Coach Hennessey To Receive Illinois FB Coaches Hall of Fame Honor
Notre Dame College Prep Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Mike Hennessey will be inducted into the Illinois Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Saturday March 31 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, Illinois. Coach Hennessey will be the main speaker and will accept and speak on behalf of all inductees of the class of 2012. For more details, contact Assistant Athletic Director Augie Genovesi at 847.779.8655.
The following March 20, 2012 online article highlights Coach Hennessey. It is reprinted with permission by the Journal & Topics Newspapers. To view the article online, visit www.journal-topics.com and seach for "Mike Hennessey."
Mike Hennessey, Notre Dame's Subtle Coach
By DWIGHT ESAU, Journal & Topics Sports and Journal & Topics Newspapers
(3/21/2012 - NILES, Ill) When I heard recently that Mike Hennessey, Notre Dame College Prep’s football coach and athletic director, would be inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, one memory came to mind.
It was about a dozen years ago on the Dons' football field in Niles. As the team and a large group of fans wildly celebrated a dramatic last second playoff victory, Hennessey was standing off to one side, alone, watching the post-game party, with a serene look on his face.
I half-kiddingly asked him if he was as excited as everyone else was.
“Oh yeah, this was a big win, we played well at the end, I’m happy for the players,” he replied, in a matter-of-fact, quiet voice that I had to strain to hear.
I thought then that he might just be making sure he never had a heart attack. In the years since, I have come to understand that this guy really, seriously gets it.
If Mike had been at Lake Placid’s ice arena in February 1980, when the U.S. Olympic team beat the Russians, he would have said, “That was a real good hockey game,” with a straight face. If he had been at the 1986 Super Bowl after the Bears’ 46-10 victory over the Patriots, he would have said, “The Bears sure had a good pass rush.”
He is a laid back, sincere, polite, respectful, aw-shucks guy in a culture that too-often worships loud and look-at-me.
He doesn’t jump up and down, high-five, and hug his players when they are successful. He pulls them aside and tells them one-on-one how much he appreciates their hard work and excellent play, and asks them how he can help them in decisions about careers and college.
Don’t get me wrong. He isn’t a softie. He competes hard and with great intensity. His teams are tough and hard-nosed. Talking about this honor, he admitted that he does get excited and agitated when he observes that his players aren’t giving 100%. But that’s always in private, not in public.
Hennessey will be honored Mar. 31 in Champaign at the IHSFCA annual clinic and awards luncheon. He will be there partly for a lot of coaching success, to be sure. But it will be mostly because he is one of the classiest guys ever to take on the responsibility of mentoring teenage boys on an athletic field.
Hennessey’s resume is impressive enough – 12 sea-sons in the football post-season playoffs, and a state runner-up finish in 1989. This at a school of less than 800 boys and a schedule full of schools four and five times larger.
Hennessey absolutely enjoys the fact that he competes in the East Suburban Catholic Conference, loaded with football powerhouses like Marist, Joliet Catholic, and Carmel. “If you’re going to compete, why not do it with the best?” he says over and over again.
“We’ve made the playoffs for the last six straight years,” he says. “We haven’t won one playoff game in that time. We’re always matched up with a higher seeded team in round one. I’m proud of that. I consider it our badge of honor. We’re almost always the underdog. It’s a great way to teach life lessons.”
A native of Chicago’s Northwest side, he was raised by a father who loved sports and constantly encouraged him to participate. He played football at Gordon Tech High School and later at Knox College in Galesburg. He returned to Gordon Tech and was an assistant to legendary Ram coach Tom Winiecki from 1979 to 1986. “My dad and Tom have been my heroes and mentors,” he says. “Most of what I learned that meant anything I got from them.”
Last fall, he finished his 25th season as head coach at Notre Dame. “I was so lucky when I started,” he recalls. “We had a sophomore team that was very successful and skilled. We decided to keep them intact at the underclass level, and then make our move in 1989, when most of them were seniors. It paid off in a big playoff run, and we played Mt. Carmel very tough before they finally outlasted us in the championship game.”
Hennessey also credits Dan DiFranza, a defensive back-running back on that 1989 team, and now defensive coordinator on Hennessey’s staff, with much of the success at Notre Dame. “He was a great player because he worked hard and practiced hard,” Hennessey says. “After coaching him, I worked hard to get him back here as a coach.”
Hennessey became athletic director at ND when long-time AD Bill Casey died in 1994.
Mike Hennessey, a Hall of Famer for years, now being recognized.