Editor's note: 'Why I Coach' is a recurring series from Friday Night Drive that features high school football coaches from across Illinois. Know a coach that should be featured? Email email@example.com with your suggestion.
HAMPSHIRE – That infamous coin flip still sticks with Burlington Central football coach Brian Melvin to this day.
As a senior linebacker and tight end for Larkin High School in 1994, Melvin and the 6-3 Royals awaited to hear their ultimate playoff fate. The Royals began the season 1-3, and won five straight games.
"You ask me why I coach? I coach for every single one of my friends on that team," Melvin, the fourth-year head coach, told Friday Night Drive. "And, make sure my [players] now don't ever have that heartache that we had finding out in a gym."
Twitter wasn't founded for another 12 years. There was no IHSA postseason bracket show live-streamed on the internet, or Friday Night Drive editor Steve Soucie's playoff projections to bank a good guess on.
Melvin remembers going home that evening, and listening to the radio on who made the postseason. At that time, there were only six classes. The Royals weren't listed off.
Then-Royals coach Bob Krieger then called his team the following morning. All were to meet in the gym. It was there he broke the stunning news. They lost out on a postseason berth because of a coin-flip. All the tiebreakers were exhausted.
"[The] first time a coach ever cried in front of me was coach Krieger when he had to tell us that," Melvin said.
So, if Melvin gets an opportunity to talk about his senior year football team, he'll take it.
"We all felt that heartache," Melvin continued. "Other than me telling my dad that I can no longer play football, that was the lowest football moment I ever had."
As a sophomore at North Park College (now a university in Chicago), Melvin sustained a shoulder injury during the 1996 season and continued to play through the injury for the rest of the season. Later that offseason, Melvin was lifting – performing a military press – alone. His shoulder gave out, and the bar slammed on his head.
Melvin soon after had a decision to make: He could continue to play football, potentially risk further injury to his shoulder and likely experience shoulder issues later in life. Or, call it a career.
Melvin called it quits.
"To tell my dad that, it was pretty hard," Melvin said. "And, it was hard for me, too. One injury my whole entire career, and that was my career-ender?"
Later that year, Melvin drove his younger brother to freshman football practice at Elgin High School. Then-head coach Kelly Rice approached Melvin.
"I was still in shape; I just got done playing football," Melvin said. "[Rice goes] 'Hey, are you a senior? Are you going to come out and play football?'
Later in the conversation, Rice extended the idea of coaching.
The next day, Melvin began volunteer coaching, eventually being promoted to an assistant varsity coach and being the defensive coordinator of the sophomore team by his second season.
Melvin stayed at Elgin for four seasons before taking a football and baseball coaching opportunity at St. Francis for another four years. After that, Melvin coached at Bartlett for a year before sending his resume to St. Charles East High School.
That's where he met then-head coach Ted Monken, one of his biggest mentors.
"He called me in for an interview," Melvin said. "I remember it was the most intense interview I've ever been a part of."
"It was literally: 'Hi, my name is Ted,'" Melvin continued. "'Here's a marker. Here's a whiteboard. Let's talk football."
It lasted an hour inside the weight room. Melvin soon earned the job, serving as the varsity defensive backs coach and assisted with passing game coordination.
"The best thing about St. Charles East was my Dad was with us [as an equipment manager] before he died," Melvin said. "St. Charles East not only helped boost my career, it saved my Dad's life for like four extra years...I love that place with all my heart and I always will."
Melvin soon felt he wanted to become a head coach one day, so he made a jump over to East Aurora in 2013 in part to learn how to build a program from scratch.
"Being at East Aurora literally changed my life," Melvin said. "It was one of my most fun four years of coaching of all-time, and we won maybe like five games."
"It taught me that when we're coaches, we think that the kids understand what we're saying to them because we grew up in football, and we played football...some of these kids, they don't even know what football looks like."
He began to savor the "little victories" like 100% practice participation
"That's a victory," Melvin said. "And, you try to build on that type of stuff."
Melvin cares about the details others may dismiss: Matching socks, wearing team colors under their uniform on Friday nights, etc.
That is in-part of the culture growth and re-vitalization that has happened on Rocket Hill.
"Stuff like that, I get really picky about because I was at East Aurora where we're red and black – and [we'd] go out there on a Friday Night and a kid [was] wearing bright orange socks. You had to tell him: 'You take them off or you're not playing.'"
Melvin's tenure at East Aurora, under the mentorship of former head coach Kurt Becker, helped him understand and establish "I'm not their friend; I'm their coach. They have to understand that."