Coach Luke Lokanc runs conditioning drill during morning practice on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, at Lincoln Way West High School in New Lennox, Ill.
Coach Luke Lokanc runs conditioning drill during morning practice on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, at Lincoln Way West High School in New Lennox, Ill. — Geoff Stellfox for Shaw Media

Coaching changes at the top of the football program can often be extremely complex.

And sometimes they just aren't.

Veteran Lincoln-Way West coach Dave Ernst made the decision to step down at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign with a pretty good idea that the right man to take his place was already sitting right next to him.

Ernst's vision for the program's next step was realized when Luke Lokanc, his defensive coordinator under Ernst for the past eight seasons, was approved as the Warriors next head coach.

"The last eight years have been unbelievable. We have had some great teams and done a lot of great things," Lokanc said. "But the time came when Dave basically said he didn't want to be a head coach anymore. He was ready to step aside and he wanted to spend his last couple of years coaching as a teacher and as an assistant. He felt like because of our relationship, it might be the right time, and I'm ready and he thought I was ready. It could be an exchange, where I was ready for the interview and I could get the job."

Ernst, when stepping down from the post initially, believed Lincoln-Way West had the replacement for him in house and with Lokanc the switch will more likely be a smooth one, especially with Ernst fully planning to maintain a spot on Lokanc's staff.

Lokanc's journey to the post starting with his playing career at Providence, where he shined at defensive back before moving onto the collegiate ranks at Winona State (Minn.). After completing his collegiate career, Lokanc began his apprenticeship at Lincoln-Way Central where he served as an assistant for Rob Glielmi, Tim Dougherty and Brett Heffner during five years with the Knights.

When the opportunity arose for Lokanc to join Ernst, who Lokanc had played for while Ernst was an assistant at Providence, Lokanc jumped at the chance.

Now, Lokanc is prepared to make the next transition, feeling that the timing was just right for him to make the move to the top of a program's ladder.

"It was always a goal to be a head coach, and I always wanted to be one at some time in my career," Lokanc said. "I'm 36 and I wanted to have time to develop a program and put my own stamp on it. I'm still in the middle of my career, and I still have a lot of time ahead. I always wanted the right job, there have been jobs that have been outside of the district that I could have went for, but this is the job that probably best fit me. I wasn't going to jump at a job just to be a head coach."

A large part of the reason that the job was right for Lokanc was the familiarity with the program that he already has. He expects the staff that was under Ernst to largely, if not completely, remain intact as he begins his journey as a head coach. There's a real value to that stability and Lokanc knows it.

"Dave and I kind of built this staff together," Lokanc said. "We've been able to build a pretty good group and I don't anticipate it changing too much."

As for Lokanc, he's anxious to continue building a program that has already set a pretty solid standard for itself. In the eight seasons, Ernst was at the helm the Warriors qualified for the playoffs in every season, including a Class 5A runner-up showing in 2015.

"That's the big question," Lokanc said. "At West we've been very fortunate to have great kids, great families, great communities. They work hard and do what you ask of them as a coach. That's kind of the goal in mind of our program has always been to play our best at the time of the season when we need to. We always want to be able to play Saturday games in November. The goals are never going to change as a program, because that's what any competitor wants, you want to win and play late in the season and play in those big time games."