Kathie Swanson insists she doesn’t want to make a big deal of her resignation, for the spotlight seemingly makes her more uncomfortable than if she were wearing four-inch high heels while patrolling the area in front of her basketball team’s bench.
But when you win three conference championships in a row, average 20 victories over six seasons without ever having a Division I player on your roster and routinely get the best of some of the best high school basketball coaches in the area, sorry, Coach, you’re big news.
And not just because you stand 6 feet 1.
Explaining that with where she is in her life, “it’s best to move on,” Swanson informed Libertyville last week that she is stepping down as girls basketball coach. She kept the news quiet, only because she didn’t want the attention to be on herself.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for the opportunity Libertyville gave me,” said Swanson, who’s taught social studies at Round Lake for the last seven years.
The tall coach with the fiery sideline demeanor leaves Libertyville with a six-year mark of 125-49 that included a 50-22 record in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division. Since hall-of-fame coach Tom Dineen took over at Stevenson, his Patriots are 0-6 against Swanson’s Wildcats.
Former Loyola coach Tanya Johnson, who like Dineen (Buffalo Grove) has won a state championship and is in the hall of fame, coached Zion-Benton to a sectional-semifinal win over Libertyville last season, but not before her eventual Class 4A state runner-up Zee-Bees lost to the Wildcats three times during the regular season.
The NSC Lake also boosts John Stanczykiewicz at Warren, Brian Evans at Mundelein and Chris Bennett at Lake Zurich — all highly respected coaches — and yet Libertyville, under Swanson, has ruled the conference.
The Wildcats earned a share of the NSC Lake title with Stevenson this season and represented the division in the conference title game by virtue of their sweep of the Patriots. Libertyville was 12-0 in the division last season and went into the state tournament undefeated.
“I was very fortunate to come in and coach against so many incredible coaches,” said Swanson, who won 2 regional championships and whose six seasons included win totals of 29, 25, 21, 20 and 19. “Some of them are in the hall of fame and some of them will be. For me, it’s been a great learning experience.”
So why is the Maine West graduate leaving Libertyville when her program is on top, when she’s far from retirement age and when the all-too-familiar “spending more time with family” is not a reason?
She chose not to be specific, but one reason was not Libertyville’s surprising regional-opening loss to Wheeling, which wound up surprising the state with its run to the supersectional.
“No, it wasn’t a reason and I would not want the players to think that,” said Swanson, who served one season as Libertyville’s freshman girls coach before replacing Amy Holtsford in 2006. “This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while.”
This much is certain: If the right situation presents itself, Swanson will think about becoming a head coach again.
“Right now, I’m enjoying the time off,” she said. “I’m not going to rule out anything. But I’m not going to coach just to coach. It’s going to have to be a good fit for me and that group. So I’m kind of leaving the door open.”
Swanson didn’t exude warm and cuddly on the sideline. She could be harsh when assessing her team and never minced words. But her Wildcats always defended for 32 minutes, always played physical and aggressive, especially on the defensive end. And they won.
People should look up to her, so to speak.
Some school that wants its girls basketball team to win should hire her.
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