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
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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."

Brandon Morrow sidelined with upper chest strain, no timetable for return


Brandon Morrow sidelined with upper chest strain, no timetable for return

Brandon Morrow’s comeback attempt has hit a bump in the road.

Morrow, the Cubs reliever and former closer, has what the club is calling a “mild right upper chest strain,” according to’s Jordan Bastian. Bastian added Morrow felt the strain in his last bullpen session and there is no clear timeline for his return.

The strain is the latest ailment to sideline the oft-injured Morrow, who hasn't pitched since July 2018 due to a series of arm troubles. The 35-year-old has undergone two elbow surgeries since then (November 2018, September 2019) before becoming a free agent this winter. He rejoined the Cubs on a minor-league deal.

Morrow entered camp optimistic the latest procedure did the trick to get his elbow healthy. The Cubs have been easing him into action — the right-hander is throwing one bullpen every four days. Morrow said earlier this month he’s experienced some aches and pains but attributed those to being part of the rehab process.

Morrow is listed as day-to-day, according to Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune. But considering his injury history — and the fact he was already unlikely to crack the Opening Day roster —  the Cubs will proceed with extreme caution. There's no need to expedite his return, mild strain or not.

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Why Alex DeBrincat breaking out of scoring slump is important for Blackhawks

Why Alex DeBrincat breaking out of scoring slump is important for Blackhawks

Alex DeBrincat has been snake-bitten all season long. The scoring chances have been there, but the goal production has not and it’s been weighing on the 22-year-old winger.

But on Friday, DeBrincat reminded the city of Chicago why the Blackhawks signed him to a three-year, $19.2 million extension in October.

DeBrincat turned in one of his best performances of the season by leading the team in shot attempts (10), shots on goal (8), slot shots (6) and scoring chances generated off the rush (3), according to Sportlogiq. Most importantly, he had his first multi-goal game of the season, which included the overtime winner to give the Blackhawks their second win in nine games and first victory at home since Jan. 19.

"I feel like I’ve had a lot [of pucks] hit the post and gotten a lot of chances lately and they went in tonight," DeBrincat said following a 2-1 overtime win over the Nashville Predators. "It’s nice.”

DeBrincat is and always has been a streaky goal scorer, but this has easily been the most challenging season of his young NHL career. It’s the first time he’s faced real adversity at the professional level, going through 12- and eight-game goalless droughts earlier in the season.

In his rookie season, DeBrincat (29) edged out Patrick Kane (27) for the team lead in goals. He followed that up with a 41-goal campaign, which only 11 players accomplished last season.

Despite scoring only 14 goals through his first 60 games this season, DeBrincat has tried to maintain a positive attitude. But it’s certainly been difficult.

"I’m trying to stay even as possible," DeBrincat said. "I think getting down on yourself isn’t really going to help anything. For me, I’ve just been trying to keep working on it. Obviously, you get frustrated at times but try to stay as positive as possible."

While time is running out for the Blackhawks to make a playoff push, it’s still encouraging to see DeBrincat break out of his scoring slump because he’s the kind of player who lives and breathes hockey away from the rink. And the last thing the Blackhawks want or need is to have DeBrincat carry a negative feeling with him into the summer and overthink what may have gone wrong.

Perhaps Friday's game could open up the floodgates for DeBrincat, whose shooting percentage of 9.0 this season is well short of his 14.7 percent career average.

"I feel like we've been getting some chances the past three or four games and he's hit a couple posts and had some good looks," Dylan Strome said. "Nice to see him capitalize on a few of those chances. ... It obviously just builds your confidence then he does that in overtime, so that's good."

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