Heading into the first round of the IHSA playoffs, Le-Win Head Coach Ric Arand is on the verge of his 200th career win. Finishing the regular season at 9-0 has propelled Arand's record to 199-63, and he sits in 2nd place all-time in the NUIC behind his former coach and mentor, John O'Boyle, who accumulated 279 wins at Stockton after 35 seasons on the sidelines. Coach Arand has passed his former coach in state title victories, but O'Boyle still has him on state title game appearances.
Looking back at the 23 seasons Coach Arand has spent on the sideline, I have been able to get a first hand glimpse of the person and coach that Coach A, as so many people affectionately call him, has been to his students and players. I have been able to have a front row seat to his career, as a player from Dakota who played against his teams at the start of his career, and as a fan of NUIC football in general watching what he continues to build and put together for his program.
In 1997, Coach Arand took over a Le-Win program that had been seen as a competitive team, but also one that didn't have a lot of playoff success. Earning their first playoff trip in 1987 under then coach Mark Moore, it wasn't until Jon Wallace took over the Le-Win program that the Panthers began to make some strides and entered the playoffs in 3 consecutive years from 1993-1995. That was a total of 4 playoff appearances for Lena-Winslow from 1974-1996.
Since Coach Arand took over in 1997, the Panthers have missed the playoffs just once, in 1998 as they came up just short from getting in. That year they finished in a 3 way tie with Dakota and Orangeville for 2nd place in the Upstate Illini West division with a 6-3 record, but were left out of the playoff field coming a point short on playoff points. The cut line that year was 35, and Le-Win had 34 points and were the 4th team left out. Since then, he has rolled off an NUIC record 21 straight playoff appearances entering round 1 this season. In 23 seasons at the helm of the Panthers, he has made the playoffs 22 times.
Coach Arand has guided the Panthers on a run that is rarely seen in small school football, as he has gone 114-21 with a .844 winning percentage since 2009, has picked up 3 state titles, been to the semifinals 5 times, the quarterfinals 8 times, and has made it to the 2nd round every year. I get a lot of questions asking how Lena-Winslow does it every year, and my response to people makes it seem simple, but it has taken a lot of work, commitment, buy-in, and trust to the process to build the program that is Lena-Winslow.
As we get ready to see if Coach Arand can pick up win #200 in the first round of the playoffs, he gave me the opportunity to pick his brain on some questions that I had as he approaches this career milestone.
Q: Coach, you are on the verge of getting your 200th career victory. Looking back on your career at Le-Win, how did you foresee the future when you first stepped on the sideline in 1997?
A: When I first started in 1997 I don't think I ever even looked beyond making a practice plan for the next day. I don't think I was prepared to become a head coach, nor do I think anyone really ever is. There are so many little things about being a head coach at a small school that people do not realize and don't involve coaching, like being the equipment manager, part time trainer, setting up video equipment, stats, handling camps, shirt orders, etc. Getting back to your question, I certainly did not foresee what has happened in the last 23 years. We, as a coaching staff were just trying to get to the level of Stockton, Galena, and Dakota.
Q: Your career win percentage is at .759, which is impressive considering you coach at a small public school. What would you consider to be your greatest attribute to this success?
A: I don't like to talk about wins and losses, or percentages, but since you are making me, I think my greatest attribute has been giving responsibilities to my assistants. Our staff has been kept in tack for the better part of my 23 years, and we have all become better coaches together, and a big part of that has been placing a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, and we have all thrived because of it. We have a great group of coaches here that have not only invested a good part of our lives into this program, but we are best of friends, coach our butts off when we step in the weight room and on the field, but yet we have put things into perspective and walk away from it at the end of the day and become husbands, dads, and sons.
Q: You were enshrined in the IHSFCA Hall of Fame in 2018, and you have won 3 state titles thus far. Is there any one game or season that sticks out to you the most in your career that validated your opinion that you had arrived as someone that people will emulate?
A: Prior to ever winning a state championship, I felt as though we had been that pretty bridesmaid who could never find the right guy, for many years. We were getting beat, it seemed like, every year in the quarterfinals by the eventual champion. With that said, I would say the most important victory in our program history was our semi-final win at Lewistown in 2010...we had finally made it to the alter!
Q: In your younger years as a Coach, you referred to guys like John O'Boyle, Jerry Lano, and Gary Hartje on advice, guidance, and at times direction. How did their tutelage help you, and how do you feel being the guy that today's coaches lean on for that very same tutelage?
A: Those guys were very important people to me, and still are, because I really wanted our teams to be as successful as theirs. I only coached against Coach O'Boyle one time, and beat him, and I never coached against Coach Hartje, but had talked with him many times. Coach O'Boyle will always hold a special place in my heart because he was not only my high school coach, who I think the world of, but he was also the reason that I became a teacher and coach. I still care a lot about what he thinks of our teams when he listens to games on the radio or see interviews on TV, and I often think about what he might say or do in a situation when it comes up in practice or games. Coach Lano and Dakota were "the program" we were trying to catch for quite a few years early on and then played a little "Cat and Mouse" with them for several years during their state championship years. You always knew what you were going to get when you played his teams and if we didn't have our kids ready we were going to get physically beat up! He was not only a great coach, but we became great friends! As far as being that guy, I guess I don't consider myself that, because I know I don't know it all and I am always picking other coaches brains trying to make our program better. If someone wants to take the time, I am always more than happy to share what we do and know with anyone. I think that is just all part of it. Mike Papoccia from Sterling Newman left a huge impression on me when I attended my very first football clinic when I was younger and I hope I can do the same to other guys who really want to work at their craft.
Thank you to Le-Win Coach Ric Arand for this Q&A opportunity, and we wish you the best of luck moving forward.