He’s out of here! After 33 years, Joliet Central coach Antonio Juarez calling it a career

Juarez begins last season in Steelmen dugout

Joliet Central assistant coach Antonio Juarez

Death. Taxes. Antonio Juarez roaming the sideline and dugout at Joliet Central football and baseball games.

These are some of the certainties in life you never really question. You just expect them to happen.

When the 2024 prep baseball season comes to a close, however, one of those certainties will no longer be present. Unfortunately, it’s not taxes.

After over three decades as an assistant coach with Joliet Central, Juarez has decided this season will be his last. He’s calling it a career after 33 seasons over 38 years split between Central and Joliet Townshipsummersummer when those programs were merged.

“I’ll be 60 in the summer. I’ve pushed a lot of stuff away for myself and my family to be a teacher and a coach. It’s time for me to go ahead and start doing some things.”

—  Antonio Juarez, Joliet Central coach

“I’ll be 60 in the summer,” Juarez said. “I’ve pushed a lot of stuff away for myself and my family to be a teacher and a coach. It’s time for me to go ahead and start doing some things. My youngest son had his first child who is going to be 3 in August. I just want to be able to spend more time with him and make up for some of the time I missed with my own kids.”

Juarez was born and raised in Joliet and graduated from Central in 1982. He attended Southwest Texas State University, graduated in 1986 and immediately returned home to begin coaching defensive backs at Joliet West under Dale O’Connell. From there, he began coaching freshmen and assisting with baseball while teaching special education at Central in 1988.

Since then, save for a few years here and there, he’s been coaching. He was even the head football coach at Central from 2002-2006 and again for one season in 2020. Ever since his early days, though, he’s known coaching was his calling.

“I think it was always something that I wanted to go ahead and do,” Juarez said. “One of my former teammates told me when I announced it would be my last year that I was a coach back in high school. I wasn’t the biggest, fastest or strongest guy, but I wanted to know everything that was going on to give myself a chance to be competitive. ... I listened to coaches so I could tell everyone else what they were doing.”

Just being a good teammate?

“Well, I figured if they asked me instead of the coach, they wouldn’t get yelled at,” Juarez said.

Joliet Central assistant coach Antonio Juarez

Teaching’s a hard gig. Add coaching on top of it, and it’s all the harder. No one does it for money, because there isn’t much in it. So what kept Juarez around all this time?

During his time, Central has a pair of baseball regional titles and two state playoff qualifiers in football, so it hasn’t been for accolades either. No, for Juarez it’s about something more important than any of that.

“It’s the relationships I’ve made with the players and the coaches,” he said. “(Head baseball coach) Kevin (Fitzgerald) played for me (as a student). I know three coaches now who were players in my time here, and I’ve watched them as young men become parents, husbands and coaches I’ve worked with. ... I see players I’ve coached in the community do awesome stuff with their lives.”

In addition to spending time with his two sons and grandkids, Juarez is hoping to improve his golf swing. He wants to travel more, see Rome and his family in Texas and Colorado.

First, he’s got one last season with the Central baseball team to wrap up. As he gets set to turn the lights off one last time, he’s thankful to O’Connell, Central mentor Eural “Mac” McLaughlin and teaching mentor John Randich Sr.

As for the next coach looking to get in the business for a few decades, he leaves some parting advice.

“First, know your ‘why,’” Juarez said. “Be authentic to your ‘why’ at all times. Second, enjoy the ride, both highs and lows. Time flies by. Third, be better. Reflect on each inning, each game and each season. Seek out the best in your field and share that knowledge with your coaches.”