North Central (Ill.) coach Thorne to retire at end of season; son to take over
NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- North Central College head football coach John Thorne has announced his plans to step down from his position following the 2014 season.
Effective Jan. 1, 2015, the college will hand control of the program to offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Jeff Thorne.
With a record of 112-29 in his 13th year as the Cardinals' head coach, John Thorne owns North Central's career records for wins and winning percentage (.794). Among all current or former coaches with at least 10 years of experience, he ranks 11th all-time in Division III and 31st in the history of college football in winning percentage. A total of 185 of Thorne's players have earned Academic All-College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) honors and 33 have received induction into the National Football Foundation's Hampshire Honor Society.
"We're on a really nice run right now," John Thorne said. "I'm at a point where I want to spend more time with our church, trying to figure out what the Lord's next adventure is for my wife, Kathie, and I together, and spend a lot more time with her.
"I think it's the perfect time for Jeff to take over. I think he's really ready. The guys on the staff are all on the same page, and they're going to get along great and work well together."
John Thorne's teams have won or shared the past eight College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Championships, tying the CCIW record set by Augustana (Ill.) from 1981-88. The three-time CCIW Coach of the Year owns a 10-8 career record in NCAA Division III postseason play, having led the Cardinals to their first playoff win in 2006, their first national quarterfinal appearance in 2010 and their initial national semifinal contest in 2013. Prior to his arrival, North Central had not won a CCIW championship since 1960 and had never received a NCAA tournament bid.
"We're very grateful to John for everything he's done here," North Central athletic director Jim Miller said. "He understood coming in that the task of making this program successful would be pretty tough, and it would have to be done step by step. He had the right philosophy, he stuck with it, and he helped a lot of young men become better all-around individuals."
Jeff Thorne has served as North Central's offensive coordinator throughout his father's tenure as head coach, during which time his offensive units have rewritten the Cardinals' record books. A total of 44 individual career, single-season and single-game offensive records have been broken during his tenure, along with all of the program's single-season team records. Each of North Central's top-10 single-season totals for passing yards, total yards, points and passing touchdowns have come under his watch.
The younger Thorne has coached six CCIW Art Keller Offensive Player of the Year Award winners. North Central led all divisions of the NCAA in scoring (49.0 points per game) in 2009 and ranked seventh in Division III in scoring offense (45.6 ppg) and 12th in total offense (497.0 yards per game) while leading the CCIW in nearly every category in 2013, when he was a finalist for the Division III Coordinator of the Year Award.
"It's an honor for me to take the program over and follow in my father's footsteps and build upon the legacy he's established here," Jeff Thorne said. "My job is to make sure we continue developing our players as human beings first and football players second. It's a philosophy engrained in the Cardinal football program.
"Keeping the staff together is a huge piece of that. We've got a staff that really has great chemistry. We're all pulling in the same direction, we all believe the same things, and each one of us brings something different that helps to shape these young men in their faith, academic pursuits and service initiatives. It was very apparent from President Hammond, [vice president for enrollment management and athletics] Marty Sauer and Jim Miller that maintaining continuity in the program was important."
Jeff Thorne has also been instrumental in the development of the Cardinal Program Philosophy, the focused emphasis on character and virtue. The philosophy has served as the cornerstone of John Thorne's approach to coaching since his tenure as the head coach at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, where he won four state championships in 22 years.
"I think the philosophy actually grew into something greater at North Central College," John Thorne said. "A lot of people told me before I started coaching in college that it would never work. Not only did it work, it developed into something better than it was.
"Jeff convinced me to institute the Cardinal Manual and start our twice-weekly meetings where we talk about all these character traits. The players do most of the talking, and that's been amazing to watch."
"We believe that faith, family and academics should all come before football," Jeff Thorne said. "It's one thing to say those things, and another to really follow through. Our players understand that it isn't just word speak. We're following through on what we told families in the recruiting process as far as the things we're going to do for each young man to assist him in his growth toward a successful life long after football. Those are the most important elements to the success of our program."
John Thorne plans to remain involved with the program as an assistant coach, focusing primarily on special teams, for the time being. "If there are ways that I can still give value to the institution, I'm more than willing to stay on for a while," he said. "The main reason is to be there for the recruits who have committed to coming here, and to let those families know that I still have them in mind."
"Jeff couldn't be more ready to take over," Miller said. "I really thank and applaud the college for valuing the staff and preserving the continuity of the program, because it gives us the best chance to build upon the success we've had. This is something to really look forward to and be excited about."
Jeff Thorne will become the 25th head coach in Cardinals history. Before doing so, however, his main focus will be on providing North Central's current head coach with a successful final season at the helm.
"We really want to center all of our attention, at this point, on this season and make sure we do everything in our power to send head coach Thorne and this great group of seniors out on the highest of notes," he said.
The Cardinals (2-1) will begin pursuit of their ninth consecutive CCIW title on Saturday against Millikin.nc-c