Phillips coach McAllister named Evergreen football boss
When Evergreen Park recently lost Dan Hartman as its head football coach, athletic director Jim Soldan knew where to look for a replacement: toward the one school that administered a loss to the Mustangs in 2013.
Troy McAllister wasn’t the only man who applied for the vacant position at Evergreen; the contrary, in fact, was true. The former Phillips boss was one of 45 applicants, and Soldan stated that “a good third of those were all current head coaches.”
That was quite a change from previous personnel searches Soldan conducted. When former coach Mike Barry was hired in 2008, for example, virtually no other active head coaches showed interest.
Of course, Barry’s task was rather monumental: to lift the Mustangs out of the depths. He laid the foundation for Hartman, who guided Evergreen to three straight playoff berths during his brief tenure.
“A lot of people say, ‘People use [our school] as a stepping-stone,’” Soldan said. “But if you had told me we’d have 27 wins in three years, six of them in the playoffs, I’d have hired Dan Hartman anyway. We do get a lot of coaches that don’t stay, but that’s the way it is [at many places] today.”
McAllister could be different, however. Although a native of Canada, McAllister has sunk roots in Illinois, and he is the first Mustangs football coach since Dave LaBarbera in 2002 to be an in-state hire.
“Troy’s plans are to move here, whether it’s right here in Evergreen Park or in Chicago, which is right across the street,” Soldan said. “That’s something we haven’t had [lately]. Hopefully, that’ll help us to keep him around.”
“Evergreen Park’s a beautiful neighborhood and great community,” McAllister said. “I’ll be committed to being around.”
But there’s more to McAllister than geographical accessibility. He has also shown an ability to revive football programs.
His first practice at Phillips in 2010 drew the grand total of 12 players. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats stumbled to a 2-7 finish.
From there, however, rapid progress was made. Phillips had winning records the past three years, a span culminating with last fall’s trip to the Class 4A quarterfinals that was secured with a 31-21 victory over Evergreen in the playoffs.
So how did the Wildcats rise so quickly?
“I really think our core of trust, respect and commitment to excellence is the key,” McAllister said. “That wasn’t an overnight thing — you have to build trust and respect over time, and the commitment to excellence comes from that.
“As a coaching staff, we stayed on the students — checking on grades and making sure they had everything they needed to be successful. We’d make home visits, phone calls, just consistently be in contact. The changes at Phillips made mom[s] and dad[s] feel comfortable.”
As the program’s numbers swelled to more than 70, the coaches were able to cede some of the responsibilities for overseeing things to veteran players. That freed McAllister and his assistants to work on setting up a youth football program that familiarized future high school students with Phillips.
“If you get five or six kids to get the pads on [later], that’s big,” McAllister said.
Soldan said one thing that stood out about Evergreen’s new leader is that he’s “a real good classroom teacher.” To McAllister, that’s as important a part of being a coach as any X’s and O’s diagramming.
“I really like to be involved in young men’s lives,” he said. “Producing quality young men for society is a big part of it.”
In a football sense, McAllister’s tasks at Evergreen will be far different, if only because the Mustangs have established themselves as a legitimate contender for state honors in Class 4A. He says he wants to “hit the ground running” but has no plans “to reinvent the wheel because what they’ve been doing works.”
Still, McAllister admits there will probably be a period of adjustment for all parties.
“There’s a group of young men at Evergreen Park who don’t know who I am,” he said. “I’ve got to let them know I’m a Mustang.
“Probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do was sit down with those kids [at Phillips] and tell them I was leaving. There were a lot of tears, but I’m super excited to be at Evergreen.”
In addition to his four seasons at Phillips, McAllister spent a year as an assistant at Dunbar while teaching in an elementary school. Before that, he was an assistant at his collegiate alma mater, Queens University.