LOMBARD – The accomplishments of legendary Montini football coach Chris Andriano were on display June 30 when the school held a retirement ceremony for him in the fieldhouse.
Eight state trophies, including six state championships, lined the stage at the event, which doubled as a fundraiser for Montini’s athletic program.
Yet the hardware was merely a symbol of what Andriano, who won 300 games in 38 years as head coach, meant to the program and its players.
“We’re in a room in a building that does not exist without Chris,” said former Montini star Joe Hyland, the most enthusiastic of the many speakers who addressed the crowd of more than 200 people. “These trophies are not what this man is about. They are supplemental benefits.
“One of the fundamental things that makes this man unbelievable is he helps young men understand who they are, what they’re made of and what they’re capable of.”
Hyland, a 1994 graduate who played on the Broncos’ first state semifinalist team in 1993, should know. He is one of those men.
Hyland is one of seven children raised by a widowed father who didn’t have the means to send his kids to Montini. But Andriano reached out to other people in the community who donated the money to pay Hyland’s tuition.
Today Hyland has seven kids of his own and is a high school football coach. He led Grand Rapids West Catholic to a Michigan state title in his first year at the helm last fall and still calls Andriano for advice.
“Hyland is going to be getting an A in speech class for that speech,” Andriano joked. “He was pretty special, but that’s who he is. He’s fiery like that.”
Andriano, 65, decided to retire after 43 years at Montini because he wanted to spend more time with his family. His wife, Dee, just retired from teaching, and his children, Matt, Lisa and Scott, all graduated from Montini.
“The daily grind of everything was getting harder for me," Andriano said. “My grandkids are getting older and I want to watch them do things. I’ve put a lot of my family on the back burner for things and I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
But even as he exited, Andriano made sure he put Montini first. He didn’t want any fuss over his retirement, so he agreed to the celebration, which began with a video tribute from Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, on the condition that it help the school.
So the gala doubled as the beginning of a fundraising campaign for a $1.5 million plan that will renovate and expand the school’s gymnasium and locker room facilities.
“You can see from the turnout today how many lives Chris has touched,” Montini athletic director Tom Lentine said. “It’s unbelievable.
“He’s probably the easiest coach I’ve ever had to work with. He’s always there for the kids and the tribute tonight is well-deserved and well-earned.”
Andriano’s father, Joe, was a ball turret gunner on a B17 in World War II and his mother, Dorothy, who passed away last October, was a farmer. Both helped shape him into a man that became one of Illinois' most successful high school football coaches.
“She never left any detail undone; that’s where I got my work ethic from,” Andriano said. “I got my feistiness from my dad and my toughness from my mom.”
For all his kindness, Andriano was as competitive as they come. In his speech, Andriano was his typical humble self, even praising the great players and schools he coached against, but couldn’t resist a good-natured crack at a couple rivals.
“Marian Central and Joliet Catholic are throwing a party tonight because I’m retiring,” said Andriano, whose teams have won 11 straight playoff games against those teams. “Our motto is, ‘Always play for the win.’”
Andriano showed his players how to do that both in football and in life.
“I’ve never seen a coach with more energy and more fire than he has,” Lentine said. “This will be my 10th year at the school and the one thing I looked forward to every game was his postgame speech.
“He knew what to say, when to say it, how to say it and how to motivate kids. He’s a great role model.”
Andriano by the numbers
300 Wins as head coach
6 State championships won
7 Consecutive state championship game appearances (2009-2015)
8 State trophies
10 Conference titles
28 Total playoff appearances, including 23 straight