Mike Fields joked his next move should be reaching out to Batavia football coach Dennis Piron about any openings with the Bulldogs in hopes of pulling off a Tri-Cities trifecta.
In his more serious moments, Fields expressed deep contentment with the football memories he’s already made. A longtime former Geneva assistant, Fields stepped down as head coach at St. Charles East after five seasons coaching the Saints, East announced Tuesday.
“I’m the luckiest coach in the state of Illinois,” Fields said. “I got to coach in two of the best schools and communities in the state in Geneva obviously and St. Charles, and I couldn’t be more proud of the things we were able to accomplish in the last 15 years I’ve been coaching in the Tri-Cities area.”
Fields cited family considerations – he and his wife, Mary, have a 6-year-old son, Max – in ending his coaching tenure with the Saints. Fields went 25-23 with East and led the Saints to a trio of playoff appearances, including a 6-4 season in 2013.
Fields said there are no hard feelings toward East’s administration in making his decision, and said he plans to keep teaching at the school “as long as they’ll have me.”
“Mike’s a good man,” East athletic director Mike Sommerfeld said. “He’s really good with kids. There are some family commitments that are really taking his attention, and he’s just kind of decided that’s going to take priority, which I can understand. I have four kids. I can certainly understand that. He did a good job for us. We wish him well.”
Fields said demands on football coaches outside the season have exploded in recent years. Some parents were vocal in their criticism about how East’s program operated during the offseason, including the level of assistance offered in the college recruiting process.
“All of that has gotten to a whole ‘nother level,” Fields said. “I never let that stuff bother me to be honest with you. I did the best I can for our kids no matter where I was, no matter what level, going back to being a freshman coach years and years ago. You just do the best you can for kids. … That certainly didn’t drive me to make this decision. It was based totally on my family. That’s what my priority is because you’re going to have [issues with parents] no matter what you do. You’re not going to please everybody.”
Fields, 48, met with Saints players Tuesday and called it highly emotional.
“There were a lot of tears,” Fields said. “I love those kids. Those are great kids. They have a great future in front of them. The kids going to be seniors, we just had a nice season with, I love those kids, and the [younger] kids I didn’t get to know very well, I feel cheated I’m not going to get to know them better. That’s what coaching is all about.”
Sommerfeld said it will be “a pretty intense process here the next couple of months” to line up Fields’ successor. Whoever follows Fields would love to have the same kind of success Fields experienced against rival St. Charles North. Fields went 5-0 in games against the North Stars but 0-3 in East’s three playoff appearances.
East won an Upstate Eight Conference title in Fields’ first season. Good or bad, though, Fields said on-field results were peripheral to the relationships he cultivated with players and fellow coaches. One of his ex-players at Geneva, Shaun Ratay, was the Saints’ offensive coordinator last year, and Fields has remained in contact with countless others.
“They all made an impact on my lives, every single one of them, every single one I was fortunate enough to be able to coach,” Fields said. “It’s not the wins and losses. The experience of being around those young men made me a better man.”