Harvard's Tim Haak calling it quits

The joy Tim Haak derives from his Harvard football team’s unbeaten record has little to do with this being his final season as coach.

For Haak, it’s not about him, it’s about the players. And relationships. And life lessons. And caring about one another.

The current seniors and juniors did not win as eighth-graders or freshmen, but they stuck with the plan, worked hard on their conditioning, learned how to pull together and clinched a share of the Big Northern Conference East Division championship Friday at Genoa-Kingston.

“What made the group special is they haven’t always had that success,” Haak said. “We want the kids to have an opportunity to play and develop. One of the things our lower-level coaches do very well is develop them as athletes and people. Even though the kids didn’t have that success early, they made the commitment in the weight room and have great leadership.”

Haak, 56, is retiring as P.E. teacher, football coach and wrestling coach after this school year. He will do so as an iconic figure, a member of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association and Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Halls of Fame.

Most importantly for Haak, with more than 29 years as coach he will have affected the lives of countless young men.

“It’s all the hard work and dedication you have to put into something to get something out of it,” senior lineman Dakota Trebes said. “Nothing ever comes free, you have to work for it.”

Haak grew up in Woodstock, raised by his grandparents Reuben and Thelma Arvidson, and played multiple sports. He knew around age 8 what he wanted to do: Teach P.E., coach sports and play Major League Baseball in the summer. Aside from the baseball career, he’s achieved those goals.

“My grandfather was the biggest influence on me,” said Haak, whose career record is 180-107. “He loves sports. Just the guidance he gave me through my lifetime.”

Haak reels off name after name of others who helped along the way, many of whom are former Woodstock coaches – Jim Patton, Bob Bradshaw, Bob Johnson, Jim Mitchell, Bob Berezowitz – who had a profound effect.

“For all those people, it was about building relationships,” Haak said. “Things that will last a lifetime. It’s about being here every day, work ethic, caring about one another. Everybody can run the same offense or defense, what makes the difference? Those are the intangibles that make a difference to make lifelong relationships and memories.”

The Hornets (8-0 overall, 5-0 BNC East) play host to Richmond-Burton (5-3, 3-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Dan Horne Field. It will not be Haak’s final home game as coach because the Hornets will get a first-round home game in the IHSA Class 4A playoffs.

The players are aware, but not consumed with this being their coach’s final season.

“We don’t even think about that when we’re out there,” senior lineman Adam Freimund said. “It doesn’t really faze us, we just think about it’s another year of football, we’ll do what the Hittin’ Hornets do. In the end, we’ll think back about some good times, but right now it’s just playing football again.”

When Haak’s players are asked for stories about their coach, they laugh in unison. There are too many to pick just one, but it’s evident they appreciate his leadership.

“He’s very fired up about what he’s doing … to say the least,” Trebes said. “He’s always ready to go. There’s never a time when he’s not prepared and not ready.”

Running back Christian Kramer concurred.

“He loves what he does and he’s excited to do it every day,” Kramer said. “This program makes you into a better person.”

Perhaps the person most instrumental in Haak’s career has been his wife, Chris, a Woodstock graduate from a sports-oriented family. He feels her support has been invaluable.

“I wish I could say my personality is somebody who didn’t bring things home, but that’s part of who I am,” Haak said. “I jump in with both feel, I’m all in, I’m not a fence-rider on it. She took the kids everywhere when they were younger. She’s the backbone of our family, no question about it.”

Chris has embraced being a coach’s wife.

“The biggest thing is you get to see your spouse do something that he loves to do,” Chris said. “That’s most important. When I met him, he was coaching already, so I knew that situation going into it. I love the involvement. There could be worse things for him to be doing. This is a good thing and he loves it.”

The Haaks started talking about Tim’s retirement a few years ago. Their son Shane graduated in 2008 and now manages a health club in the Madison, Wis. area. They agreed that it seemed fitting for Tim to retire this year, the same year daughter Mallory graduates from Harvard.

“We both agreed there is never a good time,” Chris said. “It’s hard to walk away. We’ve seen these (senior) boys grow up, so it makes it special. They’ve been coming to our house since Mallory’s kindergarten birthday party.”

Haak is uncertain what the future after wrestling season holds. He will watch as a fan and might entertain assistant coaching opportunities if some old coaching acquaintance calls.

“No question, I’ll miss it,” he said. “At some point, it’s going to happen. You embrace that. I’m going to do something else. Chris won’t let me just sit at home. I have plenty of fire left. That’s the challenge of it, you look forward to the next stage.”