North Central College's head football coach receives big honor
North Central College (NCC) Head Football Coach Jeff Thorne said his father told him to be prepared for the unexpected throughout his coaching career.
That was key advice the younger Thorne took to heart from his father, John, who won 118 games in 13 seasons as the head football coach at NCC. However, after the season Jeff Thorne just had in guiding the Cardinals himself, his accolades were predictable.
A big honor that Thorne recently received was the NCAA Division III Region 4 Coach of the Year as voted on by the American Football Coaches Association, according to NCC's athletics website -- making him the first NCC coach to win the honor.
That award was earned after the Cardinals posted an 11-1 record, claimed the program's ninth College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title in 11 years and made it to the playoffs for the ninth time.
Still, despite the breakaway success of the season, Thorne told Will County Gazette that he was surprised, as well as humbled and honored, by the award.
“It's always rewarding to have your peers recognize you in that kind of a way,” he said.
Thorne added that he wished awards like the one he received would go to the coaching staff as a whole. He praised his assistant coaches -- who are veterans of their positions at NCC -- as great coaches as well as great people.
“Our assistant coaches are, like I said, tremendous people and tremendous coaches, and their work with our players on a day-to-day basis is what allows something like this to happen,” he said.
Strong coaching infrastructure is what has made for a smooth transition of head-coaching duties from father to son at NCC.
After being the team's offensive coordinator since 2002 and assistant head coach since 2010 under his father, Thorne took over as head coach on Jan. 1, 2015, according to www.northcentralcardinals.com. He has led the program to an 18-4 record over two seasons.
Thorne said he knew from a young age that coaching was something he wanted to do. Among his favorite aspects of the profession are the relationships he builds with other coaches and, especially, with the players.
“Watching them grow from an 18-year-old young guy that isn't necessarily sure what to do with their life and what direction they want to go with it -- and four years later, a young man who's matured and full of integrity and ready to go out and really make a difference in the world -- that's the greatest reward in coaching, in my opinion,” Thorne said.
Last season, NCC ranked in the top 30 nationally across several categories, including leading Division III in sacks per game with 4.25 and ranking sixth in passing efficiency at 170.99.
Each regional Coach of the Year is eligible for the National Coach of the Year Award. The regional award winners will be recognized during the AFCA's national convention, held Jan. 10 in Nashville, Tennessee.