Young and single once upon a time, Corey Knigge was teaching English at Grayslake and coaching basketball at Stevenson when, on an institute day, he was given the opportunity to visit another school and observe.
He chose Deerfield. So he tracked down another English teacher/basketball coach. The great Steve Pappas generously sat down and talked to the young professional for a half-hour.
"I asked him, 'How you do coach and teach English, and what would you suggest?' " Knigge said. "He said, 'I would suggest not doing it.' He goes, 'Corey, I'm just going to be honest with you. Grading papers and prepping and all that stuff. It's just a really hard combination.' "
Today, Knigge's life is different. He's 45 with two young sons at home and is in his 13th year as an English teacher at Mundelein, where he's also been the boys basketball head coach the last four years. He knows Pappas, who succumbed to cancer in 2006, couldn't have been more right.
It's part of the reason why Knigge stepped down as basketball coach Tuesday, one day after the Mustangs closed the books on a 4-26 season with a loss to Warren in a play-in game of the Class 4A Libertyville regional. Knigge revealed to MHS athletic director Troy Parola in December that this season would be his last.
"I just knew it was time," said Knigge, whose Mustangs won just 10 games in his four seasons, after he served nine as an assistant to Dick Knar at Mundelein. "It's bittersweet in that I didn't do what I wanted to do, but I think it's time for somebody else to take a crack at it."
More demanding than teaching English and coaching basketball is being a father, and Knigge is relatively new at that. He and his wife, Megan, have 2 sons: Conner, 3, and Cooper, 1.
"When I took over (at Mundelein from Knar), I had a kid a week into the first season I was the head coach," Knigge said with a laugh. "All of a sudden, my priorities changed."
No longer did he have extra time for individual workouts with players. Staying after practice, going to feeder tournaments and feeder practices -- "all those things that you need to do," he said -- had to be shelved so he could be a dad and husband.
"If I was 30 and single, I might put my head down and grind away at it, but that's not the case now," Knigge said. "It's just hard when you come home and you got a couple of little guys that tell you that haven't seen you in three or four days."
He makes no excuses for Mundelein's lack of success on the court.
"The biggest thing is, I just haven't been able to put the time into our feeder system that I need to," Knigge said. "I think that's going to be the biggest thing for whomever comes in and takes over. I just couldn't in good conscious, after being gone five days in a row, tell my wife and kids, 'Instead of hanging out on Saturday, Dad is going to spend the entire day at a feeder tournament or feeder practices.'
"That was the place I probably failed the most (as a head coach)."
Knigge's dad taught him if you're going to do something, do it right and work as hard as you can at it. So that's what he's doing.
"I just feel like if I can't do that, it's not fair to the program," Knigge said.
Added Parola: "Corey was utmost professional in the way he handled everything."
Now the process starts for Mundelein to find a replacement.
"I told Troy (Parola) I think he needs somebody that's young with a lot of energy and a lot of time to get his hands on the lower levels (feeder)," Knigge said. "The head coach has to got to be there and have his assistants get in there -- and really work with it."