New St. Francis football coach Mike Fitzgerald plans to move from Chicago’s south side to Woodridge this weekend. That figures to put him in good middle ground as he transitions from Marist offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to the Spartans’ head job. Fitzgerald, 32, commutes three days a week to the St. Francis campus for afterschool weight training and is just starting to evaluate assistants and other protocol under former coach Greg Purnell, who stepped down in December. Kane County Chronicle sports reporter Kevin Druley touched base with Fitzgerald, who was named coach earlier this week. Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation in the latest edition of the Weekend Chit-chat:
What drew you to this opening?
Coming from a private school and going to a smaller school myself when I was in high school [in Colorado], I think it was a good fit. And I think they felt it on their end, as well. My thing with coaching is I want these kids to be successful in life. It’s also about that academic and character development piece. ... The [interview] process started toward the end of January, the latter part of January, and then I was offered pretty much the middle of February.
How did your time at Marist prepare you?
The Marist head coach, Pat Dunne, was my college teammate [at Lake Forest]. He’s an alum here, so that’s how I got tied into Marist and the south side. It was a great experience getting to build that program up, pretty much from scratch. … Me and Coach Dunne are pretty positive people and we just focused on that process of each and every day getting better. Get these kids to have a good time, but also stay hungry. So we never focused on the result. We just focused on that process and the wins started coming, and eventually that culture was put in place.
Your predecessor, Greg Purnell, will still remain at St. Francis as an administrator. What kind of contact have you had?
I had a brief meeting with him this week. It was only a half hour or so, but I’ll definitely be visiting with him more often. Seems like a great guy. He has great experience and great resources.
Sport specialization has really ramped up in the past few years. What’s been your view?
We want our kids to go out and play other sports. I don’t think there’s any substitution for competition and the agility and athleticism that comes form other sports. … I think as they get older, junior and senior year they start to feel more pressure that maybe they need to specialize. We haven’t really experienced it too much. I think the kids that come in here, at least at Marist, they come in and are athletic and playing other sports.
Purnell led the program to a state title in 2008. What did you about the Spartans coming in?
You know what, a guy had recommended me to look into it and the more I looked into it, the more interested I got. ... I could really get a sense of the family and community every time I was there. It was just a good fit. I think I learned more about it as I went through the process.
What did you think of the new stadium?
Looks really nice, definitely seems like everything going in the right direction.
What are some of your Xs and Os?
Our main thing is we want to adjust our scheme to the personnel that we have. We’re not going to pigeonhole a kid just to suit a system. … Same thing on the defensive end. If there’s more linebacker types, we might be a three-man front, and et cetera. That’s one of the biggest things in high school football, you never know the kids you’re going to get. ... Offensively, we definitely want to be able to run the ball, but still spread it out and make other teams respect the pass. It’s an exciting offense. The kids had fun with it at Marist, and I think they will at St. Francis, too.