WOODSTOCK – Marian Central offensive line coach Steve Spoden was fired by the school on Thursday after he wrote on a player's Facebook page earlier this month that he wanted to take a bat to the knees of Montini's football players and saying he wanted to carpet bomb the town.
Spoden, a Hurricanes assistant coach of 13 years, posted the comments on the Facebook page of a current Marian Central player. On his Facebook status update on Nov. 24, the day Montini played for the IHSA Class 5A state championship, the player expressed how he just wanted one more shot at Montini.
Spoden admitted he should not have posted the disparaging remarks. The post since has been removed from the player’s page. Spoden said the comments were aimed to console the player and inspire future Marian players to work harder and be the ones to end Montini’s run.
“I made a huge mistake,” Spoden said. “I need to own it. I have no one to blame but me.”
Marian superintendent Tom Landers ultimately made the decision.
“He has certainly done many very positive things with our students over the years and we have acknowledged that to him,” Landers wrote in an e-mail to The Northwest Herald Friday morning. “I would add that I respect how coach Spoden is handling this matter.”
Marian players, past and present, said that they consider Spoden a mentor and great friend.
"We're all disappointed in his opinions, but we all still love him," junior wide receiver Brett Olson said Friday morning at Marian's gym, where Hurricanes quarterbacks and receivers gathered to throw. "He's changed the lives of a lot of kids.
"He knows that when kids mess up, they just need to forget about it and move on to the next thing. He was always there for kids when they needed something."
Marian head coach Ed Brucker loses an offensive line coach who helped develop six NCAA Division I linemen since 2006.
Montini beat the Hurricanes, 42-27, in their Class 5A quarterfinal game on its way to a fourth consecutive state title. In all four of those years, Montini knocked Marian out of the playoffs. This season’s playoff loss may have been the most difficult to handle given Marian’s 47-24 victory in Week 7.
Marian’s current and former players voiced their support through Facebook, Twitter and text messages Thursday after hearing the news. Brucker said Spoden had served as the team’s unofficial guidance counselor to many players and as disciplinarian when they received bad grades or were late for practice.
Senior defensive back Ryan Hickey said Spoden was the reason he was still attending Marian.
“My sophomore year I had a couple of fights and [Marian] was going to expel me,” Hickey said. “He convinced them to give me another chance. He had temper problems when he was younger and he helped me personally work through that. He’s just such a caring person, he puts other people above himself.”
One example of what Spoden meant to a former player came in June of 2010. Brucker, Spoden and offensive coordinator Dirk Stanger were invited to New York for the NFL Draft as guests of 2007 graduate Bryan Bulaga, who was selected No. 23 by the Green Bay Packers. After the first round was completed, Bulaga had dinner with his former coaches.
“[Thursday] was a real tough day,” Brucker said Friday morning. “[Spoden] has done so much good for the program and for a lot of kids. He made a foolish mistake, I guess. The administration has to do what they have to do.”
Players started learning of the news of Spoden's dismissal early afternoon Thursday with some finding out on Facebook and Twitter, where former Marian players had started to post the news.
"He's very heart-broken about this," said Marian senior lineman Liam Kirwan, who spoke on the phone with Spoden for nearly an hour Thursday night. "He's put his heart and soul into this program for the past 13 years. He's sorry because yeah, he did something wrong, but he feels bad because the kids are going to miss out.
"The football program here is a little different. The guys are close, but this is really the definition of brotherhood and Spoden is the main reason why that happened."
Kirwan called Spoden the greatest role model he's had four years after he first met Spoden as a freshman lineman. As is the case with many players, Spoden was the person to welcome Kirwan into the program and was the one players could always go to if they needed to talk.
Kirwan said among Spoden's disappointments is that he won't have that interaction with players in years to come. He credits Spoden for making him into a player that became a two-time team captain and one of the hardest working players on the Hurricanes' roster.
Spoden comes off as gruff and rough around the edges, players say. But junior linebacker Chris Daniels said Friday that once players get to know Spoden, they find a heart of gold.
"He wants to know what you're all about and he's interested in you - he truly cares about everyone," Daniels said Friday. "He doesn't brush anyone off, he doesn't judge anyone.
"I don't think any of us know the whole story, but we're just going to miss him a lot."
Kirwan said he expects the community to rally around Spoden, saying Friday that he has spoken with parents and former players who plan to begin a letter-writing campaign to school officials in support of the former coach.
Olson said Spoden is a coach who always encourages students to move on from their mistakes and learn from them, he doesn't expect anything different from Spoden, whose influence was felt around the Hurricanes' program on a daily basis.
"When you think of Marian football, you pretty much think of Spoden," senior quarterback Chris Streveler said Friday morning. "He lives it, breathes it - it's his life and so it's tough. We were all really disappointed.
"He's impacted all of our lives greatly."