CARY – At some point in the relatively near future, Brad Seaburg will allow himself to sit back, relax and reflect.
But not yet – not when there is work still to be completed.
Only recently, Seaburg’s wife of 10 years, Dorothy, reminded the 35-year-old Cary-Grove coach that there’s more salt than pepper in his tightly cropped hair. It’s an observation Seaburg has noticed gradually over the past two years – a span of nearly 24 months that has been every bit of the adventure he expected his first head coaching job to be.
If Seaburg has learned anything in that time, it is that his job isn’t for the faint of heart. Coaching – even at the high school level – is more than an August to November proposition.
There are always tasks to take care of, details to tend to, kids to talk to, game plans to formulate, film to break down, games to win. And if anyone wonders how busy Seaburg has been since taking over the Trojans’ programs two Januarys ago, all they need to do is look at his head.
“The white hairs are not because of marriage, they’re not because of kids, it’s because of the job,” Seaburg said. “There’s constant pressure.
“The thing that I’ve learned is wherever you go, no matter what day of the week it is, you’re always the head football coach.”
The job of taking the reins of the Trojans’ program from Illinois High School Association Hall-of-Famer Bruce Kay was one Seaburg wasn’t sure, at first, he wanted.
It wasn’t as if he wasn’t ready. By the time Kay announced he was stepping down from the helm of the C-G program after 22 years after the 2010 season, Seaburg had coached 10 years. He had been the Trojans’ sophomore coach for eight seasons, ingraining himself in a program and a system that extends to Cary’s junior football program.
But with Kay stepping down after leading the Trojans to a 168-68 record in just over two decades, Seaburg wasn’t certain he was the one to take over.
“I had to be convinced by others that this was a job that was worth taking,” Seaburg admitted this week. “From my standpoint, we had kind of gotten to the mountain top and there wasn’t a whole lot of direction to go besides down.”
Seaburg, a former Marengo High School linebacker, went back and forth whether he should apply. Those around him told him he was ready to make the jump to his first varsity job.
Although the C-G sophomores had gone 61-9-2 during his tenure, Seaburg knew the pressure would only intensify by taking a step up. But just when he started to lean toward not throwing his name in, Seaburg wondered what would happen if someone outside the program was given the job, leaving the door open for everything he and his fellow coaches had worked so hard for to change overnight.
That’s when Dorothy Seaburg intervened.
“You have to do it – you have to try it,” Dorothy told her husband. “Otherwise, you’re always going to live with, ‘Well, what if?’”
That wasn’t a road Seaburg was willing to go down.
Even before he applied, others – including Kay and Seaburg’s high school coach at Marengo, Greg Halverson, were already convinced he had all the makings of being a successful successor. Both coaches admired Seaburg’s all-business approach to the way he went about his daily duties. He had a track record of being tough, but fair – a personality trait required to run a successful high school program.
Seaburg was detail-oriented and always looked out for what was best for his players – something Halverson says goes back to his playing days at Marengo.
“He was a leader back then. He was always the consummate leader, always,” said Halverson, whose two sons, Gunnar and Thor, are on the roster for Saturday’s 6A state championship game against Crete-Monee. “I leaned on him all the time. Everybody follows Brad. It’s not surprising he’s the leader he is now as head coach. He’s the goods.”
After Seaburg was hired, Kay – who guided C-G to its first state championship in 2009 – steered clear of the program he had helped build. As much as he had invested in the Trojans, he knew the program was secure in Seaburg’s hands. Over the years, Kay watched Seaburg interact with his players. He noticed the way he held them to a higher standard – something that in its own right – becomes one of the foundational lessons one must learn as a coach.
“When you do that, it means you’re going to say ‘no’ to people – you’ve got to say ‘no’ to certain kids,” Kay said. “And when you do those things, it’s not easy.”
Before long, Seaburg learned to deal with the stress of being in charge. He found that even the most minute of details or what seemed at the time to be an insignificant decision would somehow impact the bigger picture.
Prior to this season, Seaburg visited the homes of all but four of his 28 seniors. He spent anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 ½ hours in the living rooms of the homes his players grew up, often spending the first hour talking everything but football with them.
He asked them what their goals were and where they wanted to go to college and what they wanted in life – not just out of high school football. Eventually, Seaburg would get around to discussing what each player expected out of the season and what standard they expected to meet – not only individually, but as a team.
And as business-like as the face-to-face meetings were, players and their parents – the ones whose sons would spend perhaps more time around Seaburg than they did at home – came to see Seaburg not only as a coach, but as a man who put their interests ahead of his own.
By meeting at players’ homes rather than at Seaburg’s office or by sitting down with the senior class collectively was intentional as well. Not only did it open up a line of communication with players’ parents – but it let each of the seniors know – that Seaburg was committing himself to be at his best – even before he’d ask his most veteran players to be at theirs.
“When we told him this stuff, he let us know that it was his job to help us get there,” senior fullback Ryan Norberg said. “That means he cares about us – not only as players, but as people, too.”
As meaningful as those meetings became, though, it meant more time Seaburg would spend away from his wife and their three children, all of whom are under age 7.
Kay said much of Seaburg’s initial reservations in taking over the program didn’t stem from a lack of confidence. Instead, Seaburg wondered what kind of toll the job would take on his ability to be the best husband and father he could be – something that is as equally important to Seaburg as is running a top-notch program.
It’s a part of the job Dorothy understands comes with the territory and one that Seaburg struggles with on the weeks when he arrives home too late to tuck his kids in at night.
Although he takes two trips a year with his family – one at spring break and one over the summer – being away from home as much as he is during the season is difficult for the young father of three.
Seaburg once used golf to get away from football, but that, like other leisurely activities he once enjoyed, has now had to be sacrificed. At some point, there will come a time when perhaps, life will slow down and Seaburg can take a few moments to break away from football.
After spending two weeks in Arizona with his family in the off-season and in Tennessee last spring, Seaburg now looks forward to his family’s annual spring getaway. Perhaps, the trip will allow for a round of golf or some time spent just being a dad.
But for now, Seaburg’s daily existence remains football as usual – a life he’s taken on fully – finding enjoyment in watching his players do everything in their power to put Cary-Grove football back on top. It’s a journey back to the top of the mountain that Seaburg has made more about his players than about himself - but one that Seaburg realizes he must be the one to take a lead role in navigating.
“The job is what you make of it – it consumes me and I know it consumes most people because you care so much about it,” Seaburg said. “But I don’t know any other way to do it.”