Niego of Loyola University, former Chicago Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas, former Chicago Blackhawks star Pierre Pilote, sports agent Steve Zucker, and former DePaul track and field star Mabel Landry Staton.

Special award recipients are NFL star Barry Sanders, Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun, former Chicago Blackhawks star Bobby Hull, former Notre Dame and NFL star Rocky Bleier and former WGN sports editor Jack Rosenberg.

So much has changed since the Catholic League was dominated by such iconic figures as Winiecki, Fenwick's Tony Lawless, St. George's Max Burnell, St. Rita's Pat Cronin, St. Laurence's Tom Kavanagh, Loyola's Bob Spoo and John Hoerster, Mendel's Lou Guida, Brother Rice's Tom Mitchell and Mount Carmel's Frank Lenti.

Two issues that helped drive Winiecki into retirement were communication with parents and college recruiting.

"I coached football and worried about the kids on the field and in the classroom. I didn't have to worry about parents -- not until the end," he said. "Maybe that's why coaches get out, why they don't coach for 20 or 30 years anymore, too much pressure from parents.

"The Internet and scouting services and scholarship organizations and sports talk radio and exposure camps have changed attitudes. Parents begin to think they now as much or more than the coach. If I listened to them, I'd be changing plays and lineups every day. The school administration has to support the coaching staff."

Winiecki pointed out that parents used to trust the coach to handle their son's recruiting and college coaches accepted a high school coach's evaluation of a prospect. Recruiters came to the school to view eight and 16-mm film for hours at a time, no longer.

"College coaches started bypassing you. Instead, they would go directly to the kid or a recruiting analyst. It got to the point where they didn't need a high school coach anymore," Winiecki said. "I used to tell them who could play for them. In those days, your word was good. I sent kids to Illinois, Michigan, Purdue and Northern Illinois. They respected your opinion. But then everything changed.

"Today, you have to coach 13 months out of the year. You have to promise kids that they will get better exposure with your offense. Kids used to take summers off, now there is pressure to attend summer camps and 7-on-7 camps or weightlifting workouts. If you don't attend, you're told that you will be overlooked by the college coaches.

"For me, coaching wasn't fun anymore. I didn't enjoy it. That's why I gave it up. I loved the hunt, the game itself. The thrill of the hunt was still there but I didn't enjoy the process. In my view, kids were burning out. They weren't allowed to be kids."

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.