COAL CITY — Twenty years ago, Coal City soccer coach Todd Painter remembers what the Coalers’ program looked like. It’s not hard to remember that time, because the program was nonexistent.
However, Painter was in on the ground floor when the Coalers began building its program under the guidance of head coach Kevin McCleary.
“Walking on this field right now is nice. Back when I first started this, I’d get into my Honda CRX, stop at the Citgo gas station on Route 113, buy two bags of ice, fill up the Gatorade cooler full of water and drag it out here,” Painter remembered at the Coal City’s first practice of the fall on Wednesday. “That along with a wet ball ball bag, which made the car stink like feet. That’s what I did every practice because we did not have a spicket right there near the field like we have now.”
That was back in 1995 when Painter was an assistant for the first three seasons under McCleary.
“All we had were two goals in which I dug the holes for and coach (John) Cullick helped me put in. Then we did our best to line the fields,” Painter said. “Now here we are all these years later and they have a fenced in field with bleachers with a (storage) building and an electronic scoreboard. I’m in heaven.
“With that in mind, I’m really excited because the program has grown a lot, if you just look at it.”
Painter was the head coach at Coal City from 1998 and spanned six seasons through 2003. In that time, his teams averaged 12 wins a season. After the 2003 season, however, Painter realized that he was being pulled a different direction.
“I have two kids, and at the time my daughter was getting older and getting into sports — softball and volleyball — and it was just time to make sure I was around. My son was also playing pee-wee soccer and I coached him a little bit,” Painter said. “But as my kids got older, I started to miss (coaching soccer) a little more.”
Branden Petersen had been the Coal City coach since 2006, but this past offseason stepped down as head coach of the Coalers, and it sounds like for similar reasons.
“Mr. Petersen’s kids got to be about that same age level as mine were and he was thinking the same thing — that he wanted to take a break so he could be around their games more,” Painter said. “The job opened up, I talked to Steve McCleary, the son of Kevin McCleary, and asked him if he was interested in coaching with me. He said ‘Yeah,’ and the two of together us decided to get back into it.”
Coal City athletic director Dan Hutchings said that he is glad that Painter chose to get back in the saddle and take the reins again.
“It’s great to have a passionate, veteran coach in this coaching transition,” Hutchings said. “He is a familiar face to the program and community which may help to increase athletes in the soccer program.”
Painter, a kindergarten teacher at the early childhood center in Coal City, said that he and Steve McCleary are going to take a long look at this current team before evaluating what has changed in the years since he stepped down.
“From my standpoint, I’m not going to sit back and say, ‘This is wrong.’ I haven’t had my hand in it enough to have an opinion. So, Steve and I are going to be here to learn, and the first three days we are going to do a lot of watching and talking to the kids,” Painter said.
“I want to know what they think and where they are at. I want to know what they think. They are the ones that have been here. They know what’s going on and what happens when they are playing all of these teams in the area. I don’t know exactly, though I’ve seen some games and I have an idea of some basic skills that the team is lacking in. Things we can work on. But the huge picture, what it would take to bring this back to life — I don’t know what it is. My biggest plan is just to shake things up. To me, if something isn’t working, you change it.”
Coal City senior midfielder Andrew Elledge said that the team was happy to see Painter get the job this past offseason.
“Oh absolutely. We actually wanted him to step up to do it because we knew that he started the program,” he said. “He had always been someone who had multiple wins a season … we really wanted Painter to set up and he did. We were really excited to see him coach the team this year.
“I think a lot of us are excited to see the new ways. Mr. Petersen was a good coach but there were some things we were lacking. We’ll see what the new coach will bring and what new ideas Mr. Painter has.”
Part of that is an attitude that Painter says he’d like to see Coal City find again.
“What I’d like to see is us get back to where we were. Closer to when I stepped out,” Painter said. “That’s when Coal City soccer was the one in the area that beat up on other people. I want to get back to playing Braidwood and Wilmington and even Morris and being the team that comes out on top. A lot of times, it wasn’t pretty, either. Now that has kind of turned around. Teams are now taking their turn and pounding on us and I’d like to get that back.”