Tuesday was a big night for the Stephens household of Waterloo.
Sally Stephens was officially hired by the Belleville Township High School District 201 Board of Education as the girls track and field coach at Belleville West and her husband, Kris, was named the fourth head football coach in Belleville East history.
Stephens is a 1995 graduate of East and has been an assistant coach at West for the last 15 years, including the last eight as defensive coordinator. He replaces former East head coach Tim Funk, who resigned in March.
“It’s pretty incredible when I think about it,” said Stephens, 38. “I played at East until 1995 and to think I’m the fourth head coach behind guys like Dean Renn, Mike McGinnis and Tim Funk is special. That puts me in company with some pretty incredible men and I’m proud of that.”
Funk’s resignation was sudden and followed a 12-year run in which the Lancers averaged six wins per year and qualified for the state playoffs nine times.
Stephens played college football for four years at Millikin University in Decatur when Funk was still a coach there.
Stephens says he’ll “bring a few elements over from the other side of town,” but has no major plans to repair a program that isn’t broken.
“The good thing is that the program is in great shape and doesn’t need to be built up,” he said. “Tim Funk did a great job creating a program that’s successful and does things the right way.
“There are a few tricks up my sleeve. But the basic packages won’t change a whole lot.”
Under Stephens last season, the West defense allowed 20.4 points per game, in a competitive Southwestern Conference that sent five teams to the IHSA playoffs. Only Edwardsville (14.1) and Alton (19.8) allowed a lower average.
The Maroons advanced to the second round of the playoffs last fall. Recent defensive standouts under Stephens at West include linebacker Tori Millender, now at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and safety Brian Hill, who plays running back for Wyoming.
Stephens already has reached out to Lancers’ football players for an introductory meeting. He’ll officially take over June 1 and a summer schedule already put in place by Funk will remain, he said.
District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the board considered several quality applications, including three from within the district and “several” from outside the area. While there was flexibility to consider outside candidates, he said, the focus remained on those most familiar.
“One issue we face is we’re not hiring many teachers, so when it comes to hiring a coach, we want to look internally if we can,” Dosier said.
Stephens, who for now will continue as a math instructor at West, impressed the board with his knowledge of football and his reputation with players and other coaches in the district.
“We knew Kris’s intangibles. He is a very competitive guy who brings intensity to coaching, and the kids love to play for him,” said Dosier. “What we asked of him was how he sees himself as a head coach, and doing some of the administrative-type things an assistant doesn’t have to worry about. We see a good fit.”
Stephens also had the endorsement of his current boss, West head coach Cameron Pettus.
“Kris is extremely intelligent. He’s a math teacher and has that way of breaking things down to see all the parts,” Pettus said. “He understands the game and can anticipate what opposing offenses are going to do. He just works extremely hard and the kids love playing for him. He’s everything you want in a coach.”
Stephens’ departure leaves a vacancy on the West football staff, which Dosier says will be filled. In the meantime, Pettus has promoted Brian Capell to be the defensive coordinator.
“Yeah, I’ll have a hole to fill on my staff, but you can’t blame a guy for wanting to move on to something bigger,” Pettus said. “We’re also excited to keep Kris in the district. You work closely with these guys so we can’t be anything but happy for him. The Belleville jobs are the best situations in the state outside of Chicago, in my opinion. Kris has earned the chance and will do a great job.”
Apart from Kris and Sally Stephens, the District 201 board Tuesday also hired Seth Garrett to be the head girls basketball coach and Joe Rujawitz as the varsity wrestling coach.
Rujawitz takes over the helm from longtime coach Al Sears who resigned earlier this year. A former state tournament medalist and a four-time state tournament qualifer for the Maroons, Rujawitz went on to wrestle at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has been an assistant with the Maroons program for the past several seasons.