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Warhawk football’s better for having been led by Koz

Glen Kozlowski is out after five seasons coaching football North Chicago. | BRIAN O'MAHONEY~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Glen Kozlowski is out after five seasons coaching football at North Chicago. | BRIAN O'MAHONEY~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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True story about North Chicago coach King Coleman and his senior guard JayQuan McCloud.

Before McCloud’s sophomore season — which was the senior season for the school’s all-time leading scorer, Aaron Simpson — King said that McCloud eventually would be a better basketball player than Simpson.

Twenty-four hours after the coach said it, McCloud suffered a severe knee injury in a Thanksgiving Week tournament and basically never got to play with Simpson at full strength.

Simpson, of course, led North Chicago to a second-place finish at state that year, and those close to the program always wondered about what would have been had a healthy McCloud been there when teams were double-teaming Simpson.

Now a senior, McCloud showed last week during a Thanksgiving Week tournament that he is, in fact, better than advertised.

In four games against quality competition, he averaged 25.5 points per game. But, more importantly, he was 38-of-62 shooting from the field, including 13-of-27 from behind the arc. That’s a ridiculous 61 percent he’s shooting, and this is a guy who’s not playing in the paint and shooting three-footers. He’s also 16-of-19 from the free-throw line. He’s also averaging seven boards and five assists a game.

Yet, even with all those numbers, McCloud is one sub-superstar game away from not being the team’s leading scorer.

Senior power forward Big Kurt Hall is averaging 24 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, doing his damage on the inside. He’s already shot 48 free throws, despite losing some playing time because of foul trouble.

After returning from the tournament near Peoria, King Coleman noted that the tourney organizers had brought in teams from all over the country that featured All-American calibre talent. Yet, he didn’t see any players any better than Big Kurt and JayQuan.

North Chicago’s next game is its home opener next week Wednesday against Antioch. Later this month, the Warhawks have a game against Providence-St. Mel, which made the Warhawks look like a JV team when the teams played last year, and are 4-1 this year already with a win over perennial power Rockford Boylan.

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Updated: January 6, 2014 11:39AM

Glen Kozlowski spent part of Monday afternoon at North Chicago High School trying to help create a college-football opportunity for one of the Warhawk senior football players.

That’s not any different than what coach Dave Mohapp does for his football players at Warren, and what coach Nick Browder does for his guys at Waukegan, and what coach Brian Glashagel does for his players at Antioch. And so on and so on ... Lakes, Libertyville, everywhere.

But there is one huge difference.

Kozlowski was helping his player about a week after he’d been fired as North Chicago High’s football coach.

Koz said he was dismissed after five seasons by school athletic director Brian Colbert before Thanksgiving, but wanted to finish what he’d started with this group of seniors — that being giving them chances to play college football, if possible.

And when that’s done, it’s over. Truth be told, by the time you read this, Koz might already have been hired to coach at another school.

Love him or hate him, like his coaching demeanor on the sidelines or not, Koz does have three things going for him that make him very desirable at some high schools.

■ He knows how to coach football. A lot of us know all about football ... for example, we know that the Chicago Bears’ coach screwed up big-time when he tried a game-deciding field goal on second down of last Sunday’s season-killing loss at Minnesota. But very few of us know how to COACH football. Koz is one of the few.

■ He’s earned the reputation of taking scuffling programs and turning them into competitive programs within four years. He did that at Wauconda, and then he did it again at North Chicago. There are plenty of train wrecks out there that could use a Koz to get things back on track.

■ The players in his program ... they are his children, so to speak. He cares about them on the field, and off the field. He defends them to referees and he defends them to sportswriters.

He’s like a Dad. He will correct his players when they’re wrong, but will defend them to the hilt if you try to say that they’re wrong.

On the other side of the ledger, he can be confrontational. He wants more for his players. He thinks they deserve more, and if he thinks you’re shortchanging his kids, he’ll let you know. If you’re a football referee and he thinks that, there’s going to be an argument.

In any case, looking at the five years he was at North Chicago, it’s safe to say he’s leaving the program in a better place than it was when he took over.

We also are going to assume something about the man who decided that Koz had to go, that being Doc Colbert.

That is, he knows what he’s doing. The reality is, when it comes to coaches in high-profile sports like football, it’s always good for an athletic director to know who his new coach is going to be before he fires his old one.

Otherwise, you can wind up like a non-swimmer trying to stay afloat in 50 feet of water.

So, we are going to be optimistic.

When you start considering the possibilities, well, here are three:

■ Perhaps there was somebody on Koz’s staff who really impressed Colbert and is ready to take the ball and run with it.

■ Perhaps Lake Forest High coaching legend Tommy Myers might be looking for a challenge. Retired from teaching, he’s been an assistant football coach at Lake Forest College and maybe he would want to give this prep thing one last try.

During his Scout days, he was always able to turn the whole into something greater than the sum of the parts.

■ Perhaps Mike Grenda, the Warhawks’ coach during the school’s last great football run, could be lured back onto the pitch.

Grenda stepped down from coaching because he was hired as a principal at a grade school in North Chicago’s K-12 school district. Right now, he’s principal at Neal Middle School, but it’s very possible that next year’s seventh- and eighth-graders will attend their classes at the half-empty North Chicago High, making that a school for students in grades 7-12.

That would put Grenda back in the high school building, and within easy walking distance of the football locker room.

Inauspicious beginning

Game 1 of the Glen Kozlowski Era as North Chicago’s football coach in late August of 2009 was a 42-6 loss to a strong Marian Central team of Woodstock that was very forgettable.

Game 2 was one that North Chicago High fans will never forget.

On Sept. 5, 2009, Kozlowski’s team fell behind Simeon from Chicago 21-0 in the early going, and then, literally, all heck broke out.

There were fights on the field among players, fans reportedly spilled out of the stands and onto the field, and the game was called and victory awarded to Simeon. The fallout from the game-stopping brawl saw North Chicago forfeit its game the next week against Vernon Hills, while eight Simeon players were suspended for their next game, which it lost.

The Warhawks returned to action in Week 3 against Zion-Benton and surrendered 42-8 in a game that went on without incident. That led to a 1-8 season, and few at that time figured that 1) three years later, North Chicago would be 7-2 and a playoff team, and 2) Kozlowski still would be around to coach the team to a 7-2 season.

But Koz was committed to the kids and the program. Some didn’t like his style, but no coach around these parts invested more of himself into his student-athletes than Koz did.

And, hopefully, that is how these past five years of North Chicago football will be remembered.

And more importantly, hopefully the next Warhawk coach learns from Kozlowski in that regard, and builds on it.

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