In his 23 seasons as an Illinois high school football coach — seven at now-closed Driscoll Catholic and the last 16 at Nazareth Academy — there aren’t many things that surprise Tim Racki.
But he was genuinely touched by the tribute the Roadrunners’ players, coaches, and staff gave him April 1 after he recorded his 200th career win with Nazareth’s 45-0 road shutout at De La Salle in Chicago.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but at the end of the game, our athletic director [Dennis Moran] gave me a game ball and the kids clapped,” said Racki, who has won six state championships in his career. “I’m a real team guy, so it just symbolizes all the great players and coaches I’ve had throughout my career. In my eyes, it’s a great team achievement.”
Racki said he believes that the coaching culture and philosophy he’s developed over the years, based on his experiences both as a player and an assistant, has been important in allowing for sustained success.
“I think it’s how I relate to my players. I’ve loved playing football my entire life, and I just put my thumbprint on all of those things I thought it should be,” he said. “The methods I didn’t appreciate as a player, I never used [as a coach]. I’m also very good at surrounding myself with great assistants because I’m not a micromanager.
“When I first started coaching, I was allowed the freedom to do what I wanted as a position coach and then a defensive coordinator. I appreciated it, and I thought I would do that with my staff and give them ownership within the program. A good, positive culture has been created, an environment that promotes team chemistry.”
Like all other football coaches in the state, the transition to spring caused by the pandemic has been challenging for Nazareth. Initially, Racki was skeptical about playing in the spring, but the enthusiasm shown by his team on the first day of practice changed his mind.
“After seeing how excited the kids were, I snapped right of it,” said Racki. “They reminded me of why I love coaching. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m taking a different approach — everyone on the team plays. Kids that normally wouldn’t have many plays have seen the field earlier and not just in blowouts.”
As long as he’s having fun, Racki will continue coaching. But when he does finally decide to call it a career, he said he hopes those he’s coached will remember him as someone who cared for them, and not just as players.
“I love them, and I want to see them succeed on and off the field,” he said. “I didn’t just teach them football, but I also taught how football teaches you lessons. It’s just a game, but it’s also a microcosm of life. It helps you to manage difficulties as well as successes.”
Nazareth’s next game is scheduled for April 10 against when they host Marist at Valenta Stadium at noon.