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Craig Ferguson still vividly remembers his first game as head coach of
the St. Rita hockey program nine years ago.
After coaching rival Mount Carmel for six seasons, Ferguson left the
Caravan program for health-related reasons and to concentrate more on
his then-young son’s burgeoning hockey career. He then re-emerged as
the hockey coach at St. Rita, where he also worked in the admissions
“I got some strange looks for a while there,” said Ferguson, who won
his 500th game in November and will retire after his 15th season of
high school coaching this spring. “I’ll admit that it was a little
weird and a little nerve-wracking at first, just walking into the
building here. And then, the first game that I coached for St. Rita
was against Mount Carmel.”
It was the sports equivalent of ripping off a bandage quickly.
Ferguson soon got past the “weird” feelings and started to push the
Mustangs program up the rankings. It was a continuation of his success
at Mount Carmel – where in six years he took the Caravan to one state
runner-up finish in 1998 and also led them to four Kennedy Cups, which
are awarded to the winner of the annual Chicago Catholic Hockey League
Ferguson has won five straight Kennedy Cups with St. Rita and finished
as state champions in two of the past three seasons – including last
year. They also have a young team this season, with the program poised
to do big things again in the near future.
Why hang up the whistle now?
“I’m 51 and I didn’t want to be coaching high school hockey when I was
60,” Ferguson said. “I didn’t think that would be good for me or St.
Rita. The grind is just too much for me now. With my job here at
school, which is kind of important, I felt it was the right time to
Ferguson is St. Rita’s director of admissions and is not retiring from
that position. He plans to stick around and help the hockey program
with administrative tasks, such as scheduling, and will lend advice to
his hand-picked successor, if asked – former St. Rita player and
current Mustangs assistant coach Brian Coleman.
“It’s going great,” Ferguson said. “He’s going to be great here. He’s
a young guy with a lot of energy and I think he’s a terrific coach.”
Likewise, Coleman is eager to help Ferguson’s final Mustangs team go
as far as possible in the upcoming postseason before getting the keys
to the program that he once played for against Ferguson’s Caravan
“It’s really exciting,” Coleman said. “Craig’s taken this program to a
level that it’s never been before, winning multiple Kennedy Cups and
state championships two of the last three years, but I’d probably be
the wrong guy for the job if I didn’t think we could maintain that
level of success and see where we can take it.”
Ferguson, meanwhile, will be content to just sit back and watch.
“I kind of look at some of the terrific programs we have in this area,
like Loyola, New Trier and Glenbrook North, and they’re [very good]
year in and year out,” Ferguson said. “When we tried to build this
program, we were looking for that kind of consistency and not just to
trying to put together one great team. Now, we feel like this is one
of the top programs in the state. It’s been a lot of fun. St. Rita’s
been great to me.”