Blast from Peoria prep football past: Tim Dougherty coaching for team playing on ESPN2
PEORIA — Anyone who longs for the good ol’ days of high school football in the Peoria area — before COVID kept the Friday night lights dark this fall — can at least watch someone who was part of better times this weekend.
Tim Dougherty is the defensive coordinator for national power Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz.
The former Spalding player and Bergan head coach will be seen on ESPN2 when his Huskies play at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale at 8 p.m. central time Friday.
"We're excited about it," said Dougherty, 64. "We've had a lot to deal with, a teachers strike where we were on and then off and then on, then our state association not being clear on whether we were going to play until a week before the season started.
"It was gloom and doom for a while. But we're playing and we're contending now and I'll take a moment to think about where it all started for me.
"Tom Peeler, Rod Butler, Jim Donahue, those guys were great coaches, great influences on me. Their attention to detail, their coaching methods, I owe them all so much.
"I'll tell you, in the 1980s in Peoria, you'd better had been able to coach football, or you weren't going to survive. I was fortunate to be part of all that."
Dougherty played at Spalding and coached three seasons at Bergan (1985-87, where he went 11-16) before heading to Illinois State University as an assistant coach for 1½ years.
He came home to serve as an assistant coach with Peoria High School from 1989-91. He was head coach at Edwardsville High School from 1992-2007, where his teams went 132-40 and gained the playoffs 12 times.
He moved on for two seasons at Lincoln-Way Central (12-8), then headed to Galesburg, where he was head coach from 2011-2017. That latter stop produced a 29-38 record and three more playoff berths.
All told, he won 184 games in 28 seasons as a head coach in Illinois.
Now he's making a mark in Arizona in his third year as assistant coach.
"It's those coaching circles, when you coach long enough, stay in it long enough, you make connections," said Dougherty, who was named Arizona class 6A Assistant Coach of the Year in 2019, his second season on the job. "Hamilton was making a lot of changes to its staff, and I heard about it through friends and put my name in there, talked on the phone and it was just blind luck that I got on there.
"I'm running the same 3-4 defense I did at Edwardsville. We have (4,000) kids in the school and a lot of great athletes on this team. It's a joy to coach here."
Hamilton is ranked No. 3 in Arizona and No. 4 in the West Region by USA Today. The Huskies were ranked No. 80 in the nation in MaxPreps preseason Top 100. The program has won six state titles and had four runnerup finishes since 2003.
Saguaro, which beat Hamilton in the state semifinals last season, was ranked No. 42 in the nation in MaxPreps preseason Top 100, and is now No. 6 in Arizona.
The game includes a combined seven players committed to Nevada, Colorado State, LSU, Michigan, Oregon, Ohio State and San Diego State.
It also includes Dawson Hubbard, a 6-foot, 245-pound defensive tackle who played at Richwoods High School and transferred to Arizona over the summer after COVID shut down football in Illinois. He lives there with his God-siblings Calida and Kimte Taylor, and plays for Hamilton on Dougherty's defense.
"Everything I learned about coaching is from my Peoria days," said Dougherty, whose son, Jimmie, is the wide receivers coach at UCLA. "There are some great people back there, I remember guys at (Peoria High) like Larry Lavery, Phil Salzer, Mike Olson. Great to be around.
"When I played in Peoria, Friday night football was king. My senior year, my final game of my career was also the last Thanksgiving Day Game ever played. It wasn't uncommon in those days to see 6,000 or 7,000 people at games.
"(Former Journal Star high school sports guru) Bob Leavitt referred to me as a 'skinny, scrawny kid who wasn't too bad.' His passion for sports, and the Journal Star's coverage was unparalleled to anything I've ever seen.
"Those are the things and the people I think of when I remember my time in Peoria."
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.