SPRINGFIELD (WCIA) — Ken Leonard’s legacy has long been secured but the state’s all-time winningest high school football coach would love to leave Sacred Heart-Griffin with one more state title. The longtime Cyclones leader has a chance to do that this season in his final fall on the sidelines, he plans to retire at season’s end.
“You just go and coach and you just go year to year and try to be the best you can be and it’s been a real pleasure,” Leonard said thinking about his more than forty years coaching. “I mean, to be able to coach football for 45 years it’s like not even having a job. It’s what I’ve always loved, it’s what I wanted to do, and God’s blessed me with this opportunity.”
Leonard got his first gig as a grad assistant at Illinois Wesleyan before moving to his first head coaching job in Gridley in 1980. Four years later, Ken moved up to SHG where he’s been ever since, leading the team to five state championships with four additional title game appearances. But to Leonard, it’s more than just the wins on the field.
“I’m blessed,” he said. “I’ve coached my three sons and now I’m coaching against my son and I’ve had great players. A lot of guys go to college and the NFL, but do you know what, that didn’t matter. It’s all the guys. Just seeing them grow up and become great men and great husbands and fathers and that’s what it’s all about.”
“I’m a proud son,” Rochester head coach and Ken’s son Derek said. “I learned from the best. Grew up with my father being my coach and my coach being my father, I always got a first road seat to watch his history.”
Derek is walking in his dad’s footsteps coaching the Rockets. And to Ken, watching his players and sons grow up to be great people means more to the Hall of Famer than the score at the end of the game.
“I’ve learned more from him as a man, as a father than even as a coach, but that’s what makes him a good coach, is that he’s a great person,” Derek Leonard said.
And as fate would have it, Sacred Heart-Griffin opens its season Friday night against Rochester in the final regular season edition of the Leonard Bowl pitting father against son.