Football: Dan Cavanaugh’s exit marks end of era
By Erik Jacobsen firstname.lastname@example.org November 1, 2013 11:46PM
Hampshire coach Dan Cavanaugh applauds his team's defense during the second quarter of Friday's Class 5A playoff game at Kaneland. | Mary Beth Nolan/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 4, 2013 6:42AM
Dan Cavanaugh made his way down the postgame handshake line one final time Friday night.
For the past 25 years Cavanaugh dedicated his autumns to Hampshire’s football program, but the retiring coach’s run came to an end as the Whip-Purs lost to Kaneland 35-0 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
As the clock ticked down toward zero, the Elgin area’s longest-tenured football coach said he tried not to get too caught up in nostalgia as an era drew to a close.
“It’ll hit me later on,” Cavanaugh said. “You just get into game mode and it seems like the usual.”
The scene following the game was anything but usual for Cavanaugh. After addressing his players on the field one final time, he made his way to the sidelines where his wife Debbie, his parents Bill and Marian and other family members and friends were waiting with open arms.
Cavanaugh, who took over in 1989, finishes with a 121-122 career record. The Whip-Purs made nine playoff appearances under his watch, and in 1995 he led the program to a 14-0 season and the Class 2A state championship.
More important than the wins and losses are the number of lives Cavanaugh impacted as a coach and math teacher at Hampshire, a point that wasn’t lost on his players in the wake of their season-ending defeat.
“He’s been there every step of the way, he’s helped us get better and he’s going to help us seniors go to college and play college ball if we choose to pursue that,” Hampshire senior Nick Kielbasa said. “He has always been out here fighting for us, and we were trying to fight for him, but we just couldn’t get it done on the scoreboard.”
The Whip-Purs needed to be on top of their game to have a chance of hanging with Kaneland (9-1), but a fumble on their first play from scrimmage was a harbinger for what turned out to be a long night. Hampshire (6-4) didn’t record a first down until the final minute of the first half and finished with only 86 yards of total offense.
The lopsided defeat did nothing to diminish the accomplishments of this year’s team, which brought the Whip-Purs back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
During Cavanaugh’s tenure, Hampshire has grown by leaps and bounds as a community. As recently as 2005 the school had an enrollment of 538, and it has more than doubled to today’s total of 1,185.
Along the way there were some growing pains on the gridiron as the Whip-Purs made the transition from the Big Northern to the Fox Valley Conference three years ago, but if the 2013 results are any indication, the program is ready to hold its own going ahead.
“I’m really proud of the whole group, but especially our seniors,” said Cavanaugh, a two-time Courier-News Coach of the Year. “Making this move into the Fox Valley and up to Class 5A and so forth, they never gave up. They put in so much time in the offseason and have really done a nice job for us. It’s very rewarding to go out with a group like this.”
And for Hampshire’s seniors, the feeling is mutual as they head for the exits with one of the classiest and most highly respected coaches around.
“The kind of knowledge that man has is nuts,” Hampshire senior Damon Mull said. “I wouldn’t ask for another coach to go out with. He’s been a great leader, a great coach and I’m so happy I got to be a senior in his last season.”