The Value of Experience

Terry McCombs looks to bring his past success to MCHS football


Andreanna Haritopoulos

Head coach Terry McCombs addresses the Minooka team during a game against Joliet Central on Sept. 1. The Indians defeated the Steelmen 42-0.

Calvin Stiteley, Editor-in-Chief

Seventy years old is way too old to be a head coach of a high school football team, right?

Don’t tell Terry McCombs that.

When asked what his thoughts were on the assumption from others that he may be too old to be the head coach of a program, his response was quite simple.

“Schedule us, take us on,” said McCombs.

Questioning a person’s ability to do a job because of his age is nothing new. It might be ageism, but it is not uncommon.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan was running for reelection against Walter Mondale. Reagan was 73 at the time. Mondale was 58.

At one of the debates, Reagan was questioned about doing the job at his age. He famously joked that he would not exploit the youth and inexperience of his opponent in this campaign.

Reagan won the election by winning 49 out of 50 states.

McCombs was hired by Minooka with similar approval.

In February earlier this year, the MCHS school board made a unanimous decision to make McCombs their next varsity head coach, following the departure of Paul Forsythe.

It may be hard to find another man so dedicated and passionate about the game of football than McCombs, who has been coaching for roughly 50 years or so. His last head coaching job was in 1992 at Bloomington High School, where he went 111-43 in 15 seasons.

“I love doing it, it’s fun, I got a passion for it. I’m a terrible golfer, so I can’t go play golf,” McCombs said. “I don’t enjoy pounding nails in or working around the house, so it gives me something to do.”

It has been 25 years since McCombs’s last head coaching position. When asked if there would be any sort of drop-off in terms of his coaching abilities, McCombs laughed at the idea.

“Ask the parents,” he laughed.

In the 25 years between head coaching jobs, McCombs has kept busy at an assistant, serving as the athletic director and defensive coordinator at Downers Grove South,  then as the defensive coordinator of Normal Community, where he won a state championship in 2006. He has also served at Lincoln-Way Central, Lemont, and Reed-Custer.

McCombs is a Shorewood resident who had heard about the head job at MCHS from superintendent Dr. Kenny Lee.

“When I was an assistant coach at Normal Community and won a state championship, he was the line coach, so I talked to him about [the job] and saw that it was open,” said McCombs.

When the opportunity to be a head coach again presented itself, McCombs’s wife was the one that pushed him towards it.

“My wife said, ‘You’re bored, get out of the house, find something to do.’ So I called Dr. Lee and he said, ‘Terry, if you’re interested in applying, see what happens,’ so I did, and I guess you guys made the mistake of hiring me,” joked McCombs.

Lee explained that McCombs will be a great asset for the young adults at MCHS, and that his experience around the game of football will carry the program to success.

“I don’t think you can put a price on the experience he’s had. I’m sure he’s told you that he’s pushing almost 50 years of coaching experience,” said Lee. “Although that’s a lot of years of experience, I think that he has stayed current over those 50 years, and understands what motivates people in this day and age.  His knowledge of the game is top notch.”

Knowledgeable was the first word that came to mind for Lee when asked about Terry McCombs.

“In the experience that I’ve had working with him, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone who understands the various facets of the game, especially on the defensive side, understands how to deal with people, both adults and students from all different backgrounds,” said Lee. “Definitely his knowledge of the game and people were very impressive from the moment that I met him.”

After nearly 50 years of coaching the game of football, McCombs’s biggest success had nothing to do with winning a state championship. He took a moment to think about it, but his message was very clear.

“I don’t know how to put this in the right words, but it’s seeing young men grow up and improve, becoming good citizens and fathers, that’s what you do it for,” McCombs said. “This isn’t professional football, this isn’t college football, it’s about helping kids grow up.”

The players and coaches that he has been around in years past notice his dedication to helping young men develop, and paying close attention to detail. Doing the little things like this has allowed McCombs to enjoy success at various schools.

“My main concern was getting someone like Terry who likes young adults and wants to see them develop into good men. If that’s your sole purpose, to move young adults along and help them to become better people, the wins will take care of themselves,” Lee said.

Despite his incredible hall-of-fame résumé as a teacher of the game of football, he explained that there is one main thing the game of football has always taught him, and he is using it as the core principal for his players everyday.

“[Football has taught me] the value of being a part of a team. I’m gonna give you an idea of the theme for the team this year, we are gonna call ‘hold the rope.’ If you fell off of a cliff, and you were hanging onto a rope, and one guy had to hold on to that rope, and sure you didn’t fall to your death, who would that one guy be?” McCombs said. “Be that one guy. It talks about relying on others, having trust, doing what you have to do to help other people out.”

The biggest thing McCombs is stressing to his players is the idea of family. This has sat well amongst his players.

“Going into the season, we know we’re going to have to be a brotherhood to be a good team,” senior wide receiver Max Christiano said. “We can’t just expect to be special, we have to hold each other accountable.”

The players are understanding the idea that this team truly is a family. They are understanding that looking out for each other will lead to success in the long run.

“We talk a lot about, look around, to the guy to the right, the guy to the left, that’s your brother, you take care of your family, family comes first, and everything else will take care of itself,” McCombs said.

It is clear that McCombs has made his message well-known among his players, leaving many of the extremely excited to play this season. A coaching change is often a difficult adjustment for many players, but it is clear that he has earned their respect.

“He has made us all closer as a team and as friends. I consider all of my teammates brothers,” said senior linebacker Bryce Pehlke. “McCombs is a far better coach and he knows the game extremely well. He is ready to carry our team to a state finals.”

MCHS has always had a rich history of great athletes in its football program, something McCombs has been extremely grateful to be a part of everyday.

“What do I tell my friends? I only go where there’s good athletes,” said McCombs, chuckling. “I’ve been very lucky in my career to always be some place where football was important, and we had good athletes to help out with that.”

He explained that he has always had the privilege to work with great athletes every year, but most importantly they brought a positive attitude. McCombs has been able to achieve excellence at multiple schools because of players like this.

“When I started off, we had the state championship, I was an assistant coach which got me the head job at Bloomington and went on to a state championship there,” McCombs said. “When I went to Downers Grove South as the athletic director, I still coached football, won the state finals twice. I have always been in a situation where we’ve had pretty darn good athletes, and they were willing to sacrifice and work together as a team, and be successful.”

McCombs has been extremely impressed from his players going into the preseason. He has been proud of the effort from which they have put forth day in and day out, something he has described as “tremendous.”

The coach likes to go off of something called Lombardi time. The legendary Green Bay Packers football coach expected players to be 15 minutes early to practices and meetings, and if they were any later it was considered late.

McCombs has used this with his players, which he explained not only has made the game fun for him, but has shown that this team has what it takes to win.

“We start practice at 3:30, but we go by what I call Lombardi time, 15 minutes early. We start practice at 3:30, they are expected to be doing something by 3:15, and they are. I don’t have to yell at them, I don’t have to be out there telling them, ‘Start doing that, start doing this.’ That’s an attitude of a winning team,” said McCombs.

Having the talent to be a great team is one thing, but McCombs values something else more.

“I’ll tell you what’s more important, the attitude of the kids. [It’s been] unbelievable, we can laugh and joke around, have some fun, but when it’s time to be busy they know that and they get busy,” McCombs said.

“We haven’t had kids come late, we haven’t had kids unexcused, they want to win. That makes coaching fun. Coaches don’t make millions of dollars, I’d like it if they did, but you coach because you enjoy the game because you like to work with young men,” McCombs said. These guys are making it fun. If it wasn’t fun, at the end of the year, I would turn in my resignation.”