Rozner: East Leyden and the NFC title game

  • Ned Colletti was the Los Angeles Dodgers general manager in 2014, and today does TV work for the team. He's also a scout for the San Jose Sharks and teaches a class at Pepperdine University. His connection to the NFC Championship is East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, which he recalls fondly.

    Ned Colletti was the Los Angeles Dodgers general manager in 2014, and today does TV work for the team. He's also a scout for the San Jose Sharks and teaches a class at Pepperdine University. His connection to the NFC Championship is East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, which he recalls fondly. Associated Press

  • Retired NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, who graduated from East Leyden High School, will watch his son -- San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan -- lead his team in the NFC title game.

    Retired NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, who graduated from East Leyden High School, will watch his son -- San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan -- lead his team in the NFC title game. Associated Press

  • East Leyden High School in Franklin Park.

      East Leyden High School in Franklin Park. Mark Welsh@dailyherald.com

 
 
Updated 1/15/2020 7:38 PM

If you can find a way to view the NFL postseason without watching every quarterback and thinking of Ryan Pace, well, you've probably kept your sanity so far.

Of course, Pat Mahomes offers a significant opportunity in the AFC title game, and Jimmy Garoppolo gives you one more Sunday, as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But there's yet another entertaining intersection to ponder as the NFC Championship takes place in Northern California.

It's East Leyden High School in Franklin Park.

With all its Hall of Fame coaches and teachers, legends like Jack Leese, Chuck Farina and Norm Goodman, it has given the sporting world a stunning collection of coaches and executives that makes little sense on the surface.

"I don't know why exactly," says former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. "I think it was the culture of where we grew up."

That culture at East Leyden produced Colletti (Class of '72), whose story has been well-documented here over the years, growing up in a garage that served as his home and later climbing to the highest ranks of MLB.

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Today, he still does pregame and postgame for Dodgers TV, serves as a scout for the San Jose Sharks and teaches a class at Pepperdine.

At the same time Colletti was Dodgers GM -- when Los Angeles made the playoffs five times in his nine years with three NLCS appearances -- Glen Grunwald (East Leyden, '76) was GM of the Knicks, and Mike Shanahan (East Leyden, '70) was head coach and GM of the Broncos, after playing quarterback for Leese in Franklin Park.

But there's more.

Niners quarterback Garoppolo -- apparently unknown to the Bears before his trade from New England -- graduated from Rolling Meadows High School, but his dad, Tony, also played fullback and tackle at East Leyden (Class of '74), and Mike Shanahan's son, Kyle, is the head coach in San Francisco, one game from the Super Bowl.

Wait, not done yet.

Bears castoff and current 49ers kicker Robbie Gould is married to Lauren Cozzi, daughter of Greg Cozzi, who coached baseball, soccer and wrestling at East Leyden and is in the Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame.

"Myself, Norm Goodman and Chuck Farina were all Marines. We understood that hard work was the answer," the 88-year-old Leese said Wednesday. "We never looked at the clock. We expected the players to work hard, whether you played or not, and that was it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"You have to put in the work and pay the price."

It's something Colletti remembers well from his childhood.

"I was cleaning out my office one day about 10 years ago and I found a team picture, and Mike (Shanahan) and I are sitting next to each other," Colletti said Wednesday. "It was the Franklin Park baseball 1963 city championship team.

"Mike was a catcher and was extremely competitive, and he hasn't really changed much. He always worked harder than everyone else.

"I think those of us who came from there were hard working, trying to better our lives. The coaching staff at Leyden and the teachers exuded that, gave you the confidence to believe you could make it even though you never actually knew many people who did make it beyond the normal expectations.

"But that's what they instilled in us, what our parents instilled in us. Everyone worked and everyone competed."

It was a lunch-bucket community that hoped to give their children a chance at a better life.

"Franklin Park, River Grove, Schiller Park, Rosemont. Great places to grow up, but it was blue collar. No one knew anyone whose dad went to work in a suit," Colletti said. "It's kind of amazing that so many of us did well in different sports and in different places.

"If it was a California or Florida school where you had athletics year-round it's probably a little more likely, but to come from a working-class area with some harsh seasons is probably unusual.

"I tell people once in a while about it and invariably they say, 'All three of you went to a prep school, right?' I try to explain that it was just the environment they provided us."

While Shanahan roots for the 49ers and gets plenty of TV time, Grunwald is now CEO of Canada Basketball and Colletti at 65 continues to reinvent himself, the latest version taking on a job with San Jose.

"Doug (Wilson) and I have been friends a long time and he's been asking me about it for three or four years," Colletti said of the former Blackhawks defenseman and longtime Sharks GM. "I finally tried it last year on the q.t. and they were pleased with what I was doing.

"Baseball and hockey don't overlap much so I can still do Dodgers TV and I've already scouted about 85 hockey games this season. I'm responsible for 20 teams, including nine AHL teams.

"I was just at scouting meetings and it's interesting being on the other side of the table, telling them what I saw.

"It's been great. I'm blessed to be able to do it. I'm in baseball 38 years and keeping an open mind to other things. I love teaching and giving back and talking about where I've been."

That story begins in Franklin Park.

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