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8/8/12 Vernon Hills Vernon Hills High School football coach, Tony Monken watches as the players go through various drills as they begin practice on Wednesday, Aug 8th. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
When contacted about his resignation as Vernon Hills football coach, Tony Monken was asked how he wanted to be remembered.
“I didn’t get into this to worry about my legacy or how many wins or losses we had,” said Monken, who cited family reasons for his winter-break resignation. “At the end of the day, it’s about kids getting better and seeing the excitement in their eyes when it clicks.
Monken went 77-55 over 13 season at Vernon Hills with nine playoff appearances. Many of his now-former players would agree that their coach made them better.
TJ Flis, a varsity player for parts of four years, said he will remember Monken’s pre-game speeches, a mix of fiery platitudes and life lessons.
“He knew how to get the team fired up before a game,” said Fils, who was a wide receiver/running back for the Cougars. “In the locker room, you would get butterflies, feel tingly. Whenever he came out, you knew it would be inspiring.”
Senior quarterback Brett Peterson had two older brothers, Tyler and Matthew, who also played for Monken at Vernon Hills. For a generation of Vernon Hills families like the Petersons, Monken’s departure represents the end of an era.
“Usually when people think of Vernon Hills football, they think of Coach Monken since he’s always been here. It’s a good tradition,” Peterson said. “People who played eight years ago can say, ‘We ran the same plays, had the same values.’ There was something in common. Now there’s a fresh start. It’s going to be very different.”
Senior Drake Randall said he always knew Monken had his back. A 6-foot-3, 270-pound offensive/defensive lineman, he will remember his coach’s loyalty on and off the field.
During a disappointing 2012 season, when the Cougars finished 2-7, Randall recalls getting cheap-shotted a few times by opponents. Monken was the first to leap to his defense.
“He was all over the refs and saying things he should not have been saying,” Randall said. “He was always there for me and stepped up for me. He got things done.”
Now going through the recruiting process, Randall said Monken has been a strong ally, helping him get noticed by schools, answering his questions and talking directly to college coaches.
This unwavering loyalty is why Randall said he feels partly responsible for Monken’s departure.
“This past year, the seniors should take responsibility for our struggles,” said Randall, who was a captain along with Peterson and seniors Dylan McNamara and Sam Maloof. “Guys may have started giving up on the season. I was part of that nucleus of seniors who should have rallied the guys, got guys focused on what they should have been doing.”
Vernon Hills athletic director Brian McDonald said the search for Monken’s replacement has begun in earnest.
“We’d like to have a (new coach) as soon as possible, but we want to make sure we have the perfect person, and that will take some time,” McDonald said. “It’s exciting to see who’s interested. We are looking for a great head coach for the kids and the community.”