CHICAGO -- Frank Lenti is as close to a household name as you’ll find in Illinois high school sports.
He’s the most accomplished coach in the history of Illinois prep football, both in terms of championship titles and in games won. But after 34 years leading the state’s premier football program, he’s looking for a new job.
Lenti won 11 state championships and took 16 teams to the state title game. Along the way, he amassed 374 victories, the most ever in Illinois history.
He also produced NFL stars like Donovan McNabb, Simeon Rice, Matt Cushing, Frank Cornish and Jordan Lynch – the player tapped to replace him.
In a tweet, school administrators announced the shocking news:
Congratulations @Jordanlynch06, the 2018 Head Coach of @CaravanFootball. Lynch will succeed the winningest coach in Illinois football history, Frank Lenti. Thank you for 34 years of excellence, Coach Frank! pic.twitter.com/oZnsNLqxDI
— Mount Carmel H.S. (@MountCarmelHS) December 29, 2017
Lenti declined WGN's request for an interview, saying he needs to address his players. He did, however, issue a written statement:
“While I had hoped to honor the commitment I had given the Mount Carmel football student athletes and their families that I would coach them through their time at Mount Carmel, the administration has decided otherwise. Contrary to what some may have heard, I am not retiring. I love coaching high school football and may pursue that at some point in the future. I will honor my commitment to Mount Carmel and will resume my daily duties in the development department for the time being.”
Matt Harness, a longtime high school football writer who worked for the Chicago Tribune, said the move was "Mount Carmel’s decision and their decision only."
"It sounds like he’s open to coaching somewhere else," Harness said.
In recent years, Lenti’s teams have lost some luster. In 2016, the Caravan missed the playoffs for the first time in three decades and had been eclipsed as the gold standard in the state by Catholic League rival Loyola.
The rise of South Side public school Phillips--which may have attracted students that in the past would have attended Mount Carmel--could have also played a role in the school’s decision.
Jordan Lynch, a former Mount Carmel star who briefly played for the Chicago Bears, wasn’t even born when Lenti began his assault on the IHSA record books.
Harness says Lenti’s legacy is secure.
“I don’t think that what has happened today will in any way stain his legacy. I think his legacy was set long before the last couple of years.”
Mount Carmel long sat atop the Chicago Catholic League Blue, which is known as the best football conference in the state. The school's move out of the league to play in an easier tier of the Catholic League– viewed by some Caravan backers as an embarrassment – could have also played a role in the administration’s decision.