Rich Zinanni’s 48 seasons as the head football coach at Bishop McNamara Catholic High School were among the most successful a coach at any school in the state has ever had on the field.
He won 371 games, including five in state championship games, making him the third-winningest coach in Illinois High School Association history.
He is in multiple halls of fame and walls of honor and has received accolades ranging from the Chicago Bears Coach of the Week to his recent United States Marine Corps Semper Fi Coach Award, and now the Daily Journal Lifetime Achievement Award.
But Zinanni’s career has extended far beyond the pylons and touchlines of the football pitch that forms part of the stadium that now bears his name.
He started his career at McNamara 52 years ago as a teacher and assistant coach. While his football coaching career took off soon after, so did the number of roles he played at the same school he graduated from in 1965.
He taught several courses, mainly accounting and physical education, in addition to being an athletic director, dean of students and was the school’s first ever director of development, the latter being something he did long before the title was awarded to him.
At a small Catholic school, Zinanni knew fundraising was perhaps the most vital part of keeping the school afloat. And with a business degree from Northern Illinois University, along with the interpersonal skills he developed as a coach, it was just as natural to secure funds as it was to create a game plan.
“Given the big picture, tuition doesn’t pay all the bills, so you have to have different pots to draw from, your investments, your endowments, and then you have fundraising, which is normally a small percentage , but at Mac it’s a huge percentage,” Zinanni said. “Some schools could charge whatever they wanted, had fundraisers, had more kids than us, and they raise a few hundred thousand dollars in some cases just extra money.
“They might buy a new baseball field, something for the fine arts department, or a weight room. At Mac, it was not for that.
Zinanni helped revamp the school auction and created other fundraisers that still exist, such as Ceile Calenders and the Phone-a-thon, while the Athletics Rappel Club Dance the school in its early days was so successful that the school used it to pay teachers’ salaries rather than upgrade the athletic department.
The team’s original playoffs in the 1970s and state title series in the early 1980s helped fund the girls’ athletic programs that came to the school soon after.
Additionally, Zinanni recruited friends to join him at McNamara during the same period.
Some of them, like current Principal Terry Granger, have stuck around for decades. But around this time, Granger noted how several teachers and coaches helped lay the groundwork for the athletic department, sometimes literally, which they did on their own on the school track.
“Whether it’s Rich, [former head wrestling and boys basketball coach] Jerry Krieg or whoever it was, we all teamed up and did it,” Granger said. “It was that teamwork and camaraderie that made it special because we had special teachers.”
For his players, Zinanni has also made an effort to expand beyond the lines of play.
As McNamara is a limitless school that attracts children from different cities and backgrounds, Zinanni realized how important it was to keep an open line of communication and truly understand each of her children on a personal level.
For Brian Hassett, who led McNamara’s undefeated championship team in 1985 and then returned as an assistant coach before becoming Hall of Fame coach at Prairie Central, that open line never closed.
“If you had something you needed to talk about, he was there for you,” Hassett said. “When I took the job [at Prairie Central]i leaned over to him to find out what the keys were, and he just said make sure there was an open door policy, hear what the kids had to say and what the helpers had to say to say.
“It really hit home, for sure.”
It is another former player who will now take over from McNamara, Alan Rood. And in Rood, Zinanni sees the same things he sees in other coaches in the region who have also had such a long-lasting impact on the football pitch that they are felt in their respective communities. .
“There are a lot of really good people in coaching, people in small communities like [Central coach] Brian Spooner, [Wilmington coach] Jeff Reents, [Manteno coach] RJ Haines, who are great for their kids, great for their schools, and great for their communities,” Zinanni said. “Are they going to win every year? No, but that’s not the point.