Rich Zinanni was a year out of college when his alma mater, Bishop McNamara, had an opening for a physical education and business teacher with an opportunity to coach.
“Well, I thought I could try it and see if I liked it,” Zinanni said.
That was in 1970, and he’s still at McNamara, so it’s pretty clear he loved it.
Now, Zinanni is ready for a victory lap. The Fighting Irish’s head football coach since 1975, he will spend one more season on the sideline before handing the reins to coach-in-waiting Alan Rood.
Zinanni will retire with one of the greatest resumes in Illinois history. His 364 wins in 46 seasons rank third all-time behind Ken Leonard, who has 393 victories in 41 seasons at Gridley and Sacred Heart-Griffin, and Frank Lenti, who had 374 in 34 seasons at Mount Carmel.
The Irish won four state titles in the 1980s under Zinanni and another in 2015. They also had three runner-up finishes and 36 IHSA playoff berths.
Why retire now?
“I’ve been kind of looking at it the last couple years,” Zinanni said. “I have a great staff, a bunch of enthusiastic guys. I’ve been looking for a young guy to come in and take over.”
That guy is Rood, whose resume is strikingly similar to his mentor’s. Rood played at McNamara before going on to Northern Illinois, also Zinanni’s alma mater. Rood also coached at NIU and Eastern Illinois as well as at Morton and St. Viator.
In 2015, Rood started the football program at Von Steuben. After playing a JV schedule the first year, he led the Panthers to winning records in each of their first two varsity seasons.
So with the coaching transition settled, what’s next for Zinanni?
Among other things: travel with his wife Jane and spending more time with his eight grandchildren, including helping three of them in the businesses they’ve started.
Plus, Zinanni said. “I’ve got to get my golf game back.”
The state titles are among his career highlights. But there were many others, including playing golf with legendary Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian and spending time in the UCLA quarterback room with Troy Aikman.
The years have flown by, Zinanni said.
“(When) you have a good place to go to work at every day,” he said, “it’s not like a job.”
Change at Providence
Like Zinanni, Providence coach Mark Coglianese plans to step down after the 2021 fall season.
Coglianese has been on the Celtics staff for 35 years, first as an assistant to Matt Senffner and for the last 15 seasons as head coach. Providence is 103-64 during that span with the Class 7A title in 2014, a 6A runner-up finish in 2009 and 11 playoff berths.
“I’m ready to move on,” said Coglianese, who plans to remain as boys track coach.
“This is maybe a good time,” he said. “They’re both such long seasons. Track is January to June, football is never-ending with offseason lifting, morning workouts and summer practices.”
Zach Elder takes over at Taft
Zach Elder, Taft’s defensive coordinator the past five seasons, is the Eagles’ new head coach.
He takes over for John Tsarouchas, who resigned after five seasons to take a teaching and coaching position in Alabama.
“I’m excited and at the same point in time, I’m super nervous,” Elder said. “Generally, I’m the guy with butterflies in my stomach every game.”
But he also feels confident in taking over one of the city’s rising programs. The Eagles were 26-20 under Tsarouchas, with the school’s first Public League title in 46 years and multiple state playoff berths.
“There are little tweaks we’re going to make, but I think the foundation is really good,” Elder said.