Longtime Fenwick head basketball coach 'baffled' over firing

Quinn: 'I was baffled and stunned'

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By Marty Farmer

Contributing Reporter

After 28 years as the Fenwick boys basketball head coach, John Quinn was notified a week ago that he would not be retained to coach next season. Athletic Director Scott Thies informed Fenwick players of Quinn's firing in a meeting on Wednesday.

"I was baffled and stunned," said Quinn in regards to how he felt when he was told of the coaching change by Fenwick senior administrators on Friday, March 8. "The players were mystified, too. I really feel for all of my fellow [Fenwick] coaches — guys like Cory Foster, Chris Smolak, Dennis Zelasko, Jimmy Reardon and Mike Poleski among others.

"Our coaching was a collaborative effort, and we shared the same mission. Our mission, which was spelled out to us by the school, is to be kid-centered, inclusive and competitive. I felt we accomplished those objectives this season."

Thies would not comment for this story, instead referring to the school's official press release. The school released the following statement: "Fenwick High School has decided to make a change in its basketball program. As a result, John Quinn will no longer be the head basketball coach. He will, however, continue his duties as a valued member of the Fenwick faculty.

"John has served has head coach for Fenwick basketball for 28 years since 1985. He has made many contributions to the program and we thank him for his many years of dedication and service to the Fenwick basketball program."

Thies, who played for Quinn at Fenwick, added via e-mail, "When the time comes for me to talk about our decisions moving forward, I will."

Quinn's unexpected firing drops the curtain on a highly decorated coaching career with the Friars. Under the guidance of Quinn, who replaced coach Will Rey in June of 1985, the Friars have won seven Chicago Catholic League titles, 11 regional titles and two sectional titles. In 1998, Fenwick went 28-3 (school record for wins) en route to a 76-64 loss to Maine West in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. NBA veteran Corey Maggette, currently a forward on the Detroit Pistons, excelled as a McDonald's All-American in 1998 while playing for Quinn.

"Fenwick really helped me mature as a person," Maggette said in an interview with Wednesday Journal when he played for the Los Angeles Clippers years ago, "and coach Quinn played a huge role in helping me develop as a person and basketball player. He's a great coach and a great guy."

Other notable awards for Quinn include: Chicago Catholic League Coach of the Year (four times), Illinois Basketball Coaches' Association District Coach of the Year (five times) along with inductions into the Catholic League Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.

Quinn's impact within the Fenwick community and beyond transcends awards and winning percentages.

"It's never been just about basketball; it's about relationships," Quinn said. "Whether it's my players, fellow coaches or people within the Fenwick community, I've had the opportunity to spend time with some wonderful people.

"[The firing] is not a tragedy, it's a setback. Several of my players have dropped by my classroom to offer their support."

Support for Quinn has come in waves over the last few trying days.

"John should be proud of the great accomplishments his program had during his time as coach," said Riverside-Brookfield coach Tom McCloskey. "John was always first class when it came to recruiting and doing things the right way."

Legendary coach Johnny Bach, who joined Quinn's staff the last few seasons as a volunteer coach, after a long bench career highlighted by a stint on Phil Jackson's staff during the Chicago Bulls' first three-peat title run, took the news hard.

"I would say Fenwick lost a fine coach," Bach said. "He is a true 'Fenwick' man and his impact goes well beyond X's and O's. He has been a wonderful coach, teacher and role model, touching so many lives."

In one notable respect, the news of Quinn's dismissal even reverberated on a state-level drawing the ire of Gov. Pat Quinn, John Quinn's older brother. Pat and John, along with their brother Tom all attended Fenwick High School.

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, Gov. Quinn made the following remarks about his brother yesterday at the state capitol. "He's a kind and gentle man who understands the importance of sportsmanship, and I feel that my high school has lost its soul. It's a devastating blow to my brother, John, and I think the administration there has let down the students, the alumni and shame on them. John is a coach who understands that the most important part of being a coach in a high school is to educate those who are under your command."

Governor Quinn also praised his brother John for being an outstanding Social Studies teacher who has won the Golden Apple teaching award (1992) as well as becoming a Hall of Fame coach with well over 450 career victories.

"I feel truly blessed to have such wonderful friends and colleagues," said the head coach. "My phone has not stopped ringing the last few days, and the support from so many people means the world to me."

Reader Comments

16 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Jack Hughes from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: March 22nd, 2013 10:06 PM

I got whacked every day at Fenwick. Some people, like Dan Haley, think I didn't get whacked enough.......

W. Smith  

Posted: March 21st, 2013 2:45 PM

As a parent I heard from my child that Quinn was disciplined for hitting a student in the head earlier this year. There may be more to this story - I don't believe Fenwick would "unceremoniously" fire a coach and Quinn probably isn't as "baffled" as he is so loudly professing. Seems the people that speak the loudest want to make sure their story is the one to be heard. Truth usually lies somewhere in between.

Jack Hughes from Chicago  

Posted: March 18th, 2013 12:43 PM

It appears that BB Barbie was also disrespected by her English teacher. Folks, this is simple: Quinn and Mr. T were unceremoniously dumped because they represent the Old Guard (white males from traditional FHS)!!!

Fenwick Alum from Chicago  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 1:40 PM

Oh, & if anyone had any remaining doubt, our Governor is a complete, out of touch, moron. That he would blast this unsolicited nonsense about Fenwick losing it's "soul", while ignoring public policy positions of his church (i.e. abortion etc) shows that while he may be smart, he is not at all wise.

Fenwick Alum from Chicago  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 1:36 PM

Something else that's very important, Mr Quinn remains in his main role at Fenwick, that of History/Social Studies teacher, which is where 99% of his salary is derived. It's also where he can & has impacted many more students than the 12 hoops players on his team. The thought that his removal as coach is a complete surprise doesn't wash either. Clearly the new AD gave some direction as to where he wants the program to go, & it wasn't followed. That happens in the real world every day.

Fenwick Alum from Chicago  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 1:30 PM

To Win: I have 1sthand knowledge of Loyola's O'Schaunnessy program, & Fenwick should absolutely create something similar. Athletes only make up 20% of OS students, & a program like that would let Fenwick reinvigorate its original mission of helping working class kids from the west side of Chicago & OP-RF-FP-Berwyn/Cicero.

Win At All Costs from The Top Of The Mountain  

Posted: March 17th, 2013 11:35 AM

Up next, Fenwick's own version of Loyola Acedemy's O'Shaughnessy Program.

Gary from Ahrens  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 10:04 PM

Sorry Mr Foley. No one gets to chose their termination date. You will learn that in life - and if you have not I am surprised they did not teach you that there. Again, wonderful guy. But the team has under performed for years while having the advantage of being able to recruit players. Mr Quinn will be fine. Start building a program like the girls program has

Daniel Foley from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 8:37 PM

John Quinn has done so much for Fenwick High School and he deserves so much respect. I hope that the school understands that guys like John Quinn get to choose their own departure date.

Bill Ainsworth from Elmhurst  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 3:36 PM

Coach Quinn, it was certainly an honor, privilege & Blessing for our son to have played for your program during his time at Fenwick (Sam Ainsworth '12 - Football, Basketball & Baseball). I believe Coach Wooden (UCLA) would now say, "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand." Bill Ainsworth & Family

Jack G from Twin Lake   

Posted: March 16th, 2013 12:28 PM

to people who are glad or know stuff as an old coach I would like to hear facts if you want plz email me at jackgrenan@netscape.net I am tired of only knowing part of a story. As a coach who was loved ,hated by parents, loved and.....I would appreciate knowing how the players felt. because I coached for the players NOT the parents.

Jack Grenan from Twin Lake  

Posted: March 16th, 2013 12:20 PM

as a Michigander ad former coach who knows the ups & downs and politics ALL too well I would like the comments to at least be somewhat specific what slamming the coach.. Yes that takes courage but truth is truth and an opinion is different.

BB Barbie from Chicago  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 10:59 PM

Too late for all the players who were disrespected by that coach. All the kids who whole high school experience was tainted by their basketball experience, When I criticized the program, I was threatened with a lawsuit. I toll them go head.

Cliff from LaGrange  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 6:25 PM

Good ridance. Waaay overdue.

Gary from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 5:06 PM

Coach is a wonderful person. Yes, its about teaching young men life. However Fenwick has a built in advantage over public schools - it can recruit. I read where he won ~489 games in about 28 years. Thats about 17 wins a year. Compared to the girls program - which started from scratch in the early 90's, that is terrible. I am sure they can find a fine coach who can also teach and treat the kids well - AND win some games, go to State, etc. I say it was time for a change.

Fenwick89  

Posted: March 15th, 2013 3:16 PM

Just like a Chicago politician, expects to have the job for life regardless of performance.

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