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Daily Journal
     February 18, 2022      #75-49 KDJ
Bishop McNamara head coach Rich Zinanni applauds a touchdown during the Fightin’ Irish’s 36-15 victory against St. Francis during the final regular-season home game of his career last season. Zinanni, who coached at McNamara for 47 years and worked there for a total of 52 years, retired after la

Zinanni's impact at McNamara spanned much further

Mason Schweizer

Rich Zinanni’s 48 seasons as the head football coach at Bishop McNamara Catholic High School were some of the most successful any coach at any school in the state has ever had on the gridiron.

He won 371 games, five of them in state championship games, making him the third-winningest coach in Illinois High School Association history.

He’s in several halls of fame and walls of honor and has received accolades ranging from the Chicago Bears Coach of the Week to his recently awarded United States Marine Corps Semper Fi Coach Award, and now the Daily Journal Lifetime Achievement Award.

But Zinanni’s career spanned far past the pylons and sidelines of the football field that is a part of the stadium now named after him.

He began his career at McNamara 52 years ago as a teacher and assistant coach. As his football coaching career took off soon after, so did the number of roles he played at the same school he graduated from in 1965.

He taught several classes, predominantly accounting and physical education, in addition to spans as athletic director, dean of students and was the school’s first-ever development director, the latter of which was something he did long before the title was given to him.

At a small Catholic school, Zinanni knew that fundraising was perhaps the most vital part of keeping the school afloat. And with a business degree from Northern Illinois University, as well as the interpersonal skills he developed as a coach, he was just as natural at procuring funds as he was at creating a game plan.

“Seeing the big picture, tuition doesn’t pay all the bills, so you have to have different pots you draw from, your investments, endowments and then you have fundraising, which is normally a small percent, but at Mac, it’s a huge percentage,” Zinanni said. “Some schools could charge what they wanted, had fundraisers, had more kids than us, and they raise a couple hundred thousand dollars in some cases, just extra money.

“They could buy a new baseball field, something for the fine arts department or a weight room. At Mac, it wasn’t for any of that.”

Zinanni helped revamp the school’s auction and created other fundraisers that still exist, such as Ceile Calenders and the Phone-a-thon, while the school’s athletics booster club dance in his early days became so successful that the school used it to pay teacher salaries rather than upgrade the athletic department.

The team’s original playoff pushes in the 1970s and run of state titles in the early 1980s helped fund the girls athletic programs that came to the school shortly thereafter.

Additionally, Zinanni recruited friends to come join him at McNamara in that same time period.

Some of them, such as current principal Terry Granger, have stuck around for decades. But back in that time, Granger noted how several of the teachers and coaches helped lay the foundations of the athletic department, sometimes literally, which they did on the school’s track on their own.

“Whether it was Rich, [former head wrestling and boys basketball coach] Jerry Krieg or whoever, we all teamed up and got it done,” Granger said. “It was that teamwork and camaraderie that made it a special time because we had some special teachers.”

To his players, Zinanni also made it an effort to extend himself further than the lines of play.

As McNamara is an unbounded school that draws kids from different towns and backgrounds, Zinanni realized how important it was to keep an open line of communication and truly understand each of his kids on a personal level.

For Brian Hassett, who quarterbacked McNamara’s undefeated championship team in 1985 and then came back as an assistant coach before becoming a hall-of-fame coach at Prairie Central, that open line never closed.

“If you had anything you needed to talk about, he was there for you,” Hassett said. “When I took the job [at Prairie Central], I leaned on him about what the keys are, and he just said to make sure there was an open-door policy, to hear what the kids have to say and what the assistants have to say.

“That really hit home, for sure.”

It’s another former player who will now take over the McNamara sidelines, Alan Rood. And in Rood, Zinanni sees the same things he sees in other area coaches who also have made longtime impacts of such magnitude on the football field that they’re felt throughout their respective communities.

“There are lots of really good people in coaching, people in smaller communities like [Central coach] Brian Spooner, [Wilmington coach] Jeff Reents, [Manteno coach] RJ Haines, that are great for their kids, great for their schools and great for their communities,” Zinanni said. “Are they gonna win every year? No, but that’s not the point.”

Rich Zinanni

Age: 74

Education: Bishop McNamara Catholic High School (1965), Northern Illinois University (1969), Governor's State University (1979)

Career: Bishop McNamara Catholic High School, 1970-2022 (Football and baseball coach, assistant wrestling, basketball and softball coach, teacher, athletic director, dean of students, development director)

Football career: 1975-2022; 371 wins (third in IHSA history); five state championships; four second-place finishes; 37 playoff appearances; Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame member

Family: Wife Jane; step-children Lisa (Bret) Kleinert, Romeo (Christy) Panozzo, Kathy (Corey) Jordan; grandchildren Will, Katie, Lizzie, Nick, John, Dominick, Natalie, Dawson

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