2013 TIMES COACH OF THE YEAR | MT. CARMEL'S FRANK LENTI

A Chicago Legend

2013-12-12T19:00:00Z 2014-01-09T23:41:09Z A Chicago LegendMike Nieto mike.nieto@nwi.com, (219) 933-3232 nwitimes.com
December 12, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | This could be a 30-for-30 ESPN film.

Thirty years as a head coach for a man who looks and feels as young as he did 30 years ago when he succeeded Bill Barz.

Frank Lenti took over a Mount Carmel program in 1984 that had won a state title in 1980. He said his goal was to enhance what Barz had done when he rebuilt a program that struggled in the mid-1970s.

Thirty years, 339 wins and 11 state titles later, one could say tongue-in-cheek that Lenti has certainly enhanced the program. Embraced his love of the kids and love of his alma mater might be a better word.

The oldest of six children of Frank and the late Rose Lenti, Frank, a 1969 Mount Carmel grad, is a throwback to old-fashioned values, but his thinking is always looking to improve. He is also the winningest prep football coach in the state. Not bad for a kid from St. Ailbee's school, who got his start working at a White Castle on 79th and Stony Island.

Like the nearby Rockefeller Memorial Chapel just north of the school on the University of Chicago campus, Lenti and Mount Carmel are as much a part of Chicago as the Water Tower, Willis Tower, Vienna Beef and the Wrigley Building. If Frank Sinatra remade, "My Kind of Town," he would include Lenti as part of "My kind of town Chicago is ... it's one town that won't let you down ..."

Lenti has not let anyone down and that counts not just in the win column.

"Our job here is to get the kids to college, so they can continue their education," Lenti has said like a recording. "Football is a big part of your life, but your education has to last you a long time."

This year's team was coming off a 2012 Class 8A state title, the program's first since 2002. It had question marks, particularly in who would step up and lead.

"I think maybe at the beginning of the year, not as many kids were hungry to be successful," Lenti said. "During the season, the staff, we had to get guys to focus in and they did."

The Caravan ran the table and danced at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb as they beat Lake Zurich 30-0 to win the program's 12th state title, the 11th under Lenti, The Times Coach of the Year.

"You have to give a lot of the credit to my assistants and the kids," Lenti said. "We are a team. My assistants put in a lot of time, making sure the kids are prepared. They are loyal and they a great football people, who also care about the kids."

One would wonder if Lenti had not going into coaching or had taken an assistant's job at Notre Dame. He originally was studying to become a dentist, but said "I couldn't picture myself staring down someone's choppers all day."

Lenti needed a few weeks to get things in order, but ND head coach Lou Holtz needed someone right away to be a running backs coach. Lenti stayed at 64th and Dante.

"I really don't know what would have happened," Lenti said. "I might have got fired like a lot of college coaches and assistants. I might have been a college head coach, then got fired. You never know."

Lenti has coached two Heisman Trophy finalists in Donovan McNabb and Jordan Lynch.

"I know college coaches travel a lot around the country and at the time, my kids (Frank Jr. and Lauren) were little, Frankie was starting school," Lenti said. "I know I put in a lot of time here, but at least at night, after practice, I could go home."

His home is like a library with books from various coaches, but they are not playbooks. They are about philosophy. On the wall of his office is a Leroy Neiman print of Bear Bryant, a Vince Lombardi poster with "What it takes to be No. 1." There is also a poster of Woody Hayes.

"I feel you can learn a lot from those guys, (like) Pete Carrill (former Princeton coach). They had a philosophy," Lenti said. "It is not always about 'Xs' and 'Os.' It is about always wanting to learn. Once you think you are done learning, you're done."

Running back Matt Domer said Lenti was a big influence on the team.

"He had us prepared and he said if you are prepared, there is no pressure," Domer said. "Coach Frank and the whole staff here pushes you to do your best."

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