When Jeff Thorne succeeded his father John as North Central College’s head football coach on January 1, 2015, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream. Thorne had played quarterback for his father at what is now Wheaton Warrenville South High School (WWSHS) before going on to star at Eastern Illinois University. John Thorne, who led the team to four state championships at WWSHS in the 1990s, took over at North Central in 2002 and summoned his son.
Thorne served as offensive coordinator throughout his father’s thirteen-year tenure, when the Cardinals went 118-30. Now, has an 18-4 record as head coach, including 11-1 in 2016, when he was named College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin’s Bob Reade Coach of the Year.
You were working in the business world after graduating from college. What got you involved in coaching?
It’s kind of funny how I became the offensive coordinator here. When [my dad] got the job I was still in finance and he asked if I’d come coach the quarterbacks.
We ended up changing a lot of the terminology that he was accustomed to using at WWSHS. At our first scrimmage we were having some trouble getting plays in and at halftime he said, ‘You’re calling the plays.’ From there it just took off.
You coached part-time at first. When did coaching full-time become a goal?
I always knew I wanted to be a coach. I had fallen into finance and really enjoyed it for a time, but once I started coaching with him and being more involved with the game planning and the players, I realized pretty quickly that this is what I wanted to do full-time.
How much did your father influence your coaching style and what did you learn from him?
I remember this very vividly. After the 1994 season, when [WWSHS] lost a lot of talent to graduation, we were in his kitchen and I asked him, ‘Dad, what are you going to do? You’ve graduated everybody.’ He said, ‘Jeff, the more I just worry about doing things the right way, the more things fall into place.’ The next two years they won back-to-back state titles.
That really leaves an impression on a young person. Being able to coach with him on a daily basis has really been a blessing.
You recently moved from Aurora to Naperville. How does it feel to live in town?
We’re really excited. It’s a great place to live. We were ready to get a bigger house. My wife Joanna works two blocks from here by Centennial Beach.
Your son Payton is now a quarterback at Naperville Central. Will he eventually play for North Central?
That’s completely up to him. I would love to coach him. He does have a full scholarship offer already from Western Michigan, so the odds of him coming here and playing for me are slim, but certainly nothing would make me happier. I loved playing for my father, so I know how that relationship goes, but I want him to forge his own path.
Your roster includes a lot of local players, including starting quarterback Broc Rutter. What does that say about the quality of football in Naperville?
This is not just a great place to live but there are really quality families with a lot of great athletes. Some of our best players have been local guys, so we try to keep our local talent. That’s a huge focus of ours.
Do you like where you are now?
It’s been a dream. The college was gracious enough to offer me this opportunity. I feel really blessed to have the chance to sit in this chair.
North Central is ranked seventh in the nation in the D3football.com preseason poll. The Cardinals open the 2017 season when they host Robert Morris at 7:00 p.m. September 2 at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium. Tickets are $6 for adults; students (with valid ID) and children under three are admitted free of charge. For the season schedule and info, northcentralcardinals.com/football.