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By Brad Spencer
Last week, Jim Nudera sat in the stands and watched his son play football. He was a normal father cheering on his oldest of four children, Jim Jr., as the senior quarterback tried to lead York High School to a playoff victory.
"I was just a regular father watching his son play football," he remembered, "and it was a great feeling."
Such moments have either been rare or nonexistent over the years for Nudera, who decided enough was enough last week and resigned as OPRF High School's head football coach after 12 seasons and a 41-69 record. Nudera cited the need to explore other opportunities and to spend more time with his family as the main reasons for his decision. He said he will continue to work as a teacher in the high school's Driver and Physical Education programs.
"A tremendous amount of emotion went into this decision," said Nudera, who noted that he's been on the sidelines of football games since 1970 when he was a pee-wee player himself. "If you're a football coach then you have to be committed to the profession. I missed out on a lot of things. It's time to come home now and finish that project I told my wife I would finish three or so years ago."
Nudera said he and his family took a trip out east last spring when the discussion about moving on came up. "We've been in two different places for too long, splitting time here and there and going in too many directions. It really wears on you. My wife and I decided that it was just time."
Nudera wouldn't confirm or deny a rumor he was leaving OPRF to take a coaching position at the University of Chicago, a Division III school where his son Jim Jr. may be headed to play. "I'm not for certain what awaits me down the road, and right now Jim Jr. is focused on playing football for York High School," he said.
It's safe to say that in the last 12 years there have been more downs than ups for the OPRF football program. In the dozen-year span, the team appeared in the playoffs three times — losing in the first round every time — and racked up nine losing seasons. The Huskies won no more than three games during eight of those 12 seasons. When it came to West Suburban (Silver) Conference play, OPRF earned just 18 victories in 72 games. At the onset of this season, the team had garnered a No. 21 ranking in the state but finished 2-7 overall and was winless (0-6) against conference competition.
What the win-loss records don't show is a coach dedicated to his program. Nudera, who also spent time as a head football coach at Elgin, Marist and Prospect high schools, as well as at Fenwick for wrestling, has gained respect and admiration from other coaches and administrators.
"Nobody can say Jim Nudera didn't give 100-percent every day of the year to better the OPRF football program," said John Stelzer, who has been OPRF's athletics director for the last four years and with the athletics department for seven. "For a variety of reasons it just didn't work out as he had planned and I think he realizes that. His integrity and passion will truly be missed."
In 1999, Nudera came into OPRF with just two returning starters — Tim Steffen and Jay Addis — but the year before the Huskies had won the conference championship. While no conference title was obtained during Nudera's time, the Huskies did make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons (2005, '06). Wins over Lyons Township and Hinsdale Central during those seasons, Nudera said he'll remember the most from his 12 years on the job.
"Hinsdale Central was ranked third in 2005 and we beat them 10-7," he said while acknowledging a photo of the game up in his office. "That's a game I will never forget."
Nudera also won't soon forget the game in which his Huskies faced his son and York earlier this season. Despite losing 36-14 to the Dukes, the game was a family event. Nudera and members of his family met Jim Jr. and his sister Brailey, a cheerleader at York, at midfield for the coin toss before the game. "That one won't be forgotten either," said Nudera.
Stelzer met with OPRF Principal Nathaniel Rouse on Monday to begin the process of finding a replacement for Nudera.
"We're going to look for someone who would be a good fit for this school and this community, aside from having the obvious football knowledge, that goes without saying," said Stelzer, who added that promoting a coach from within the program is a possibility.
"We certainly want to do our due diligence with in-house candidates," he said. "There are a few potential candidates in the building and there's a commitment from the district to promote from within, but having said that we want to find the best possible person for this program and won't limit ourselves in that regard."