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By Brad Spencer
More than a few years ago, an elderly woman leaned into my shoulder and tried to speak over the din of a raucous crowd at Gordon Tech High School.
"That's my boy," she said proudly as she pointed across the court at the Fenwick boys basketball team's bench. "That's my boy." She was smiling from ear to ear.
"Oh, you have a grandson on the Fenwick team?" I asked politely.
"No, my son is the head coach," she replied. I looked over at Fenwick head coach John Quinn and then smiled back at his mother, Eileen. It doesn't matter how long you do something or what you accomplish in life, your mom will always be proud of you. It was a nice moment.
John Quinn coached Fenwick basketball for 28 years and then was abruptly fired by the school last week. His brother, Pat, the governor, publicly lashed out at his high school alma mater, saying Fenwick had "lost its soul." I think he's right.
I understand change is inevitable and that the Fenwick boys basketball program probably needs an overhaul, but after Quinn's lengthy service and dedication, he should have, at the very least, been given the courtesy of stepping down in a year or two.
"John, we want to go another direction with the program, but we're willing to hold off on any changes until 2015. That would put you at 30 excellent years as head coach, and you can retire from coaching or take on some other challenges as you see fit. This would also give you and the Fenwick administration time to seek out and lock down a potential successor. How's that sound?"
Sounds reasonable. Seems respectful. Evidently, it didn't happen that way.
I'm not certain, but it's probably safe to say that young swashbuckling Athletic Director Scott Theis is not the Theo Epstein of Fenwick. Thies, a 1999 graduate of the high school, played under Quinn. He wouldn't send his former coach packing without higher ups breathing down his neck, especially after the school recently replaced its head football coach.
If parents or boosters or the new pope himself wanted Quinn out, they should have given him the dignity of stepping down on his own terms. After 28 years, he deserved that. He deserved an athletic director who had his back when rumbles of a fallout first emerged. Former Athletic Director Mike Curtin, now associate athletic director (whatever that is), knows a thing or two about loyalty. If needed, he likely could have convinced Quinn that to step down in a year or two wouldn't be demoralizing. It would be honorable. It's likely that Curtin, who wasn't clued in on the dismissal of former head football coach Joe DiCanio, wasn't made aware of Quinn's fate either. Fenwick is on a new path.
Quinn's former players have gone on to become neurosurgeons, stockbrokers, teachers, politicians, police officers and coaches, including Tom Sloan (Lyons Township), Pat Maietta (Argo) and Pat Woods (Ridgewood).
Let's hope none of these guys get blindsided after 28 years of devoting their lives to coaching one high school basketball program.