Goss: John Baines found St. Francis difficult to leave
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org May 2, 2013 8:04PM
Updated: June 4, 2013 6:08AM
Dave Laketa has been down this road before.
Truth be known, more often than he would like, especially in the recent past.
But the University of St. Francis director of athletics knows there is a positive side to his high-profile coaches leaving for other opportunities, the latest of which is men’s basketball coach John Baines, who resigned last week to take the same position at Elmhurst College.
“We don’t ever like to call ourselves a stepping stone,” Laketa said. “But we’re a small Catholic college, so sometimes, that in effect is what we are.”
In leaving for Elmhurst, where he was a 10-year assistant before spending the last three seasons as Saints head coach, Baines is exiting the NAIA ranks and returning to familiar territory, NCAA Division III.
Joe Curry, the former defensive coordinator, became Saints head football coach last year when Mike Uremovich took a position as a Northern Illinois assistant. Uremovich now is on former NIU coach Dave Doeren’s staff at North Carolina State.
“John and Mike both benefited from being a head coach in our program,” Laketa said. “Mike is coaching at N.C. State now — good for him.”
Mike Feminis, Laketa’s close friend, is a former Saints All-America linebacker and football assistant who left several years ago to become head coach at St. Xavier, where he has built an NAIA national power. He resides in Plainfield.
“Mike Feminis is different,” Laketa said. “He is happy at St. Xavier. Maybe he just doesn’t want to get into the rat race. He wanted to stay settled, not be moving his family every couple of years.”
Baines, whose three USF teams went 57-38, including 21-12 in his final season, said he had second and third thoughts about making his move.
“This was extremely difficult because I really like both schools,” he said. “I like the school at St. Francis, and I think the team next year will be very good in terms of what is coming back.
“This was a personal decision between my fiance and me (the wedding will be Sept. 1). Had we decided to stay at St. Francis, I would have been just as excited as I am now.”
So entrenched was Baines at St. Francis that he went straight to the top for advice.
“I talked with Sully (Pat Sullivan), Gordie (Gillespie) and Jack Hermanski,” Baines said. “They all talked in the same vein, that I have to do what is best for me on a professional level. That gave me a good peace of mind.”
Sullivan is the longtime Saints coach; the Recreation Center was renamed in his honor. Gillespie is a local coaching legend and the all-time winningest college baseball coach. Hermanski was Sullivan’s highly respected assistant for more than 20 years.
“It’s amazing how great those three and everyone was at St. Francis,” Baines said. “People there bend over backward to help you. Walking in there was like a breath of fresh air. It is a unique and special spot.
“To be only the third (men’s basketball) coach in school history, I feel bad leaving after only three years.”
“If push came to shove, I’m not sure John would not have preferred being here,” Laketa said.
However, Baines lives in the neighborhood of Soldier Field, so he is trimming a 55-minute commute to 25 minutes.
Plus, as Laketa noted, “When John came here, he was not in a situation at Elmhurst (which finished 6-19 last season) where the other coach could have been expected to resign soon. He wasn’t old.
“With John getting married soon and possibly having children, he has to look out for the best interest of his family. And, it’s not like he is going someplace where they don’t know him.”
Baines played in the CCIW, on Illinois Wesleyan’s national championship team in 1997 and during the Titans’ three-year run as a national top-10 team. He said something that drew him to St. Francis was “in D-III and NAIA, you have the same type of players, so I could recruit the same type of guys.
“On the D-III level, there are no athletic scholarships, but there is a lot of academic and grant money. At the NAIA level, grants are not so high, but there is some scholarship money on top of that.”
When Baines applied at St. Francis, the Saints were coming off an eight-win season and Laketa had 350 resumes, emails and/or phone calls to process. Imagine the potential deluge with USF winning 21 games last season.
“I’m thankful to Dave for my first opportunity as a head coach,” Baines said. “I feel we accomplished something we really wanted to do, which was get back on the right track. They have a lot coming back (only two seniors will be gone), and Jens Kennedy is transferring in. So the talent pool (of applicants) has to be great this time.”
The 6-foot-10 Kennedy, a Dwight graduate, averaged 5.9 points and about 15 minutes per game as a redshirt freshman at Quincy University. Laketa confirmed Baines leaving will not change Kennedy’s mind about transferring to St. Francis.
As for a timetable for a new Saints coach, Laketa said, “We have a good search committee and they will take their time. They’re thorough.
“But at this time, most coaching search processes are over, so it’s not like we have to make a decision tomorrow because this guy’s hot or that guy’s hot. I’d say we should have a new coach by late May or early June.”
Whoever it is will be following a quality coach who is leaving a talented roster in place.