After Radtke exit, Portage turns to Chestovich
When the Portage football coaching position first opened back in the winter, Terry Chestovich didn't apply for the job.
After the newly-hired Russ Radtke bolted abruptly for Knox two weeks ago, he decided to make another run at it.
"I don't fault Russ, but it obviously threw a wrench into other things," Chestovich said. "Even when he was here, I was the communication guy between the parents and the kids. It was a good fit since I was the only (remaining assistant). I'm sure it was a blow to the kids when he left, bringing in a coach of his caliber with his pedigree. They were in a tough situation. I felt bad for them in general. I've been here eight years already, and I thought I owed it to them to at least put my name in and see what happened."
The 1993 Chesterton graduate and former Knox head coach was approved by the Portage school board at its Tuesday meeting.
"The hardest thing as a new coach in a program is gaining the trust of the players who are already there," Chestovich said. "They know what I'm about, how I am, how I conduct business. It's comforting for me and I hope also for them to have somebody who's still here and isn't going anywhere. I'm going to put my head down and get to the grind. If you're going to do any good, you have to put the work in."
Chestovich began his coaching career at Chesterton under Bill Dorulla in 1997 and was there a decade before going to Knox, where he was 24-30 in five seasons. He joined Wally McCormack's staff at Portage in 2012 and was a finalist for the vacant position that went to Darren Rodriguez in 2016.
"I remember when I came here from Knox, how there was still a learning curve with how everything works here compared to there, going back to be a defensive coordinator after being a head coach," Chestovich said. "When Russ came, I was excited to work with him, just to see how he goes about his business as a coach, how I can become better. The biggest takeaway in that short period of time was how the guys on his staff are as loyal as loyal can be. I think one reason he's been as successful as he is, is they all think the same."
With no assistants remaining, Chestovich is now working on building a staff, which figures to start with McCormack. Eric Schreiber, who came on board with his son Eric under Radtke, coordinated the online workout plan that Chestovich has been able to continue using in the interim since the move. They didn't go to Knox with Radtke, so they are a possibility as well.
"I'm kicking some tires, making some phone calls," Chestovich said. "I'm hoping we can get it all solidified by early next week. There's a lot of moving parts that play into it. The biggest thing is staff continuity, which has hurt us in the past. It's the nature of football nowadays. The older group is getting out and the younger group doesn't necessarily want to stay as long."
Portage will continue to run a multiple, odd-front defense, which Chestovich coordinates, and the offensive approach is to be determined as the staff falls into place.
"I worked for some awesome head coaches, John Snyder, Wally, Darren, who just let me take charge of the defense," he said. "Micromanaging isn't my style. I'm not going to worry about every aspect. As a staff, we have to go with the program and what fits here. That (defensive approach) is suited for our kids. Offensively, you want to have a base that you can always do. We're not going to beat teams by out-coaching them, out-scheming them. We just have to be fundamental."
The Indians haven't won more than six games since 2004. They are coming off a 1-9 season in which its defense managed to hang tough in most games, but typically wore down with the offense unable to stay on the field. Portage scored just 57 points in its last seven games.
"We've got some things to work with," Chestovich said. "I'm excited about the guys we have back. (A lack of size) has always been the pattern here. When 'Buz' (Craig Buzea) was here, we used to call them rats. They were all over the place. They were small guys, but they busted their butt and played extremely hard and aggressive. That's the thought process we have to get back to -- make it so people at least know they played us."
Within a day of officially taking over, Chestovich has been buoyed by the positive feedback he's received from friends and players, both current and former.
"I messaged them all and I got some good responses," he said. "I told them to keep their chins up and keep working. There's always going to be ups and downs, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. We're going to take it head on, try to knock down some doors and see what happens."