Joe Trost, columnist for #PrepSportsReport
It’s a stain that still shines bright on a hall of fame resume, being fired midseason from a high school coaching position.
As Brian Papa once told me: “Do you know what you have to do to get fired midseason?”
That’s normally reserved for coaches who do things that get them fired from their teaching position, too. But in October 2011, Papa was yanked midseason from the Lincoln-Way East boys soccer sidelines by former Lincoln-Way Supt. Larry Wyllie, the same bully indicted by a grand jury in 2017 and now awaiting trial for federal fraud.
While former disgraced district mouthpiece Stacy Holland, who lied more than Pinocchio, tried to spin this flawed story publicly, it was soon learned that Wyllie’s ego acted before he even had 1 percent of the actual facts about a postgame interaction between Papa and an opposing player.
In the end, Papa was back coaching girls soccer that next spring, as the district quietly worked out a financial settlement with the respected coach behind the scenes. Despite being embarrassed and humiliated publicly, Papa was a good – albeit richer – solider, remaining on the boys soccer staff as an assistant until he retired from teaching in 2016.
Since then, he’s been a volunteer assistant boys coach, quietly helping when and where needed for an ever-dying soccer program in major need of a heart transplant.
While Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way West have thrived in recent years – on and off the field – under former Papa players Sean Fahey and Matt Laude, the Griffins finished under .500 five out of the last six years. Ryan Decker recently resigned as coach.
Now it’s time for current Lincoln-Way Supt. Scott Tingley – the same administrator who was told to go pull Papa out of class and walk him to an ill-fated administrative meeting back in Oct. 2011 – to bring Papa back to resurrect boys soccer at the school and close out his boys coaching career properly.
You don’t think Papa will make a difference? Don’t let the truth get in the way of these facts:
*He led Sandburg to its first boys soccer state title, also a first for a south side high school. Papa is the only coach on the south side to appear in the IHSA boys and girls state title games.
*He led Lincoln-Way to five soccer state trophies, which is more than the entire school district of three programs combined has won since 2005.
*When he retired from teaching, Downers North hired Papa right away as head girls soccer coach. Despite being an outside coach and not knowing a single player, Papa led the Trojans – a program that had never won a regional title in girls soccer – to a fourth-place state finish in his very first season. A year later, he led them to an Elite Eight appearance.
Tingley, a former high school coach himself who has cleaned up a ton of mistakes by the previous administration since taking over in 2013, has a chance to do what’s right.
There isn’t a teacher on staff in the district or another outside soccer coach with the qualifications of Papa.
All eyes are on Tingley now, as it’s another opportunity to truly right a wrong from a decade full of missteps by this district. And as Tingley has shown through some tough decisions during his tenure, you can never go wrong by doing what’s right.
Give Papa a two-year contract to not only turn around the program, but also to mentor the next future young coach.
It’s a true win-win for the community – on and off the field.
CornerKICKS appears on Sundays. Contact Joe Trost at email@example.com.
Bio on columnist: Joe Trost is an award-winning writer: STAR Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a four-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year; founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.; and board member for Buddy’s HELPERS, which engages and educates student athletes about Making A Difference On AND Off The Field.