Editor's note: 'Why I Coach' is a new recurring series from Friday Night Drive that features high school football coaches from across Illinois. Know a coach that should be featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestion.
COAL CITY — Dan Hutchings has been around Coal City football nearly as long as anyone.
Hutchings played for the Coalers during his four years in high school before graduating in 1986 and attending Illinois Valley Community College and transferring to Eastern Illinois University.
While playing basketball at IVCC, he was coached by Dean Riley and Gerry Thornton, and they, along with his high school coach, John Cullick, were instrumental in turning his attention to coaching.
"Mr. Cullick was a big influence on me in high school," Hutchings said. "Then, when I was in college, coaches Riley and Thornton really talked to me a lot about studying education and getting into coaching. I learned a lot from them and took their advice. My football coach in high school was Hal Chiodo, and he had a big influence on me as well."
After graduating from Eastern, Hutchings spent three years coaching in Sandwich as a freshman football, basketball and baseball coach. He then spent a year teaching seventh-grade science at Wilmington and was the Wildcats' head varsity basketball coach before a teaching job opened at his alma mater in 1995. Hutchings applied for the job and was hired, and he began coaching football as an assistant.
He started as a freshman football and basketball coach at Coal City in 1995, and was happy to be back wearing green and gold.
"Coal City is a great school district," he said. "My family is all still in Coal City, so it was nice to be back home."
Many teachers and coaches have followed Hutchings' footsteps and returned to their home school. In fact, all but one of the football coaching staff graduated from Coal City High School.
"When you have a bunch of resumes and you see one that says they graduated from Coal City, you know what kind of character and work ethic they have and what kind of people they are." said Hutchings, who also serves as the school district's athletic director. "That is stuff you can't always see on a resume, but when they went to Coal City, we know what kind of upbringing and education they got here."
Hutchings stayed on the football staff from 1995 until 2010, when he became the athletic director. He did not coach from 2011 until 2017, when then-coach Lenny Onsen stepped away from the head coaching position and Hutchings stepped in.
"I had a son [Payton] who was going to be a sophomore," Hutchings said. "It just made sense for me to coach. Payton will graduate this spring, but I will still be the football coach."
It's more than just coaching his son that put Hutchings back on the sideline, though.
"It was tough when I wasn't coaching," he admitted. "Having that day-in, day-out, 1-on-1 time with the kids. That's what it is all about. The practice and preparation.
"It's the relationships. Not only with the coaching staff, but with the kids. It's very satisfying to watch them come in as freshmen and grow, not only on the field, but off. They turn into fine young men, and being a part of them growing up is the best part about it.
"I would say my favorite memories about coaching so far is just the time being around the kids, seeing them put the time and work in and then having success. Watching the kids having success is the most gratifying thing."