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What would the odds have been if someone had suggested three years ago that the last two football coaches at Evergreen Park would be hired at Hinsdale South and Hinsdale Central?
Longer than a grasshopper making its way across the Dan Ryan during rush hour.
First Mike Barry, who accepted the gig at Hinsdale South three years ago. Now his successor, Dan Hartman, who formally was hired Monday as Hinsdale Central’s new coach.
“I guess we have some excellent coaches,” Evergreen Park athletic director Jim Soldan said with a laugh.
Barry had begun the process of turning around Evergreen Park, guiding it to a 5-4 mark in 2010 before departing for Hinsdale South.
Enter Hartman, who registered a 27-9 mark in three seasons — 8-4 in 2011, 9-4 in ’12, 10-1 in ’13.
The Mustangs were one win away from advancing to the Class 4A state championship two years ago and racked up an impressive 9-0 South Suburban Red Conference championship regular season in 2013 before falling to Phillips in the second round.
The Mustangs also beat Richards twice in three years.
The allure of guiding a Class 8A program, however, proved too enticing for Hartman.
“I wasn’t going to leave Evergreen Park for any job,” Hartman said. “I had been approached a couple of times before this about coaching openings. It had to be for a program that could compete at a high level year in, year out. Competing in 8A was a big draw for me.”
I can understand the attraction — to an extent. Have you ever visited Hinsdale? Beyond the two state-of-the-art high schools, it’s a magnificent, quaint community filled with million dollar homes and a pristine downtown business district lined with neat mom-and-pop shops.
A setting straight out of a postcard.
Let me put it this way: Hinsdale eats Orland Park for lunch and has more than enough in reserve to pick up the tab for dinner.
But here’s the thing: If my No. 1 desire as a football coach is to win a state championship, I’d argue that Evergreen Park provides a better opportunity to fulfill that ambition than either Hinsdale school.
Why’s that? The path in 4A is not nearly as grueling as 8A.
Evergreen Park has proved it in recent years. What is grueling, though, is the ongoing battle Evergreen Park wages against neighboring private schools in an effort to attract top athletes.
Hartman admitted as much.
“We’re competing for kids year in, year out with the Catholic schools,” he said. “This year, we finish 9-0 in the regular season, win conference and had a great year. We’re still going to lose four of the best players to Catholic schools. And those are kids who attend public grade schools. It’s disheartening.”
Still, Evergreen Park advanced to the Final Four two years ago and won its first 10 games this season. Elite athletes such as Jacquet McClendon and Keyshawn Carpenter found their way to EP.
Here’s the deal: Evergreen Park no longer should be viewed as a stepping stone to greater career ambitions for the new football coach, nor should it be looked upon by student-athletes as a third or fourth option.
“It’s become a status symbol for kids to say they’re going to a Catholic school,” Hartman said. “It’s the cool thing.”
The good news? The next coach inherits a junior class that was 7-2 as freshmen, 8-1 as sophomores and was part of a 10-1 team last season.
“The cupboard definitely isn’t bare,” Hartman said.
Soldan is confident he’ll find another top-notch coach. In the three days the job has been posted, it’s attracted nearly 30 applicants.
“We’re not a no-name anymore,” Soldan said. “It’s been proven you can win here. We have some nice candidates already. Dan did a tremendous job and we’re sad to see him go.”
Coincidentally, Hartman replaces Rich Tarka, former coach at Rich South.
Tarka was shown his walking papers at Hinsdale Central despite compiling an 18-12 record in three seasons, including 5-5 in 2013.
Sometimes, folks, the grass isn’t as green as it appears.