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March 8, 2022

Turning Kids Into Adults in a Loving Fashion | Tom and Steve Winiecki

Turning Kids Into Adults in a Loving Fashion | Tom and Steve Winiecki

#31. Welcome to our first father-son duo, Tom and Steve Winiecki!

For 39 years, Tom Winiecki taught, coached, and was part of the leadership at Gordon Tech High School (Chicago, IL).  During his 31 years as Head Football Coach, his teams won 193 games, 10 state playoff appearances, 2 semi-finals, and a 6A state championship in 1980.  Also during that time the Rams qualified for the Chicago Catholic League playoffs 12 times with 3 appearances in the Chicago Prep Bowl Classic, which Gordon won in 1982 and 1987.   During his tenure as head coach Tom has earned the following honors: Chicago Catholic League Coach of the Year in 1974 and 1980, National Football Foundation Award for outstanding contributions to amateur football in 1983, Notre Dame Frank Leahy Prep Coach Award 1995, Chicago Catholic League Man of the Year 1996 and 2002, member of the Leo High School, Chicago Catholic League, and IHSFCA halls of fame.  Along with being head coach at Gordon he served as athletic director for 32 years, was president of the Chicago Catholic League for 13 years, and a member of the IHSA Legislative Board for 9 years.  Since 2002 “Papa Winiecki” changed his colors to red and has been a fixture in the Deerfield Football Program.

Steve Winiecki has coached over 32 years in Illinois high schools.  He has coached at Oak Park-River Forest, Gordon Tech and Deerfield for a total of 9 years before becoming Head Coach at Deerfield HS (Deerfield, IL) where he has been for the last 23 years.  During this time at Deerfield, his teams have won 135 games, 5 conference championships, have made the IHSA Playoffs 13 times, including quarterfinal and semifinal appearances.  This spring he will be inducted into IHSFCA Hall of Fame, joining his father Tom, and he becomes the 8th coach from his father’s coaching tree to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  He was recognized as an IHSA/Country Financial Teacher in 2021. He currently teaches Physics, AP Physics, and Astronomy along with serving on the District 113 Education Association for over 20 years.

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Transcript

Luke:

This is episode 31 of The "I" in Win podcast.

Tom:

And the kids that started off with baby steps and now are running full speed. That's the greatest enjoyment. When a kid comes up to senior year and gives you a hug and says, love you Coach. That's so great.

Luke:

Welcome to The "I" in Win the show that focuses on why coaches should embrace the journey of impacting lives. I'm your host, Luke Mertens and I have two special guests on today. Coach Tom Winiecki, former head football coach/ athletic director, from Gordon Tech High School in Chicago alongside his son. Steve Winiecki ,current science teacher/ head football coach at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois. This dynamic father, son duo has over 70 years coaching experience, 330 victories, 23 state playoff appearances, state and city championships, numerous hall of fame inductions all while positively shaping the lives of many. Today, we're going to discuss the influence they've had on each other. How coaching today differs from years past and why it's so important to love our students and athletes when they deserve it the least. Coaches. Thanks for being on.

Steve:

Thanks for having us, Coach.

Tom:

Thank you very much.

Luke:

Let's start with the Chicago Catholic League and the numerous stories we have listeners from all over that may not be familiar with the Catholic League. We also have Chicago land people that are very familiar with the Chicago Catholic League. For me growing up in this city, my greatest memories St. Rita- Mount Carmel rivalries, old Saint Rita stadium, going to Gately 15 to 20 division one athletes on a field. And just the amazing rivalry between those two athletic powerhouse schools. Tom Winiecki. What's your favorite Catholic League stories that you would like to share with our listeners of it's the 80,000 people at a prep bowl, some amazing athletes you've seen. Something that sticks with you to this day today.

Tom:

Well, I think Luke would start off with the fact that it was a Gordon Tech coach, but it goes really back to Leo High School where I attended. It was a Catholic school in the south side, which still alive and vibrant under the leadership of Dan McGrath. I was so influenced by my football coach. Jim, I remembered, Jim was a head basketball coach had football coach back in the days when we didn't wear face masks and we started off. A big rivalry was Mount Carmel. And then after that Saint Rita and we had some great games, one of my best friends turned out to be my arch enemy, Frank Maloney. Frank played at Mount Carmel. Then he played at Michigan and I played at Leo and I played at Michigan state. But getting back in the Chicago tradition, we met playing softball, 16 inch, became life long friends. When I was at Michigan State, I was an econ labor relations guy. I never thought I'd get back to the Catholic League, but once I did it's in your blood and it's, you know, we'll talk about different things from, uh, exchanging films at different places and parking lots. And, but again, it comes down to the kids. That's what you stay in it. But see, these guys start off. As young freshmen can barely get into football. And back then there wasn't a lot of youth football. So you had to teach them the fundamentals. And that was one of the big things we talked about fundamentals and would try to win 50% of your games. But the Catholic League has grown. Obviously when I was there, it was three divisions. Then it shrunk down. The Catholic League joining the IHSA was probably the biggest moment that was in 1973. So it was the 74 season, I believe. Cause we had spring football back then that you might know. But the impact of the kids. That's what it's all about today. We get together players ex-players we try to go to one another. Wakes which the sad part about it and their parents wakes, but it was, family affair, as we used to say,

Luke:

Yeah, there's no about that. Chicago Catholic League. Very special and unique family environment and to all of our listeners out there. Now, it's your turn. I'd love for you guys to share a Chicago Catholic League story, or maybe a Tom Winiecki story that you have. Posted on Twitter. Tag me @LukeMertens or posted on Facebook and tag The "I" in Win. Steve. Now moving to you. How did growing up on your dad's sideline, watching all the lives that he is touched and impacted through the years, impact your philosophy as a teacher.

Steve:

see, that's the funny thing, getting ready to talk to you. I remember the times hanging out at my dad's practice, you know, making forts out of dumb. And then right before practice, you know, all the players written the dummies off and go to practice and hanging out at Horner Park from watching it. And just watching the love that the coaches have through the players are they're pushing them harder, working them hard, but the connection that they had, the relationships, and I know I'm going to keep going back to that a lot in this podcast, the relationships, but then just then how it helped develop it. I didn't know what then, you know, five, six. Eight 10 years old, helping them, these kids turn into math and in a real loving way in a, and just the care that these coaches and now they were tough. I mean, I played for my dad and stuff. But, that's what inspired me and then looking at the relationships and I was, I was so blessed at that age to watch. Um, my dad had wrecked with his assistant coaches. I got to see behind the curtain a little bit and the relationships that they had and how tight they were. I use the word calling and stuff. So I want that, that I'm like watching them change people's lives. And like that's, that's kinda what I wanted. And that's where I wanted to be. And then, then just the competitiveness, like you said, watching, the games against a rubber, the games against Leila against say Rita, like you said, at the old St Lena's stadium where you just had a couple of feet between the back of the end zone and the brick wall and going down to the gateway and that's where, like, you know what, I really want to be a part of this. And then I try to take that to, you know, I've tried to take that up to Deerfield.

Luke:

Tom, there's a lot of talk about kids today. And honestly, most of it is negative. We talk about them being apathetic. They lack respect. They need instant gratification. At their core are teenagers on your son's team. And in his classroom, are they really that different from the student athletes you work with at Gordon Tech? Many years ago.

Tom:

I really don't think so. I think we gotta get all caught up because we've got, I phones, iPads, we've got tick tack all this stuff, but we get immersed with some of that. We take away the basic core. These kids want to be coached. They want to be loved when they know that. You're giving them respect and you explain what you're doing and you keep your demands and it's not unreasonable demands, I think a lot of them, uh, are yearning from something like that? Some structure, a lot of times you he'd go Willy nilly. And we used to say at one time when we say jump, they say how high now, sometimes they say, why. They're more intelligent. They know what's going on in the world. I think it's, you have to relate to where they're at in their lives and That relationship has to build. It builds in the weight room, builds in the hallway. It builds from the time you meet them from the time they get on the field on time, they get off the. have to know when to give them that kick in the pants, some one how to give him a hug and you have to try to work with them where they're at and not expect them to come up to your level right away. And I think what I saw at Deerfield and Steve alluded to assistant coaches, that's so important across the board from your freshmen coaches. they have to set that tone and that expectations. Now, some kids aren't going to be ready for it, and then they won't accept it. But the ones that do are going to be well worth it. We used to call it, chemistry back then. But again, what has to happen is foundation of relationship I heard a couple motivational speaker leaders are not born, you know, they made, you know, a great violinist doesn't come out of the womb practice, practice, practice. Everybody said, oh, she's natural. No, they're not natural. No, they might have certain gifts physically, but they have to work at it. And the kids that started off with baby steps and now are running full speed. That's the greatest enjoyment. When a kid comes up to senior year and gives you a hug and says, love you Coach. That's so great.

Luke:

Yeah, I love a lot of things you had to say there. And let's talk about that. Why. And, it's funny, you said that because you're right. Kids do want to know why and my personal philosophy, I think that's okay. I don't think that's a sign of disrespect and I think it's our job as coaches and as teachers to be able to articulate the why, because if we can't, then we probably shouldn't be doing it. Secondly, if they understand the why they're going to be better at executing. Cause now they understand the purpose and the reason behind it, but either one of you feel free to respond to me. What are your thoughts on these kids and asking the why is it, is it a sign of disrespect? Are you okay with it? What are your thoughts?

Steve:

I think, Luke what you said. I appreciate it because when the kids ask him why that tells me they want to be bought in, they want to be a part of that. And there you're only dead said, you know, they're much more sophisticated and would them asking, they want to be bought it. And like you said, that I liked that challenge. They say, okay, why are we doing it? I need to be able to articulate that. I need to be able to explain that I need to tell, and you know, this little coach, it football's the hardest sport because you have to prepare so much and you compete so little. So we're going to ask a kid. To show up for two, two and a half hours every day and do something really physically demanding. And now we're just talking about like the starters, there's a bunch of kids on the team that, you know, we talk about, oh, you're a pro player. You gotta be, you gotta, you gotta do this. You gotta, you gotta give yourself for the greater good. So this kid's gonna get his brains beat in and that's through the field on Friday night, but yet he wants to be valued. Heck yeah, you should ask why. And heck yeah, we should give them a good answer. And, you know, dad was talking about, chemistry. we talk about culture and the thing we talk about is we spent so much time developing culture at Deerfield that when that kid, you know, asks why he'll be able to get the answer like this fits who we are as a culture. And it's more than wins and losses is that when that kid walks out of Deerfield, just like when the kid walked out of Gordon, he's a better man. We were talking about before we started recording about why you started The "I" in Win and to have it affect their souls. I'll tell the parents right away at a public schools, we're going to tell your sons that we love. And we're going to tell them that. You matter so much to us and we care for you and we're going to then be hard on you and ask you to do tough things, because we love you and we want to back, and you're not sure why tell us, and if I can't justify it, and if I can't say why you're doing it, then I need to change my ways.

Luke:

I totally agree with you coaching, you know, the one thing that both of you alluded to. is a hundred percent true today, as it was 50 years ago, is that kids want to be loved. They want to be coached. They want to know that the adults in their lives are invested their wellbeing. So Steve sticking with you, what are some techniques that you do to ensure that both your students and your football players know that you do care about them and that this is not just simply a job?

Steve:

Well, firstly, I do like for my classroom, before I start anything curricular, I ask how they're doing what's going on in their lives. Somebody had a play, you know, how did you perform? We had a field hockey game. How'd you do. We lost with you compete. Did you get better? And spend that time at the beginning, that just jumped in. Okay. We're going to talk about ethicals man. Same thing on the field. Walk it out to the field, spend that time with that. They said, Hey, how was class today? How's, you know, what's going on? Nope. It's amazing. When it, if you spend a little time with a kid, you'll find out that, Hey, you know, my, my dad's struggling a little bit. He just lost his job and stuff. And then the kids will open up and then you spend some time with it. You make that connection, We're doing dynamic, warmup and stretching before you just walk around and this kind of talk to a kid and that's how you that's, in my opinion, how you do it, you have to the time to build those relationships. And instead of just saying, go do this. And because that kid was like, well, why do you have, why are you having me do this when I can just so we can win more games and you look better. And it's, you know, I mean, that's the other one too. It's not about me. It's about us. It's a whole us thing. And I think that's the one thing that if we're going to say things are a little different, is that we've become very much living in like isolation, especially in COVID really forced a lot isolation on people and just having kids being together and connected is so powerful.

Luke:

Yeah. there's no doubt. There's all these little moments throughout the day to create those relationships. If it's walking into your classroom, walking down the hallway. Dynamic warmup you're right on. It's why I love the weight room so much. I always tell my players all the time that lifting is by far the least important thing we are doing in that room. Right. There's there's so much more going on there and it's creating those moments of me getting to know you. So, you know, in today's world of personal trainers, well, coach, I go to my strength coach, well, that's great, but I don't know who you are and you don't know who. And to enhance this experience. We didn't really know each other. Right. That's such an important piece. And I love Tom what you said. You're right on that. Where we fail sometimes as teachers and coaches is we expect the 16 year olds to have the intellectual maturity that we have as adults. We expect them, as you said, to come up to our level, how could they possibly understand the world through the lens of a 45 year old it's in. But we have been them before. And it's our job as the teachers and the coaches to see the world through their eyes, especially today's crazy world and understand all the conflicting messages that they see. And. And we need to help guide them through that. So love of both the guys had had to say there and sticking with you, Tom, 39 years in education. And since basically 2002 is, as Steve has told me, you've pretty much been a fixture on the sideline of Deerfield high school, watching him go to work each and every day. So you've probably gotten a scene at all through all these years. And sometimes kids, especially teenagers are really frustrated. Blatantly rebellious and make our jobs difficult. Let's be honest. So what's your advice, Tom, on how to best navigate through those tough situations? When those difficult kids need us to move.

Tom:

Well, like you were talking about before the relationship starts in the weight room starts in the hallways. You got to know the kid and, uh, it's tough to do when you have 40 or 50. And back in the old days, when we had over 60 kids on the board and tech football, it's tough to know all these kids, but that's why you have to count on your assistance. And you have to have that culture that Steve was talking about, where another kid can come up to you and say, so-and-so's having a tough time to coach. That's why he's acting like. A-hole today. you know, something happened at home. Something happened here and then you can to adjust your approach. Each one, they're all different. Obviously there is no one size fits all. And that's why knowledge of your players and their relationship with their family. And what's going on in their life is so difficult. You're right, because it's so complicated. It's not. Get on the Edison street bus and go back to St. Andrews and get off and go to a homework is a mom and a dad. And a lot of things change in our culture. And you've got to work with the kids where they're at, not like you said before, where we think they should be. And it's, uh, it's tough. am amount of time. Steve staff spends on that relationship versus the actual. No, that's the important thing, because that's, what's going to win you games along the line. And if it doesn't win, your games is going to win. You're going to have a lack of room when that last season's over. And they have either in Gordon's case, their last tackle or their last run up the hill, basically brother. There's groups that still get together and the worst stories get bigger and bigger than, uh, denied any things they say sometimes.

Luke:

Yeah. Steve, what are your thoughts on dealing with those difficult kids that are just blatantly rebellious and just frustrating to work with?

Steve:

Yeah. That's a really, that's a really great question. Um, I think a lot of it is he needs to have that person, like that said, if it's not me as the head coach, maybe it's the position coach, that can connect with that kid. and I think you need to find out, you know, why, and when you say blatantly a rebellious. Maybe the kid just doesn't know how to, maybe the kid's struggling, trying to find a fit. So what we say is like, when we were bogus, I've read a lot of philosophy lately. It was like the kid might not think he's doing anything wrong. And going back to what you said, Lucas perspective matters is that this kid might think this is a perfectly appropriate way to behave because this is where he's been at home. The kid just didn't drop out of field and is this way. And I have yet to come across a kid that has said, yeah, I'm just going to do this, but that's, I'm just a bad person. No, the kid, the kid learned this behavior somewhere. And you're like you said, is that this kid needs us more than that five star athlete. That just a, you don't come in from a perfect household because that could, we might be the only shot that, that rebellious kid.

Luke:

yeah, sorry. I talked over there. You're right on. And, one of my. He was actually an assistant coach of mine and was a great mentor to me, despite the fact he was my assistant. He used to always ground me when I'd be frustrated and say, Luke, remember, a reason behind the behavior and that's what you touch upon Steve. They may not even realize that they're being rebellious. They may think that's inappropriate response. So agree with you there. We have to, it's our job, that relationship piece, to understand where they're coming from and then help guide them on. Well, maybe this is a better response to that situation, that's part of how this profession has changed. And going back to you, Tom, what does Steve have to deal with as a head coach today that maybe you didn't have to deal with during your days at Gordon?

Tom:

Gordon. A lot of the parents were more standoffish. they didn't get involved with their children that much. They, showed up on Sunday for the games. They were happy when they played, they were disgruntled. They hardly ever talked about it. But again, the parents rightfully. So we used to talk about it. Then of these analogies are when I talked to the parent meeting, like Steve would have this opening. Which I would say to them, if you went, what your cell phone, $5,000 TV and it didn't work. You'd complain about it. You'd go back. These kids are involved in the Catholic school. Some of them nowadays are paying 12, 13, $14,000 for an education. Those parents better have complained if they're not getting it the same thing with football. If you're asking the kids to do all this stuff, And the parents want to know what what's going on. What's what's going on with my son. I ain't trusted him to you. And, uh, he's coming back and he's giving me this feedback. You know, you don't need, uh, after the game ambushes by parents, but you have to have open dialogue with them also. And at the same time, you know, sooner or later, the line is aligned but again, you know, You have to work with the parents sometimes as we talk about it could be one, it could be two. And you got to understand their home environment a little bit too, but it goes back that relationship with the kid, what you start there and if you're open with him and he can have dialogue with you and you got the support system with your coaches and your other players to players, or have to buy into that whole culture. I think that's the important thing. Cause sometimes do your, uh, best backstops or your other players. They'll go, they'll grab a kid, pull them aside. And then parents, you can, you can see it sometimes. And we all know we get to type a parents that you could see why the kid's having problems.

Luke:

And that's a great example of what has changed. Uh, head coach today as opposed to 30, 40, 50 years ago. But there's also a lot that hasn't changed. And Steve, we already mentioned, you grew up on the Cylon of your dad. You have 32 years coaching experience yourself. What's the one constant in the profession that still exists today as it did 50 years.

Steve:

I said at the beginning it's relationships, it's a relationship business The things that I cherish the most. And then you notice, look here it's a Friday night is a great, you know, great night, you know, we've competed against each other a little bit. It's rabbit and Friday nights are great and winning is awesome. Losing sucks. But the stuff I remember is that relationship being on the field, working with that kid, having that moment haven't, assistant coaches that you watched, their kids grow up and you go watch their kids play at other high schools and all those, your kids come back, you know, I've had, you know, dad's got more stories than I have, but one that played in the NFL and others who were professional wrestler, another who's a orthopedic surgeon and I'll come back, say it started with football and that's I say this a lot is that I'm sure you get this in other sports, but football is different in football special. And especially in young men's lives and that hasn't changed. and I know that's, you know, the parents, least roster of the parents appreciate it. The parents appreciate saying, Hey. For helping out with my son and, that they're coming out better in that. And that's what it's all about is these kids come out of this program better and then they come back and see you, you know, we're talking about before we went out, is that showing stuff that you said you're like, wow, I didn't know that had that. I was just talking to a player by nose off the couch and his mom would say, yeah, he still talks about, you know, E plus R equals all with all that. that's really fulfilling. And that hasn't yet.

Luke:

Yeah, and those are the true victories a coach and only coaches understand that. It looks at the score and the newspaper. And unfortunately, sometimes parents judge you. If your kid gets a C, if their kid gets a scholarship or not, But you're right on those are really the true victories and things that as coaches, we have to celebrate those things. And they're great. Also reminders of why we got into this profession, earlier goes to you, Tom, you know, your son talked about how. Have influenced him as a coach. Let's talk about you now on his sideline, watching him operate as head football coach at Deerfield high school, the past 23 years. What have you learned from him?

Tom:

But I think the biggest thing I've learned from him, especially on the sidelines is how he's been able to delegate. I don't think I ever got to the point where I took my foot off the pedal sometimes. And us assistant coaches, coach. then basically I know he care of the special teams because they think he understands how important those are, but his relationship with the kids to see him get excited. And when some kids did something coming off the field and high five, the number jumping into his chest and, celebrating with them. And at the same time, knowing when to put his arm around them, when something went bad, Kids don't Bumble on purpose. And when coaches say, why did you do that? That's ridiculous. I said, because he wants to see your veins pop out of your neck coach. What are you thinking of different? a teachable moment. Talk about three points of pressure. Do something about that. you know, the coaches sometimes focus in on the negative. You got to take that negative and somehow let it become worse and getting that kid on the sidelines and his ability to prepare, you know, I think the coaches over at Deerfield and I'm sure all the other scopes prepare so much now. I'm like you said earlier, I remember the days when we had eight millimeter film, now, everything digital up, I'm trying to think, uh, the huddle groups. I think that's where you get your film, right? From all of them. Yeah. True huddle. This, this stuff is broken down. You can walk. As soon as you walk in after the game, you can got her all documented. but X and on the sidelines, I think it just part of it, it's only like 10% of the coaches job, uh, Work in that soil, you reap what you sow and a long duration of before you can re reap that crop. and that's when it's over into coming up and hugging, you said, coach, I'm going to Michigan coach. I love you. You know? And then Steve said, what'd, he told me about this one player. That's still quoting some of the stuff that he learned while he was in college. No, no. Bring it into his sport that he's doing there. That's something else.

Luke:

It's funny, you mentioned. mistake piece because I had that same conversation with many of my coaches is we're watching film. You brought Sometimes that's a blessing and a curse because you always have film on your plate, but you know, you're watching film and why did he do that? Or my favorite on game day, the quarterback throws in or something.

Steve:

yeah.

Luke:

And he's coming off the field and a coach grabs him and says, Jimmy was wide open. Why didn't you throw it to Jimmy? And I'm like, really? You know, like you think he purposely want to throw it in the chest of the linebacker like that, wasn't his goal in life. So that's great that you said that coach, because that's still exists today. That sometimes we're so driven and we want to win and we're competitive that we lose sight of the fact. Of all people, the kid is the one that doesn't want to make a mistake on Friday night. that's the last person that wants to make a mistake let his team down. So, thanks for saying that. Steve big spring coming up for you, congratulations, upcoming induction into the Illinois high school football coaches association hall of fame. I'm going to be joining your dad. There takes a lot of victories to earn such an honor, however, and this has put you in a spot and you may need to think a little. What is your greatest victory that occurred off the field?

Steve:

Greatest victory of off the field. Yeah, you are putting me on the spot. I would think what what's popped in my head right now. Um, and I forgive me, I might start getting a little weepy on this one. Um, we have a family and I'm in the Deerfield community and, um, three of the four boys and three of them played football for us at Deerfield and the second to youngest boy, um, you know, it's the family and Luke's from, he's a three time cancer survivor, and I was able to teach them in the classroom. He helped out. He was, you know, um, because of his, you know, what he was fighting and stuff, he didn't play, but he's always been our ball boy, and he's still not. And his, early mid twenties. He's still our ball boy now. And he's on our staff and what I see, I care what, um, Deerfield football has meant to him and how connected he is to us. And then now he's then shares his story with 16, 17, 18 year olds. He's always there and you see them sprinting after footballs and taking so much pride in being this part of our culture and part of our team. And, you know, we're on a field and, you know, kids are like, oh, this is so hard. And then they look at Luke and a guy that just keeps battling and fighting and just loves Deerfield football. And. I mean, there's so many, but he's the first one. And you know, it's, he texted me a couple of days ago and he's like, yo coach, I'm going to be coming down through your hall of fame induction, you know, where can I get tickets and all that stuff. And just, how much football has meant to him. And he never played it down, never played it down for us. And then how much he's given back to us and was given back to me and my family You know, I just, how much I love, I love him and I love his family. And just so I would say right off the top of my head, it'd be, it'd be Luke.

Luke:

Coach. Thanks for sharing that story that, I could tell that's an emotional moment for you. And I appreciate you just being vulnerable and putting it out there because that is what coaching's all about. just love it. So thank you so much for sharing that and those other great moments of coaching. And unfortunately, we're losing a lot of great coaches and teachers at an alarming rate. Many are feeling unsupported. Underappreciated and quite frankly, just burnt out. So Tom, I need you to put your coaching hat on and AIG provide some motivation to anyone listening who is feeling that way and maybe considering exiting the profession of coaching or teaching, encourage them to keep on going.

Tom:

Yeah, there's always that post mortem, when the season's over, it back to that song, is that all there is, you know, and, you know, I think it's from sending the clowns and I think every coach goes through that at that what's all this wild worth, not just the fact, you didn't have a good wedding season. The fact of the project ration, the fact that. You haven't gotten the support that you wanted from the administration. your numbers are dwindling. your coaches are bailing out on you. the kids don't want to buy in. So you got to look in that mirror yourself and you have to, it's almost like having your coaching retreat. That's why I think clinics are so important during the off season to get yourself reentered that. And then when college coaches come through, they used to obviously come through a lot more and visit, make the school visits. You get re-energized a little bit, and you have, you have to put yourself around positive people, negative people, you get too much negativity And sometimes it's your own family. Your family said, why are you putting in so much time? You have to have a supportive family. You know, they have to, they have to buy into, they have to understand This is what you really want to do. I mean, it's, it's easy to say when you're winning, you know, everybody likes to be on that bandwagon, but when you get to the nitty gritty of it, What are you going to do when you're challenged? And you've got to go back to your core beliefs. You know, if your core beliefs are strong and you have good family backing and you stick around with positive people, negative people will drag you down. There are some people when you say have a good day and they'll say, don't tell me what to do. I'll have a shitty dad. One, those people, you got to stay away. Steve would probably try to deal with them, but as soon as I see a negative person coming up and down the hallway, I'll try to go the other way, I think it was Saturday night live with Debbie downer. You know, they're just down here. Now that's why you don't need that at the end of the season. You need someone there because we need hugs, too. You know, we need emotional hugs, physical hugs, you know, we need, someone's have to remind us what our mission was when we got into this.

Luke:

Coach that's great advice. And it sounds eerily similar to what I, and many other coaches tell their teams, right? that advice we give to our players. We need to enact it in our own lives sometimes, which is what you just described. But as we start to wrap up, let's take this conversation full circle. And Steve, we started with your dad, sharing, some Chicago Catholic League stories. And now it's your turn. I want you to tell a great memory. Of your dad's tenure at Gordon Tech. It could be a great victory, a relationship with one of his players, something that just really sticks with you.

Steve:

Um there there's a lot, but the one that I go to right now, and it's when. Um, Gordon won the state championship in 1980. I was a ball boy on the sideline and it was a great experience. And that's, you know, talk about being down at Bloomington wasn't there. Yeah. It was down at Bloomington and played Reavis and, um, Gordon beat Reavis, six, nothing, uh, a fumble recovery at the end and just remember all the excitement and just being there for that. And, you know, and that was a great memory, but then I'm going to fast forward to the following. And I was reminded of this story. So we were at a graduation party that summer after, for, I think it was one of the linebackers that was on that state championship team. And there was a lineman Bill Jeske, and I think, you know, bill, he was, head coach, over at DePaul Prep and Gordon and just, this is a great, great Lyman, but just had that just great personality. And I was kind of like, you know, I don't know if I was like the mascot or it was kind of adopted by those guys and stuff like that for the, um, the gateway between the houses and bills just in my face. And you better go to Gordon. You gotta go there. You gotta continue the tradition. You gotta do. If you remember, you know, the movie Caddyshack, when, bill Murray's character, Kyle had the Pitchfork up to the guy's neck and I'm kind of like turning back at all this and scared and really scared of one moment that the next moment, just like, man, this is a really cool thing that I'm going to become a part of. And. All those guys that were on that team. And we just got together and we get together about once a year around dad's birthday and, sit down and tell stories and all that. And bill reminds me of that story. He said, somebody who's like, Hey, Steve, you know, tell us, so-and-so why you went to Gordon. I'm like, oh yeah, you're ambush. You didn't have. That's the one that, cause again, it comes back to just who the culture of Gordon was. It was great playing for dad and it was awesome. You know, we had great games against St Lawrence and then, you know, lost a tough game to same Rita and you'll beat in Weber, but that was it because it's just part of being an add cultural Gordon Tech

Luke:

That's a great story. And especially anytime you could interject a gangway, right. I try to explain that to my kids, man. You know, my kids grew up in suburban Chicago and they're like, what are you talking about? Gangway? You know, all these things we take for granted things like a front room and a gangway and alley and all these things in Chicago that these suburban kids don't don't know about. Coach. Thanks for, thanks for sharing that story. And, my final comment question, Tom Rinaldi, a former ESPN, I always with Fox sports, great reporter. He had a great quote at the time that Bobby Bowden passed and, and he said, it's easy, confusing record with. Record is what we've done. Legacy is what it meant. So, Steve, what's your dad's legacy.

Steve:

Oh, geez. Um, his legacy is, is man. This. His legacy is that he re he touched people. He changed people's lives and we change men's lives. And, whenever you talked about Gordon Tech, Gordon men, his legacy is that Tom Winiecki is synonymous with Gordon Tech we talk about what Gordon, you know, I I've had coaches, you know, we're at 707th and stuff, and a guy would come over and give me a hug and give dad a hug. And my staff would say, who's that he's like I used to Gordon guy. And then after like a couple of years, they just roll their eyes and say, well, that's a Gordon guy. And that's my dad's legacy is just that love of each other and love of Gordon Tech and not just, you know, you know, the fight song, the, just the connection that these men had. So I would just say it was that legacy of loving that legacy of. It was what I would come, come to mind.

Luke:

Tom to your turn now, will be your son's legacy?

Tom:

Well, that's still to be determined, but I know he's working tirelessly at his craft. But what I see him and like you said, 90% is not on, not on the field. It's what he's doing right now. From establishing what clubs, but reading, X's and O's that fire the same from his mind, you know, he knows what that'll come, but right now it's developing those relationships. We talked about Luke Stratman. You know that that's probably another legacy because when he cared about that kid so much that this guy had big twenties is still there at practice there at game day, busting his chops to do the thing. Right. And every time I show up he's up high Papa gives me a hug. He said, you got another coat today. I might need it. You know? I would encourage Steve to continue as long as he can. I think I read that a, uh, something where they're going to change the rule about retirement, not hours possibly. You know, when the guys can stick a longer, because he's always, he's got that energy he's got right now and he's got the support of his family. We need more Steve Winiecki's.

Luke:

Yes, absolutely. We need more positive leadership now, maybe arguably now more than. In the history of our country,

Steve:

Uh,

Luke:

So thank you both for that. And You know, you guys are actually the second Gordon Tech people I've had on the podcast. I had Tommy Kleinschmidt on and I asked him a really tough question to wrap up his episode. So now I need to do it to you guys as well. Who's the greatest player in your opinion, that you have personally seen to come out of the Chicago Catholic. It's a tough one. I know a lot of grit, a lot of great players.

Steve:

you want that one for a step? Or do you want to think about that? And you want me to go?

Tom:

Well, I I'm thinking about some of the same Rita players that were so good, you know, I've gone through a long. era everything from chained, Chico crews asking, you know, who went over. It's not so much, they made the pros or something. You're building merit. You know, there's so many names that are flashing across my brain right now, but, uh, the greatest that's, uh, you've got to be a little background. I'd have tough time doing the top 10.

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah. There's a lot of good ones that have come through.

Steve:

I'm drawing a blank on his name right now. Maybe Luke, you can help me out with St. Rita. He wouldn't say so. I, I played at 84 poli poli. so it was the top. I think it was time.

Luke:

Uh, John Foley.

Steve:

Yeah, he was one of the best that I played. Again, we played that John Foley was phenomenal, I remember lit up by him there court. We had a quarterback scramble and I'm playing DB and he comes up and he was playing running back and he caught me when blindsides were still legal. And I ended up on my back. In the reader right out the reader bench. And I remember just shaking, look it up. And all these kids thought that he was probably the best player that I played against. And then, um, when I was coaching, uh, Gordon, uh, we played in the playoffs and Donovan had to grab that at Mount Carmel. So Foley as a player, and then McNabb, when I was, um, helping out that Gordon.

Luke:

Yeah, definitely some great ones. And those are, those are two great names that I think you could put up there at the, at the top of the list, right? I mean, you could make an argument that both of them are the best to come out of the Catholic League. And I played against Donovan McNabb in grade school. And I remember in eighth grade, we're the same age in eighth grade. I'm like, holy cause I was going to read it and he was going to Mount Carmel. I'm like, Oh, man, we're got to see this dude for the next four years at Mount Carmel. Cause he was even eighth grade. He's like hopping over dudes. Like it was unbelievable. And then, Foley was my idol, like a big reason why I played. my youth football coach would not allow anyone to wear number 34 because of Walter Payton. I was the only one. I didn't want 34. I want a John Foley's number. And now I remember my dad. I actually just told a story on another podcast. I was on that. My dad took me and introduced me to him outside St. Rita stadium when he was a senior. And he has this beautiful convertible Mustang, which I'm sure Notre Dame boosters gave him or whatever happened there. And man, he got out of the car and shook my hand and it was like, I mean, I was so starstruck. I'm like, oh my God. So that's a, that's a great memory that you brought up there. Uh, Steve man, I wish more people could. I wish we had Hudl film on, on Foley that these kids, they could see what w what a linebacker looks like, man. Cause

Steve:

It's awesome too. That those two guys that I reference, you had a personal connection with. That's pretty cool.

Luke:

yeah. Well, that's the uniqueness of the Catholic League, right? Just like you said, your assistant coaches roll their eyes like, oh, Gordon guys, like only people that grew up in that environment understand the uniqueness and specialist of it. For sure.

Tom:

Look, I, we always talk about that. know, once a Catholic leaguer, a Catholic leaguer, you know, from the Chicago area, most people would ask you what parish you're from, and then they ask you what high school you went to. And then you guys hated one another. And game day, You got the blinkers stuck together. When they went to college, you found them, you found a gap that blinker resonated and you hooked up with those guys.

Luke:

No doubt in that, tradition still carries on today. But. I really enjoyed this conversation. I hope you did as well. It's recording here on Super Bowl Sunday, and it's a great day for family and football, and that's what we got to share here. So thank you so much for your candidness and your openness to just talk about these experiences and helping our listeners, move forward and hopefully impact the world one person time.

Steve:

Well, thank you. Thank you. Thanks for spending the time and thanks for doing this. Um, I mean, it's a great project and you don't looking forward to.

Tom:

Yeah, Luke, thank you very much. Like you were talking about, about people leaving the profession. they can get be energized by some of the things you're doing on your podcast. Some people that haven't a coach before say, this sounds like something I'd be interested in because we have to develop young coaches because we need the next generation of step-up.

Luke:

I hope so. And that's my motivation for doing this as we can impact one person it's worth the time. Have these conversations. So enjoy the super bowl, gentlemen, and thank you so much for being on.

Steve:

Thank you.

Tom and Steve Winiecki Profile Photo

Tom and Steve Winiecki

Head Football Coaches

For 39 years, Tom Winiecki taught, coached, and was part of the leadership at Gordon Tech High School. During his 31 years as head coach at Gordon Tech his teams won 193 games, 10 state play-off appearances, 2 semi-finals, and a 6A state championship in 1980 6A. Also during that time the Rams qualified for the Chicago Catholic League play-offs 12 times with 3 appearances in the Chicago Prep Bowl Classic, which Gordon won in 1982 and 1987. During his tenure as head coach Tom has earned the following honors: Chicago Catholic League Coach of the Year in 1974 and 1980, National Football Foundation Award for outstanding contributions to amateur football in 1983, Notre Dame Frank Leahy Prep Coach Award 1995, Chicago Catholic League Man of the Year 1996 and 2002, member of the Leo High School, Chicago Catholic League, and IHSFCA halls of fame. Along with being head coach at Gordon he served as athletic director for 32 years, was president of the Chicago Catholic League for 13 years, and a member of the IHSA Legislative Board for 9 years. Since 2002 “Papa Winiecki” changed his colors to red and has been a fixture in the Deerfield Football Program.

Steve Winiecki has coached over 32 years in Illinois high schools. He has coached at Oak Park-River Forest, Gordon Tech and Deerfield for a total of 9 years before becoming Head Coach at Deerfield where he has been for the last 23 years. He has been one of the longest tenured coaches in the Central Suburban League and Lake County. During this time at Deerfield his teams have won 135 games and been Central Suburban League North Champions 5 times. His Deerfield teams have made the IHSA Playoffs 13 times including two quarterfinal and one semifinal appearances. This spring he will be inducted into IHSFCA Hall of Fame, joining his father Tom, and he becomes the 8th coach from his father’s coaching tree to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was recognized as an IHSA/Country Financial Teacher in 2021. He currently teaches Physics, AP Physics, and Astronomy along with serving on the District 113 Education Association for over 20 years.