Harvard's Tim Haak Northwest Herald Football Coach of the Year

Harvard football coach Tim Haak spent most of his final season deflecting personal credit for the Hornets’ success toward the players.

Haak took pride in Harvard’s habit of giving the players ownership of the program, which in turn promoted responsibility and problem-solving.

“You try to give them things to carry with them after football,” Haak said.

The Hornets appreciated Haak’s selflessness but knew how vital he was to the program.

“[Haak] was the guy,” tight end-linebacker Tate Miller said. “The way I feel, the coaching staff gets all the credit. Without them, we would have been nothing. In eighth grade we were winless. They mentored us and taught us everything about football and about life. We’re better people and better players for it.”

The Hornets sent Haak out in style. His 29th and final season as Harvard’s head coach was extraordinary, as the Hornets set a school record at 11-1 and reached the Class 4A playoff quarterfinals. Because of their success, Haak is the Northwest Herald Football Coach of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.

The decision was tough between Haak and third-year Dundee-Crown coach Vito Andriola, who took the Chargers to the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Hampshire’s Dan Cavanaugh, who, like Haak, is retiring, also received support from his fellow coaches after taking the Whip-Purs to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Harvard’s finish was a heartbreaker, a 28-24 loss to Rockford Lutheran in a game the Hornets led, 24-14, in the fourth quarter. But it was a special sendoff for the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

Players focused more on the task at hand during the season, while realizing they had the honor of playing on Haak’s last team.

“It’s been special the whole time, we tried not to think about it, but it’s always in the back of our heads,” wide receiver-defensive back Justin Nolen said after the loss to Lutheran. “It’s great to be that last one and do what we did as his last team.”

Haak was closer to this group because his daughter, Mallory, is a senior. So many of the players had been to the Haaks’ house since they were in kindergarten. It also was special because neither the seniors nor juniors had a win as freshmen.

“You feel honored that you’ve had the opportunity to be in the right place,” Haak said. “So much credit goes to the kids, a tremendous amount of credit goes to the assistant coaches, and our parents are so supportive. You have the opportunity to have success, and you have great kids.”

Harvard won its last four games of 2012 but fell short of the playoffs under the IHSA point system. Haak sensed what kind of season 2013 could be in Week 4’s 17-13 victory at Burlington Central.

“We were down [13-10] and hadn’t played particularly well, not what we expect and what we could play,” Haak said. “Burlington had a lot to do with that. There’s six minutes left and Tate [Miller] comes up with an interception. Then [quarterback] Peyton [Schneider] audibles on three straight plays and we go in and score. Those four plays. There wasn’t a panic in them and they really felt we were going to win that game.”

Haak was 173-108 for his career and finished with his best season.

“I’m going to miss it, no question about it,” Haak said. “I don’t know how I won’t. You never know down the road how things are going to look. I’m going to do something –what, at this point, I don’t know. That probably bothers me more than anything because my whole life’s been on a schedule. It does give me time to get away and reflect back on it.”