JIM PETERS: Where does Portage go from here?

2012-05-06T22:00:00Z JIM PETERS: Where does Portage go from here?By Jim Peters Prep Beat nwitimes.com
May 06, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

My, how quickly fortunes change.

Not even a decade ago, Portage was arguably the benchmark football program in the region.

Today, the Indians are literally mediocre, 26-26 in the five years since Craig Buzea's departure, and in the process of finding a coach once again.

On top of that, it's May 7 and they've got no athletic director to head a search committee as well as a lame-duck superintendent.

"I hate to see it go where it's going," Buzea said. "It's been a revolving door. I watched them last year and they had some nice athletes. They have a lot of potential. I hope they can find a stop gap."

Some might question Buzea's sincerity, even suggesting he relished the opportunity to stick it to his old school by hiring away its coach, Jeromy Flowers, to be his assistant at Homewood-Flossmoor.

I don't know. Maybe so, but Buzea's more about winning than grudges. He's built H-F into an Illinois powerhouse, surrounding himself with a staff that now includes three former head coaches, while Portage would be doing well to have one.

As desperate as the situation is, the problem could be solved quickly with the hiring of Wally McCormack. Of course, that would require McCormack being interested. Last we heard, he was comfortable coaching at the freshman level, not having the pressure and time constraints of the Friday night gig. It would also take Portage opening the check book to pay for a guy with a teaching salary commensurate with his years of experience, though it would be worth it.

Former Portage QB Nick Wellman was believed to be a person of high interest the last time, but with a young family, he didn't want to make that commitment leap either. He said Friday that he's happy as freshman coach.

"You've got a guy they probably want to take it, but he doesn't want it, and another who never knows if he wants it," Buzea said.

If the search has to extend further, it's not going to be easy at this late stage. They weren't able to lure Roy Richards from Morton the last time and I think that ship has sailed. Richards is the king of Hessville.

Jeff Cain lives in Portage and has been successful at Whiting, but would likely take a pay cut if he left the Oil City.

Yes, Portage is Class 5A and part of the Duneland Conference, but the league's rep isn't what it once was and Portage doesn't have the name cache anymore. For what it's worth, Flowers went so far as to call it a sleeping giant.

"It'll take getting the right person in there, somebody willing to spend the time, and surrounding him with good assistants," Flowers said. "The freshman and sophomore classes are really good. We had our biggest offseason numbers. I think they're getting closer."

I don't know if Flowers is just being nice as he heads out the door or if he really means it.

All I can wonder is where the program would be if Portage had hired Brett St. Germain after Buzea left for Michigan City. I'm guessing it wouldn't be searching for a new coach every couple years, and might be sitting pretty like Lake Central is now.

This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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