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Larry Kane/ForThe Herald News 11/14/09 Crete-Monee's head coach Jerry Verde in today's 6A quarterfinal game with Providence at Providence. Providence won 44-14.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
And there wasn’t a football program in the Southland more desperate for a jolt of positivity than Marian Catholic, a 1-8 finisher in 2012.
To compound matters, the sophomore and freshman teams finished a combined 0-18. The sophomore squad barely had enough players — approximately 17 — to even field a team.
With longtime coach Dave Mattio retiring after 37 years, the program was at an all-time low, nearing irrelevance, which made finding the right person to succeed Mattio a top priority.
Marian had to go for broke, swing for fences.
In reality, there was only one candidate who fit the bill: Crete-Monee coach Jerry Verde.
And, by golly, Marian Catholic got its man, announcing Thursday that Verde had accepted the position.
When you have a chance to hire Bill Cowher you don’t settle for Lovie Smith, unless you’re the Bears or District 230.
Marian deserves considerable praise for landing Verde, 56-14 in six years at Crete-Monee and, most important, a Spartan through and through.
He graduated from Marian Catholic in 1995. Was a stud linebacker and major component on Marian’s 1993 Class 4A state championship team.
That’s why there is no person better than Verde to convince junior high prospects that Marian Catholic is the right fit. After all, he walked the halls of the Chicago Heights school as a student. He won a title there, and later coached a titlist.
When Verde delivers his message to kids, it’s not a sales pitch. It’s a message from the heart.
“The most important part of getting kids here is that nobody questions Marian’s education,” Verde said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the best in the state. That’s a major sell. The facilities are second to none. If you can get a young man to visit the school and look at the facilities, they should be blown away. Marian is an attractive place.”
It got a whole lot more attractive by hiring the 35-year-old Verde.
Name another local football coach who has won state titles as a player and coach. You can’t.
“You’re talking about a place that made me much of the person I am and a program that is close to my heart,” Verde said of Marian Catholic. “If not for that, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
I knew there was a common interest by both parties.
However, I just couldn’t imagine Marian Catholic putting together a package that would make Verde leave a public school position and all the perks that go along with it.
Not to mention, leave a Crete-Monee program that’s coming off the Class 6A state championship and returning a junior class that has gone 32-0.
Heck, Crete-Monee might win it all again in 2013.
“I thought about it for a very long time,” Verde said. “The retirement in a public school system. I thought about where I saw myself in five or 10 years from now. It was a hard deliberation. I envisioned myself at Marian. That’s where my desire to succeed is.”
Let’s face it. For Marian Catholic, there was no tomorrow. It was either get Verde and provide itself with a legitimate chance at restoring glory or select an inexperienced person on the cheap and continue to pile up the losses.
Marian made it difficult for Verde to say no. He’ll have a reduced workload, spending time in the physical education department and the school’s marketing department.
At Crete, Verde was juggling six classes and athletic coordinator responsibilities, and often could be seen monitoring after-school activities. That didn’t leave a whole lot of time to spend with wife, Angie, and 6-month-old daughter Jaclyn.
My sources say Crete-Monee tried to retain Verde, but it wasn’t enough for him to resist the opportunity to return to his alma mater.
“I leave here with a heavy heart,” Verde said. “But to be the guy to rebuild the program at Marian ... the fulfillment level in fulfilling that obligation outweighs everything else.”
Verde has a Herculean task ahead of him, made tougher by neighboring Homewood-Flossmoor’s ascent under Craig Buzea.
Somehow, Verde will have to tap into H-F’s pipeline, namely, the Junior Vikings Youth Football program.
Buzea has done an excellent job regaining a foothold in the Homewood and Flossmoor communities. H-F’s freshman team beat every opponent this season on average by 40 points.
Verde is optimistic, but realistic that success, at least as far as wins and losses are concerned, will not arrive overnight.
“The numbers have to improve, and that’s going to take time,” Verde said of the number of players in the football program. “It’s going to be a struggle for a few years. But I’m confident I can do it or else I wouldn’t have taken the job.”