SENECA – Of his seven assistants on the Seneca football staff, only one, Phil Conner, was much more than a stranger to head coach Ted O’Boyle three years ago.
“He coached with me at [Flanagan-Cornell] for nine out of the 10 years I was there,” O’Boyle said of Conner. “I kind of met Coach [Terry] Maxwell the summer before I got hired on here, too, so I kinda knew him a little bit. Other than that, I didn’t know any of them.”
The Fighting Irish coaching staff includes longtime Seneca High School faculty members such as Wes Bonner and Don Brown. It includes less tenured SHS employees such as Marty Harig and Eric Vroman, who have the longest continuous tenures in the football program. It includes a recent member of the Morris football staff in Terry Maxwell. It includes Dan Baker, who was a Seneca student and football player less than a decade ago.
Their backgrounds vary, but O’Boyle said his assistants, and their ability to work well together, are a major reason the Irish are 9-2 and in the third round of the Class 3A playoffs.
The right-hand man
Conner is the only member of the staff who is not, or has never been, a teacher. He is a retired public works employee. He joined O’Boyle’s Flanagan-Cornell staff in 2003 and has coached with him since.
“I’ve enjoyed working with him. I started with him when he was first getting coaching experience. I enjoy the opportunity,” Conner said of O’Boyle. “I like his passion and his drive and the way he treats kids. He’s just fun to be around.”
The tenured teachers
Both Bonner and Brown bring past football experience to the staff, though their levels of experience are vastly different.
Bonner’s first season as a football assistant was with the sophomore team in 1988. This is his second. He returned from a 24-year hiatus to serve as defensive coach of the freshman team this fall, though he has coached volleyball and track and field at Seneca for years.
“I saw an opening and I just wanted to get back involved,” Bonner said.
Like Bonner, Brown joined the staff in the 1980s. The difference is that, other than for a brief period after he stepped down as head coach in 2007, Brown never left. He took one year off from coaching football, spent a season on Shane Trager’s Plainfield East staff and then returned to the Irish, who were then coached by Ryan Reade.
“There were some openings here a couple of years ago with Ryan, and I just felt like I had been away, you know, a couple years, and felt it was time to get back,” Brown said. “I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t do this, to be honest with you.”
The staff veterans
Harig is the only assistant who has coached under Brown, Reade and O’Boyle. A Michigan native, Harig came to Seneca about 10 years ago for a teaching position. He now works as the school’s network technician. Also a throws coach in the track and field program, Harig started off as the head football coach under Brown before moving into the varsity line coaching role he holds today.
“It’s been a great transition from coach Reade to Ted,” Harig said. “Ted made everyone feel welcome, especially coach Vroman and I, [along with] coach Baker coming from coach Reade’s staff.”
A sixth-year science teacher at SHS, Vroman replied “most of them” when asked what roles he has held on the staff. Under Reade, Vroman used his knowledge of the Wing-T to be offensive coordinator at the lower levels, but he has switched to defense under O’Boyle. Vroman played football for his father, Tate Vroman, at Rockridge High School.
“My high school experience was second to none,” Vroman said. “Nothing really compares to the time as a player. That’s what I’ve tried to communicate to these kids, that they should enjoy this.”
The former Redskin
Maxwell’s first coaching job was at Peotone High School, where he spent five years. After taking a teaching position at Seneca Grade School, Maxwell joined the Morris coaching staff. When Alan Thorson became the Redskins’ head coach, Maxwell replaced him as head sophomore coach. He left the Morris program to take a spot with the Irish prior to the Redskins’ run to the Class 5A state championship game in 2012.
“It was tough leaving the Morris program because I knew that incoming senior group with [Danny] Friend and [Collin] Grogan and all those guys were gonna be something special,” Maxwell said. “But I felt like it was right move to come over here. It’s been great being over here.”
After student teaching and graduating from the University of Illinois, Baker spent two years as a teacher and coach at Channahon Junior High. Four years ago, he took a teaching position at his alma matter, and it did not take him long to join the football staff.
“My first year here, I hadn’t talked to [Reade] yet in the summer or anything, and then kinda right before school started he asked me if I wanted to volunteer,” Baker said. “My first year, I just volunteered and kinda helped out with the varsity, and then I started coaching freshmen my second year, under Reade, and then O’Boyle was here after that.”