Former Oregon football coach John Bothe was honored by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association with induction into its Hall of Fame last weekend. Bothe was one of 17 HOF recepients at the IHSFCA’s annual banquet on April 7 in Champaign.
“The induction ceremony is very well done by the IHSFCA,” Bothe said. “They handle it in a first-class manner, and it was an honor to be a part of it, and great to see the other coaches. It was an amazing group to be around. I had a chance to see several other coaching friends, college teammates, and former coaches also.”
Bothe began his coaching career in 1993 at AFC. He was at LaSalle-Peru from 1995-97, before taking the head position at Oregon. He compiled a 112-85 record for the Hawks in 19 seasons and sent 12 teams to the playoffs, including a state runner-up in 2000.
“The thing that sticks out the most is when a group came together as a true team,” Bothe said. “The players have been special. No question about it. The attitude and desire they have played with over the years has been an inspiration to many. There were times I watched from the sidelines and was amazed at how far a group had come and how well they were playing. This has all been a testament to them.”
Bothe has local roots, growing up in and playing for Amboy, before becoming an All-American center at Augustana College. Family remains dear to him, and he is grateful for their involvement.
“Every coach needs a support system to survive, and the people I was around were the absolute best,” Bothe said. “My parents were always supportive of our athletic endeavors without being overbearing about it. They have always attended events and passed on a work ethic and care for what you do. You can’t really ask for any more than that. You cannot believe some of the places they have been over the years to watch their kids’ games. My mom gets a chance to watch her grandkids compete now.”
Sadly, Bothe’s father passed away at an Oregon-Addison Driscoll playoff game in 1999. It was an emotional time for both the Bothe family and the entire Oregon football community.
Through it all, Bothe had the support he needed, especially from his wife Michelle.
“Michelle is the best coach’s wife you could ever imagine,” Bothe said. “But more importantly, she is her own person, and keeps coaching in perspective. She grew up in a coaching family and understood the lifestyle from Day 1. Some wives sacrifice all for the sport and end up losing their own interests and lifestyle. Or they get caught up in all the drama and lack of perspective that comes with the sport. Michelle has always kept her own life and personality.”
Without the demands of being a head coach, Bothe now has more time to take part in his own children’s sports activities.
“I think when they were young, they developed a real camaraderie with the coaches’ families and have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of,” Bothe said. “Now it is their turn to compete, and it is great for me to be part of that.”
With his induction into the HOF, Bothe is quick to credit others.
“Our coaches and support staff have always been the best,” he said. “The assistant coaches have been the number one key to all of the success that we have had. No question about it, they have been far more valuable to the players and each other than I could even have been. They have been great on the field as coaches, but also have been great with the players on a personal basis. I could write a book on all the positive things our coaches and staff have done for our program.”
Compared to the macho bravado of many a head football coach, Bothe’s sideline demeanor was more befitting of a boy scout. He saw his role with the program as no greater than anyone else connected to it.
“There has been a support staff over the years that has taken care of stats, filming, chain crew, and all the things that go into game night,” Bothe said. “Those people have been great, also. Parent support has always been a positive here at Oregon, and you can’t say that about every school or program. I was very fortunate there.”
Bothe still helps out with the program and stands ready to assist his replacement, Nick Schneiderman, in any way possible. With more than 30 years of experience as a player and coach, he has also seen a major change in how football is viewed by the general public.
“Football is paying for the excesses of the past decades,” Bothe said. “Too much practice time, too much contact, too much summer stuff over the years, kids starting to play before being emotionally ready – all has come to a head in the last few years, and fewer kids want to do it. Now head trauma is out front as an issue also, and that needs serious consideration.”
At the same time, Bothe feels football is in a good place.
“The positive is that the game is safer now than I have ever seen it,” he said. “Equipment is better, and we are more aware of the health issues and how to minimize them as much as possible. Policies have been put in place to make it as safe as possible.”
So where does he see high school football headed, and what needs to be done for a program to be successful?
“Schools and communities that still want football programs and the benefits that come with them can still have them,” Bothe said. “They may need to adapt [8-man teams, co-ops], but they can still have them. Coaches will need to work to get kids interested in football, but more importantly, take care of the ones already in their programs. Treat them with respect, coach them well, demand excellence, but also be moderate about practice length, summer stuff, contact, and those types of things.”
Bothe will continue to teach at Oregon High School and stay connected to the football team. After stepping down as head coach, there are many chores he is relieved to be done with.
“Everything is more now,” Bothe said. “More media, more fundraising, more tests and requirements for coaches. It takes away from the on-field coaching and fun, if you let it.”