Preps Talk

Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch discusses football program during pandemic

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NBC Sports Chicago

Mount Carmel head coach Jordan Lynch discusses football program during pandemic

The latest guest on my weekly 20 Minutes podcast is Mount Carmel head football coach Jordan Lynch. Lynch, who was an All-State quarterback at Mount Carmel and then starred as a Heisman Trophy candidate at Northern Illinois University, has led his alma mater to an impressive 25-2 record in two seasons including a 14-0 record last fall and the 2019 Class 7A state title. Lynch and I cover several different subjects from the coronavirus pandemic to an impressive 2019 Caravan season and much more.

EDGYTIM: So as an educator and a coach, what has been the game plan as far as the whole coronavirus is concerned for Mount Carmel as a school as well as for your team?

Jordan Lynch: Educationally it's been a lot to take in, especially for a 16-17 year old kid and in the bigger picture this can all be a lot. At first I thought a lot of kids looked at this as a couple-week vacation, but we've really locked down here as coaches and teachers and administrators and we are all on an eLearning platform. A lot of our kids have fully bought in and they aren't treating this as a vacation. At first I think the whole vacation mentality was the mindset of a lot of kids, but that's all changed very quickly. Everyone is hitting the books and doing eLearning five days a week and getting after it. We've had our challenges because we have kids who come from different backgrounds, and some might not have a device or proper WiFi, but everyone is helping each other out and it's been a success so far. Personally, I do miss being around the kids. I miss getting to see them and getting to check up on them individually. That's been my focus this week and I'm sending out texts along with sending them messages on Hudl. We've been sending them workouts, different motivation quotes and just trying to keep the kids as engaged as possible. But the most important thing right now is that they are keeping up with their education and staying on top of their school work.

EDGYTIM: Your program has been well known for your 6 AM workouts for years now. They have been such a big part of the whole team bonding aspect at Mount Carmel, but that's being lost for now. When you eventually are allowed to get back with the team, is that team bonding maybe as important to recapture as any other work this time of the year?

Lynch: Absolutely.  Every team in the state and every kid that plays football is part of an offseason program. The big thing that I think separates us is how we run our 6 AM workouts. Every kid is dressed head to toe the same. You aren't allowed to work out even if you don't have the right socks, everyone is dressed the same. At this time of the year we have no seniors in the workouts, just juniors and younger, so we have juniors that want to take over the leadership roles and who want to lead and want to be a captain. This is the biggest time of the year where they grow the most in that aspect. As an example Justin (Lynch, Jordan's younger brother and starting QB) is more of a quiet kid, and he is going to need to be more vocal this year. This is that time of the year where he can be building upon that over the next few months so when it comes to August hopefully he's already taken over that leadership role. That's a big aspect that we are missing right now.

EDGYTIM: So after two seasons as a high school head coach now, what's been the biggest surprise or the biggest challenge for you so far?

Lynch: I'm still learning and I'm still growing every day. When I was the running backs coach at Northern Illinois you are working on football constantly 24/7, 365 days a year.  It's really all you do and you are just grinding it out. I got to Mount Carmel and got hired in late December, early January and there isn't a whole lot of football activity going on from January 'til July. So during that time you are building up relationships with the kids and that's when I realized that mattered the most. At the end of the day it's not all about the X's and O's and winning a game. It's about the kids trusting you and trusting your staff and having them buy into what you're trying to preach. So delivering that message day in and day out is the most important part of being a head coach and winning games. If the kids don't believe in you, even if you have the greatest schemes, it doesn't matter. In Year 2 we really minimized everything and we only had a few different plays. But we know what we are good at and we make sure the kids buy in and know their assignments and really trust us as a coaching staff.  In high school you need to have great mentors regardless of all the X's and O's.

EDGYTIM: We've talked before about the new on campus Barda-Dowling Stadium at Mount Carmel and everything that went into that new facility, but did it go maybe above and beyond even your expectations last season?

Lynch: It really did go above my expectations last year to be honest and I'm someone who played at Gately Stadium and who played on the old AstroTurf. I sound really old but that was just 10 years or so ago. I Ioved Gately Stadium and I loved playing there, but that was 10-11 years ago and times have changed. The thing I always noticed playing at Gately was our student section never really traveled to Gately and we never had a great student section. When we moved our games to Mount Carmel our student section really came alive. They came up with different themes each week and different chants and they really bought in. The student section in the end zone was packed every single time and that was really the first time as a player and now as a coach I felt a home atmosphere and we finally had an advantage playing at home now. For the people who haven't been out yet to see a game it reminds me of a Division 2 or Division 3 atmosphere. It's compact and it's tight. It seats 2,200 I believe and we make sure we pack it. It has an old school feeling too where sometimes people don't like to sit in the stands and instead just stand around the field. It was just great and a big reason why we went undefeated at home last season.

EDGYTIM: What stood out to me about last season's 14-0 state title run was that you didn't exactly blow anyone out of games week in and week out. You had a lot of tight games, yet it never felt for the most part that you were ever out of any games and even though the scores were close, they really didn't feel that close. Is that by design or was that just me?

Lynch:  Kind of how I felt the season played out when I look back on it is that when you think of Mount Carmel, the first thing that comes to mind is defense and you think of Dave Lenti (defensive coordinator). That guy doesn't get enough credit for a lot of things, but there is a reason why Mount Carmel has been super successful over the years and Dave has a lot to do with it. We pride ourselves on defense and we pride ourselves on grinding teams out. The scores in those games doesn't indicate the game necessarily and for three quarters there will be some teams with our schedule, some high powered teams who are going to be in the game with us. We really pride ourselves and why we train like we do in the off season is that come the fourth quarter we wear teams out. We will stick to the run game, we will eat some clock up and we are going to rely on our defense. We have some great play makers on offense who can do some special things, but I'm not going to drop back and throw the ball 50 times a game. I'm going to run the ball 50 times a game and grind you out for three quarters and when it comes to the fourth quarter, who wants it the most? A lot of the games were close bit in the fourth quarter you saw the clock management, the run game and upfront we just seemed to get stronger and stronger as the game wore on. That's Mount Carmel kind of football in a nutshell and how we play.

EDGYTIM: So who are your nonconference games for next season and have you realized that the CCL/ESCC will be even more stacked with loaded teams in 2020 who all bring back a ton of experience from last season?

Lynch:  From what I've heard alot of kids are coming back from last season and a lot of the teams are returning a lot of starters. It's the Catholic League Blue and I wouldn't want it any other way. We open up at home against Calumet High who we played last year as well. The only thing that really changes in our schedule this year from last year is that we play Phillips in Week 2 then after that it leads right into another grinder. It really comes down to who can stay the healthiest and who can have the most momentum heading into Week 10.

EDGYTIM: So let's say we finally get past this whole coronavirus ordeal. I decided to take you out for dinner and I'm buying...so where are you taking me?

Lynch:  Man that's tough. One of my go-to spots is I'm a big pizza guy. I would say that over the last 15 years or so my parents have always been going to Roseangla's Pizza in Evergreen Park. That's a spot on almost every Thursday you can catch me eating there.  So that's a spot where me and you could sit down and have a nice little hangout. That's where we would go.    

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

There’s country strong. And then there’s Jerry Sloan.

The NBA Hall of Fame player and coach, a tenacious defender and steady offensive threat, became a household name with the Chicago Bulls in the 1970s. Four-time NBA All-Defensive First Team. Two-time NBA-All-Star.

Sloan died Friday after a courageous battle against Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. He was 78.

But it was Sloan’s perseverance as a child and his dedication to the game of basketball —and his home town— 300 miles south of the Windy City that made him a real star.

[MORE: Remember ‘Original Bull’ Jerry Sloan as he lived: tough, humble and honest]

The former Bull, who went on to lead the Utah Jazz to the playoffs in 15 of his 23 seasons there as a head coach, grew up on a farm near McLeansboro, Illinois. The youngest of 10 children, Sloan would routinely wake up in the wee hours to do family chores. He’d then walk two miles to the town’s high school for basketball practice.

The foundation of a hard work ethic and a ferocious competitive nature paved the way for Sloan’s rise to stardom.

Sloan played on several great McLeansboro teams in the late-50s. In his junior season, he helped guide his squad to a 19-6 record for coach Gene Haile. He followed that up with a senior season most kids would dream of: 26 wins, 3 losses. He was named to the All-State team.

He would later guide the Evansville Purple Aces to two Division II national championships. He became known as “the Original Bull” shortly after the startup Bulls franchise drafted him in the 1966 expansion draft. The rest was history—a brilliant 10-year career in Chicago as a player and nearly three more as a head coach on West Madison before becoming a legend in Salt Lake City.

But it was his small-town roots that made Jerry Sloan all the more genuine.

He would return to McLeansboro several times in 1984 —the year he became an assistant with the Utah Jazz— to watch his high school team play. His son, Brian, led the Foxes to the Class A state championship that year, going 35-0 in the process. Brian went on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

Sloan would return frequently to this Southern Illinois town many times during his run with the Jazz— a run where he only finished below .500 once and racked up an astonishing career 1,221 wins. Hamilton County High School, formerly known as McLeansboro, dedicated its gym in Sloan’s honor in Dec. 2012. A road in McLeansboro is now called Jerry Sloan Avenue.

In a statement, a representative from McLeansboro High School said the following:

“Today is a sad day for Hamilton County and the Foxes. Coach Jerry Sloan has passed away. Coach Sloan graduated from McLeansboro High School in 1960 and was always a hometown boy. Whenever he returned he was just one of us. He will be greatly missed. RIP Coach Sloan.”

McLeansboro will always be Sloan Country.

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Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

J.J. McCarthy, the state’s top-ranked high school quarterback and overall player according to Rivals, is transferring from Nazareth Academy to IMG Academy in Florida.

McCarthy made the announcement on his Twitter page Monday afternoon.

The news sent shock waves throughout the national prep football landscape. McCarthy, committed to play at Michigan, led the Roadrunners to an IHSA 7A second place finish back in November. As a sophomore in 2018, he threw for over 3,200 yards and 36 touchdowns. It culminated in a state title win and a 13-1 season.

The move makes sense for McCarthy, as he will team up with offensive lineman Greg Crippen, a fellow Michigan commit. According to Rivals, McCarthy (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) is ranked as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and No. 33 overall recruit in the country.

The loss is a huge one for head coach Tim Racki and company at the La Grange Park school. That said, the Roadrunners are one of the dominant programs in IHSA football, compiling a 38-4 record the past three seasons with three state titles in the previous six campaigns.

The big questions: Will other high-caliber Illinois high school athletes follow McCarthy? When will the IHSA commit to a fall sports schedule? What will Illinois high school football look like in the fall? What guidelines will be in place? There are many uncertainties.

What is known: The IHSA chose to cancel the state basketball tournament and all 2020 spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois is currently in a phased reopening of businesses and other institutions. Florida is ahead of Illinois in respect to some of those aforementioned facilities.

The risk, or perhaps the unknown, was worth it for McCarthy and his family. Will Florida —or other states, including Illinois— even be cleared to play football come August? Will his move be a productive one in retrospect?

Time will tell.