IVANHOE – Prairie Ridge football coach Chris Schremp recalls the times, several years ago, when he was installing the option offense for the Wolves.
Included in that process were a couple of weekly trips to visit Bill Mack, the option Obi-Wan Kenobi to so many coaching Jedis through the years.
“I’d sit there for three of four hours [watching film],” Schremp said. “And his phone was ringing the whole time. It’s amazing how many [coaches] would call. I said his number was 1-800-BILLMACK.”
If anyone has coached football in Illinois for long, chances are he knows Mack, the former Crystal Lake Central and North Central College head coach. Mack, 77, has made countless friends in his career, and when the American Football Coaches Association selected its Randy Walker “Doing Great” Award winner for this year, Mack was a shoo-in.
AFCA director Mike Taylor said the vote was not even close. The other five previous winners – including former Cary-Grove coach Bruce Kay – are either still coaching their teams or were until the past few years. Mack retired in 1987 at Central after 26 years with a 154-71-5 record. The other former winners are Libertyville’s Randy Kuceyeski, Richards’ Gary Korhonen, Mount Carmel’s Frank Lenti and Montini’s Chris Andriano.
Mack, who lives in Crystal Lake, was honored after the Power of Influence Golf Outing on Monday night at Ivanhoe Country Club. Walker coached at Northwestern from 1999 through 2005 and took the Wildcats to the Big Ten Conference championship in 2000. He died in 2006. Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer was the guest speaker of the night.
Tammy Walker introcuced Mack as the sixth winner of the honor named for her husband. Mack's wife, Cheryl, their children, Bill, Andy and Beth, and 10 of their 11 grandchildren were present.
“I am honored to be in the same category with these other winners,” Mack said. “I have serious reservations that I belong here. I’m really pleased and honored to have this opportunity.”
The power of Mack’s influence may have even grown after his days ended as a head coach. Former Richmond-Burton coach J. Randy Hofman, now the head coach at Central Lee (Iowa), joined Mack at North Central as a defensive assistant for two seasons.
“He’s very intuitive, he’s very sharp,” Hofman said. “I don’t know what his I.Q. is, but it’s off the charts. He’s a gentleman. He’s good to everybody. He’s made a lot of friends and very, very few enemies. I may have made some enemies in my time. He’s a special guy.”
Before the dinner, Keith and Kevin Turner, brothers of NFL free-agent running back Michael Turner, visited with Mack, who volunteered at North Chicago when Michael played there.
Former Central quarterback Tom Pence, who played at Western Illinois, golfed in Monday’s outing and saw his old coach.
“The thing I remember about coach Mack is he taught you a lot about being a good person and being a man, as well as football,” Pence said. “Having high standards, setting goals for yourself. Even when I got out of college I valued his advice and opinion.”
The relationships Mack forged reach well beyond Illinois’ borders.
“How many guys do you know that their vacation consists of going down south to talk to football coaches in Florida and Alabama?” Schremp said. “Nobody I know studied the game more than him.”
Kay, like Schremp would years later, tapped Mack’s knowledge when he was putting in the option at C-G. Even after the Trojans ran it, Kay talked football with Mack almost weekly. Both Kay and Hofman consider Mack one of the smartest men they know outside of football.
“He’s a very bright, intelligent person who also has a lot of common sense,” Kay said. “Sometimes those two don’t always meet each other. To me, that is Bill. He does have the ability to listen too.”
After hearing others talk about Mack and his influence, it seems the AFCA chose the ideal man.
“We all have so much opportunity, and have been so fortunate in our lives, to be associated with young people, parents, etc.,” Mack said. “That is really a true blessing. I appreciate this award.”
As Mack looked around at all his acquaintances in attendance before the dinner, he could only smile.
“It’s been a real slice,” he said. “I’m a lucky guy.”