By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
You’re a sous-chef who gets to wear the big toque now that the restaurant’s James Beard Award-winning chef took a job overseas.
Or you’re a longtime sub who gets to take over for a Golden Apple Award-winning high school teacher, who had suddenly retired.
Or a Pulitzer Prize Award-winning journalist who sits next to you in the newsroom says, “Here, sit in my chair. It’s time for me to pursue an editor job.”
Or you’re well on your way to becoming a forever assistant football coach of a perennially successful program at a Jesuit high school until you earn the opportunity—after topping a nationwide pool of 70-plus candidates—to succeed the program’s three-time state champion coach.
Robert M. “Beau” Desherow knows all about Scenario No. 4. A 1993 Loyola Academy alumnus who started coaching football at his alma mater in 2004, Desherow, a Des Plaines resident, took over for the retired John Holecek in 2023. Holecek, a former NFL linebacker, had guided Loyola Academy’s Ramblers to a trio of Class 8A state titles (2015, 2018, 2022) and amassed a stellar 185-35 record (.841 winning percentage) in 17 years.
Nobody would have been startled had Desherow, 49, admitted to having felt the weight of a dozen SUVs on his shoulders when he first addressed the program’s 250-plus players (varsity and under-level squads) and 30-plus coaches in a theater space at the school in Wilmette. But the seemingly exorbitant undertaking was more molehill than skyscraper to him.
“It was different, not daunting,” Desherow recalls. “I didn’t look at the challenge of being a varsity head coach for the first time as an overwhelming one, because I had complete trust and faith in our coaches and players at Loyola Academy. I knew it would be quite a commitment and I discussed it at length with my wife (Danielle, a 1993 Marillac High School graduate) and our four sons (James, Bobby, Luke, and John Paul) before applying for the position.
“My thinking, as soon as I found out I’d been named head coach, was, ‘I’m all in.’”
Desherow passed—and ran the ball, equally well—with flying colors in his first season at the helm, steering Loyola Academy to an immaculate 14-0 record, a ridiculously splendid 485-128 point differential (or a 35-9 average final score), and the Class 8A state championship. LA defeated Lincoln-Way East High School 25-16 in the state final at Illinois State University’s Hancock Stadium on November 24.
But the school’s fifth state-championship season began with a 4th-down-and-400 task. Installing a new track inside Loyola Academy’s stadium forced the football program to practice on a grass field at New Trier Township High School’s West campus for training dates in June.
“We had to line the field there and transport film equipment each day,” Desherow says. “We film every practice and we grade every practice.
“We had to figure out a lot of things on the fly.”
Loyola Academy’s football team had to drive for more than three hours to compete in its season opener at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Desherow knew one thing for sure ahead of the kickoff on August 26: the Ramblers’ defense had a chance to be a suffocating unit, maybe even 1985-Chicago-Bears’-D dominant. LA’s offense? Only two returning gridders from Holecek’s 2022 edition had played significant minutes on that side of the ball.
Loyola Academy crushed Catholic Central 45-7. CCHS was no slouch; it ended up winning a Michigan state championship.
“I breathed a sigh of relief after our opener,” says Desherow, who took his very first breath at Chicago Heights-based St. James Hospital, where a certain ex-LA football coach (John Francis Holecek) happened to be born, too. “I was thinking, ‘OK, our offense is fine. We’re going to be very competitive.’ We ended up being a complete and balanced team, running half the time and passing half the time. The offense behind our quarterback (junior Ryan Fitzgerald) improved every week, our offensive line got more experience, and the rest of our skill players helped us become very potent.
“Our ‘D’ was consistently good all season, and we had, in my opinion, the best kicker (Ole Miss-bound Michael Baker) in the state.” Desherow attended Creighton Prep in Omaha, Nebraska, before moving to Kenilworth in the middle of his sophomore year. He played three seasons as a power forward in basketball and two as a 6-foot-5, 210-pound outside linebacker in football at Loyola Academy. His 1991 and 1992 football teams— coached by the late John Hoerster—went a combined 24-3, the latter crew reaching a state final after a 17-8 defeat of top-ranked Homewood-Flossmoor High School in a semifinal. Desherow earned firstteam All-Chicago Catholic League honors as a senior.
“My mother (Dorothy) fell in love with Jesuit high schools,” Desherow, the reigning Chicago Catholic League-Blue Coach of the Year, says. “There were only two in the Chicago area (Loyola Academy and St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago), but only one had a football program at the time. My family chose Loyola. Easy choice. I found out right away that Loyola Academy football is built on tradition and a commitment to excellence. And the mission at Loyola Academy meant everything to me. It still does.”
The mission: “To form women and men for meaningful lives of leadership and service in imitation of Jesus Christ through a college preparatory education in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition.”
Desherow received a full-ride football scholarship from the University of Tulsa and capped his playing career at North Park University in Chicago, where he paced the Vikings in sacks and tackles for loss and later coached the program’s defensive linemen.
He was an account executive for an IT consulting company when he learned of Hoerster’s death, at the age of 53, in 2003. While attending the funeral with countless ex-teammates and other impactful, influential Loyola Academy coaches, Desherow looked at all of the familiar faces, heard stirring words, and probably entertained the thought of donning pads and Loyola Academy’s good ol’ maroonand- gold jersey again, right then and there.
“I asked myself at the funeral, ‘What are you doing with your life?’” Desherow says. “I remember feeling that I should be coaching football, that I should be coaching football at Loyola. I believe I got my calling that day.
“Loyola Academy is a big part of my DNA, my fabric, my makeup.”
Beginning in 2004, Desherow coached under former Loyola Academy varsity football coach Carl Favaro and started his administrative career as Loyola Academy’s assistant director of admissions. The holder of a Master of Education in Administration and Leadership from National Louis University then served as assistant dean of students from 2006-2019—while thriving as an assistant coach in The Holecek Era—before landing on the school’s executive leadership team as vice president for admission and enrollment.
Desherow, a 2016 Loyola Academy Hall of Fame inductee, now works as the boys athletic director’s assistant at LA, in addition to his BIG-TIME football post.
It’s 2023 and you’re the first-year head football coach of a state powerhouse, bent on making sure your young men are ready for another extended run in the state playoffs, beginning with Plainfield North High School.
Who you gonna call?
Holecek, that’s who.
“John was great,” Desherow says. “He spoke to our guys on the day of our firstround playoff game, on our home field. He told them, ‘Limit distractions, focus on your job, and take care of the little things.’ He also said, ‘Embrace this special opportunity to play playoff football for your school.’”
The Ramblers certainly did just that, bear-hugging the occasion and skipping to a 45-9 rout.