Crystal Lake Central football coach Jon McLaughlin recalled a time shortly after he came to the school when the football team was the subject of jokes in a commencement speech.
The Tigers had some difficult times back then, still fresh off the split that helped populate Prairie Ridge in the fall of 1997. It took Central some time to recover.
McLaughlin became a big part of bringing the Tigers back, leading them to the Class 6A playoffs in his third season, 2006, for the first time in 15 years. Central had only three losing seasons since then.
“I guess reigniting the program and the fans and the atmosphere is probably what I’m most proud of besides the wins and losses,” McLaughlin said. “Now, when I read senior capsules when they leave, one thing they remember most if Friday night football games.”
McLaughlin coached Central for 13 seasons in two stints, his teams were 60-63 and made the playoffs six times. McLaughlin, who will retire as a history teacher following the 2022-23 school year, has resigned as coach to focus on a travel business he has started and will run in retirement.
He leaves the program after one of its most successful seasons in school history. The Tigers finished 8-4 and made the playoff quarterfinals for the third time, losing to eventual state champion Cary-Grove, 42-21.
“I’m very fortunate to have gone out with this group,” McLaughlin said. “Did that play into it? Not really. As far as going out, I feel like I’ve taken them as far as I can take them right now. I’m OK with that.
“Next year’s my last year (teaching). I was going to retire this year or next year as far as coaching. I’m excited about what the next chapter in my life’s going to be. For 30-some years of my life I’ve been a football coach and teacher. In some ways, it’s scary. And in others, it’s super-exciting.”
Central athletic director Jeff Aldridge said many people may not understand the magnitude of being a head football coach.
“We’re very appreciative of all the time and effort that he put in,” Aldridge said. “He did it for 13 years. Just very, very grateful and appreciative of all of his efforts and the sacrifices that he and his family have made for our football program.
“It’s a perfect time (after an 8-4 season). Our kids and our families, they were just awesome. And Jon and all of our assistants did a great job. No one likes to end on a loss, but at least we lost to the team that won it all. We’re very proud of our kids and all of our coaches.”
Through teaching history, McLaughlin occasionally took trips with students to Europe or China. He has a passion for travel and after dealing with businesses that organizes trips like that, he became interested. He bought a Dream Vacations franchise last summer and has been in training.
McLaughin’s Explore and More Travel will become more of his focus after he retires from teaching.
“I have a lot of experience leading groups and working in group travel, it was the first thing that I got excited about,” McLaughlin said. “I could do this after teaching. I’m still young enough where I can do that stuff. I’m excited about this.”
McLaughlin coached Central from 2004–09, during which time the Tigers were 29-29. He took over again in 2015 and took the Tigers to the playoffs three more times.
“I didn’t want (next season) to be about me (retiring),” McLaughlin said. “It’s nice to be able to walk away when you want to walk away. Most coaches don’t get to do that. I definitely can say I left it better than I found it.”
Aldridge said there is no hard timeline to find McLaughlin’s replacement. The current staff members can help with offseason workouts until a new coach is hired.
“We want to do this right, first and foremost,” Aldridge said. “We don’t want to do anything hastily, make sure we do it right.”