Super Bowl Bear returning to coach at East Aurora
By Rick Armstrong email@example.com March 16, 2012 12:12PM
Kurt Becker speaks with East Aurora students Brian Moreno (left) and Frank Byndum at the City of Aurora's 175th birthday celebration on March 2. Becker was named the new East High football coach Friday. | Photo courtesy of District 131
Updated: April 19, 2012 8:28AM
Apparently that claim, “once a Tomcat, always a Tomcat” from Aurora East siders rings true.
Kurt Becker, a Super Bowl Chicago Bear, University of Michigan All-American football player and Aurora businessman, is also a 1977 graduate of East High. That fact has never been lost on the 1990 NFL retiree, who has long felt a tug on his heartstrings from his alma mater.
Tradition is just part of what reeled him in for Friday’s announcement, when school officials announced he will be the new varsity football coach at the school.
Becker will succeed Bill Bryant, who stepped down after last season, and faces a huge – some might say monumental – challenge in trying to rebuild the struggling program. It ended the season on a 30-game losing streak and East hasn’t had a winning season since 2000, when Al Tamberelli’s team went 5-4.
“You can look at it a lot of ways,” said Becker, an offensive lineman in his playing days.
“I think the program is ready to turn. There are a lot of stakeholders involved and a full commitment is there from the community. There is a strong sense (of commitment) to the overall athletic department.”
Becker is the owner of Twin Oaks Music and Vending but served as an assistant coach for Dan Thorpe’s program at Marmion the past four seasons while his son, Garret, was in the program. He had helped at various clinics and youth programs before that and maintained ties with East Aurora, especially in fund-raising and with it’s Old-Timers Association, of which he is co-president.
It’s not that Becker didn’t enjoy his affiliation with Marmion, whose team went 29-15 with playoff appearances the past three seasons. He was the offensive line coach in 2008 and assistant head coach the past three years.
“I can’t tell you how much Marmion means to me,” he said. “And (head coach) Dan Thorpe, I respect him 100 percent as a football coach and person. Dan taught me a lot about the game and coaching high school athletes. I’m very grateful to Dan.”
But there was always that pull. When the East job opened in the fall, it wasn’t the first time people on the East side wondered if Becker would have interest.
“Everywhere I went the situation would come up,” said Becker. “Finally, at one point, my wife Gloria said, ‘You should start listening to these people.’”
What convinced him was the interest and an offer from an old friend and fellow East grad, Steve Kenyon. The long-time Naperville Central teacher retired after a 30-year career but had continued coaching the football team’s offensive line the past few seasons.
“He asked me if I would do it and was very decisive,” said Becker.
Kenyon also offered to join him as an assistant.
“Without Steve (to lean on), I don’t think it would be possible, at this point,” said Becker. “He convinced me and I applied for the job.”
Thorpe is happy for Becker but will miss him.
“They’re getting a guy that’s all-in,” said Thorpe. “What a tremendous loss for Marmion. He just jumped in, hands on.”
And even though he’s not a teacher, it didn’t stop Becker from becoming involved at many levels at Marmion. He plans to do the same at East.
A strong commitment, from his players, staff, parents and the community, will be key to bringing success back to East, said Becker.
“I have to meet the kids and coaches and evaluate the current situation and what we have,” he said. “That’s gonna take place on Monday. As of Tuesday, we go to work (in the weight room).
“In order to be successful in high school football you’ve gotta be (working at it) darn near 11 months of the year.”
He will also have interaction with the full program, including the elementary schools and three junior highs – Waldo, Simmons and Cowherd – that feed into East.
“I’m going to take a very active role in the development of our youth (program),” he said. “That’s where I started, in fact, helping coach with the Aurora Superstars.”
He says he’s already received calls from a number of qualified people who are interested in joining the staff, calling it “very heartwarming.”
Now, he looks forward to continuing the tradition(s).
“This is the oldest school district in the state of Illinois, and the rivalry game with that school on the other side of town (West), is the oldest rivalry in the state,” he said.
“I learned about tradition and what history means playing at Michigan and with the Bears, the franchise owned by George Halas, who started professional football. To have the opportunity to prepare kids for that oldest rivalry will be special.”
So are his challenges.