Talk about a changing of the guard. One of gargantuan proportions is about to happen at Mundelein.
Nearly 100 years of coaching experience will be walking out the dugout door at the end of the baseball season.
Contact information ( * required )
Fred Picket and Neil McLoughlin first started coaching baseball together at Mundelein in 1969. Over the last 45 years, they've held just about every position possible, from head varsity coach to assistant coach to underlevel coach.
Today, the 69-year old Picket is Mundelein's Freshman B coach. This will be his last season in that role -- or in any role with the program. He is retiring after the Mustangs' last game.
"It's just time," Picket said. "It's time for a change."
McLoughlin, 79, is currently a varsity assistant coach. He had a slight head start on Picket and has been coaching baseball at Mundelein for a total of 49 years. Add in a three-year coaching stint before he got to Mundelein and McLoughlin is in his 52nd year as a high school coach.
"I haven't really officially announced anything (about retiring)," McLoughlin said. "But I am leaning toward retirement. This (season) will probably be my last hurrah. I'm not as strong as I used to be and the weather this season is helping me make up my mind. I think in 17 of our 20 games it's been under 40 degrees. That's been tough for me.
"There comes a time when you know you've got to move on, and it's time for me."
That Picket and McLoughlin, who boast 97 years of collective coaching experience and have been retired from their teaching jobs for at least the last 10 years, would move on together seems more than appropriate.
In helping to make Mundelein one of the most successful baseball programs in Lake County, they've learned together, won together, lost together and shared countless wonderful memories over their 45 years together.
"We've had a good run," McLoughlin said.
"We've coached a lot of really good players and been a part of a lot of really good teams," said Picket, who noted that at least five of their former players, most notably Lake Zurich's Chuck Gandolfi, are now head varsity baseball coaches at high schools in Illinois. "We've seen a lot of baseball over the years and Neil has always been such a role model for me, especially as we got older. I mean, Neil is still out there in the summers hitting groundballs to the kids in 90-degree heat. We've had a lot of fun."
From 1969 to 1981, McLoughlin was the varsity baseball head coach at Mundelein while Picket was the sophomore head coach. The Mustangs went to state under McLoughlin in 1978. Then, in 1982, when McLoughlin assumed more administrative duties at the school, Picket became the varsity head coach and McLoughlin was his assistant. That set-up lasted through the 1989 season. Since then, the two have been in their current roles, McLoughlin as a varsity assistant and Picket as the coach of various underlevel teams.
"I'm sorry to see Fred retire because he's such a good coach, but I certainly understand his decision," McLoughlin said with a knowing chuckle. "Fred's been so conscientious and he's worked so hard over the years. He's been so good for (the program). And he's also been a very good friend."
Interestingly, Picket is much more than a friend to current Mundelein head varsity coach Todd Parola. He is also Parola's father-in-law.
Parola married Picket's daughter Pam. The two were high school sweethearts at Grayslake High School and Parola was a baseball star there when Picket happened to be the head varsity coach at Mundelein.
"We had some games against Grayslake when Todd was there and they won one, we won one and the other one got rained out. That's why we get along," Picket said with a laugh.
"No, I'm just joking. Todd has been great. He's been very enjoyable to work with and he's made me better. He's the real deal. He's one of the hardest-working coaches in the state and I respect him a lot, and I really respect how we've worked together. It's not an easy thing to do to work with your father-in-law. I always like to kid him about that."
In all seriousness, Parola is going to miss having his favorite old-school coaches around. Their wisdom, loyalty and reliability have been vital to him being able to build a program that has churned out one 20-win season after another.
"One of the reasons we've had success in the baseball program is the continuity of the staff," Parola said. "We've been so fortunate to have coaches like Neil and Fred. Both of them are old-school. They know the game and they are very dependable. They are always there for us and ready to help. They don't miss a game for anything. They literally don't. I can't think of a game either one of them have missed, even when they're sick. That kind of dedication is good for the kids to see. It rubs off.
"Neil is out there all the time, working the Fungo bat or raking. He does an unbelievable job with the rake and Fred has given such stability to the underlevel teams and has helped those younger kids take it seriously. Those two act younger than their age. They have so much energy to burn."
Well, not as much energy as they used to have, which is why Picket and McLoughlin will soon be missing from the Mundelein dugouts for the first time in years.
It will be bittersweet for them. They say they'll miss the kids most. But in exchange, they'll be spending more time with some other kids: their grandkids.
Picket has seven grandkids and McLoughlin has five grandkids, and most of them play sports.
"I'm looking forward to that," Picket said of time with his grandkids. "It will be nice to go to a game and sit back, relax and just watch."
"It's fun to be around all of the players and they keep you young," McLoughlin said. "But it will be fun to do something else and spend more time with my grandkids. I'm really looking forward to that."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw