By Xavier Sanchez
On Friday, Dec. 10, the Sandburg boys basketball team was scheduled to play sibling school Stagg. It’s a rivalry that Sandburg head coach John Daniels has experienced many times.
But this was the first time he would experience it from the Sandburg sidelines.
Daniels was Stagg’s head coach from 2003 to 2017, leaving for family reasons at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. After some time away from the sport, he returned to the sidelines at Addison Trail and Aurora University to grow his basketball knowledge.
At the conclusion of the spring 2021 season, Sandburg coach Todd Allen decided to step away after 25 seasons to spend more time with his family. Daniels saw this as a perfect opportunity to do what he does best: take a program with pieces, give it new direction and bring it to new heights.
“I’m one of those guys that likes to buy the old house that’s all broken down but has good bones and I’m going to fix it up,” Daniels said.
This is not new territory for someone who has 28 years of coaching experience. All three of his previous head coaching stops have been similar.
“I’m looking forward to everything: getting to know the team, coaching my first game, and hopefully make a difference.”
Daniels took his first head coaching job in 1996 with Elmwood Park. In his three seasons there, the program had its first winning season in nearly 20 years.
At his next stop, York, the team improved each year and won a regional title in 2001. At Stagg, Daniels won four games in his first season. The Chargers became regular competitors at the top of the Southwest Suburban conference. Stagg enjoyed several 20-win seasons and won its first regional title in nearly 20 years.
The challenge brings both excitement and new battles. While Daniels has spoken about his excitement for his new journey, he understands it will not be a cake walk. Stepping in and seeing immediate change is not realistic, and there is so much learning that takes place when a new head coach comes in – from all sides.
Daniels shared how the coaching community is open and coaches learn from each other, highlighting similarities across programs. Still, no two situations are the same. This results in a learning curve when a new head coach steps in. Daniels said with all of the change, coaches and players alike will spend a lot of energy adapting in year one.
“The first season is always the hardest,” he said.
Despite the work it will take, Daniels stressed how excited he was to grow the culture of the program and lead a team once again.
“I’m blessed,” he said. “I get the chance to do this all over again and I’m excited. I’m looking forward to everything: getting to know the team, coaching my first game, and hopefully make a difference.”
Daniels and the Eagles were hoping to bounce back from back-to-back losses and a 1-5 start to the season against Stagg. But his first matchup against his former program was postponed.
It will be a must-watch event when he does return to face his old team.