Former Mount Carmel football coach Frank Lenti invited reporters to his house Thursday in South Holland.
Lenti, who is recovering from hip surgery, sat at his dining room table and told the story of what happened Dec. 28, when the Mount Carmel administration pushed him out.
‘‘I don’t want to hurt the school,’’ Lenti said. ‘‘I don’t want to hurt the program. I don’t want to hurt [new coach] Jordan [Lynch]. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just want to be able to tell my version of the story.’’
Lenti said Mount Carmel president Ned Hughes gave him a copy of the news release that said he was retiring.
‘‘They told me [Lynch] was in, and I was out,’’ Lenti said. ‘‘I looked at the [news] release and said: ‘I’m not retiring. You are in charge of the school. If you want to fire me, that is your prerogative.’ ’’
Lenti said he offered to mentor Lynch for a year, but Hughes said no. The news release also said Lenti would remain employed at the school in the development department, but he has decided to resign from that position.
‘‘I signed a separation agreement with the school [Wednesday night],’’ Lenti said. ‘‘I’m not an employee after Feb. 7.’’
Lenti, a 1969 Mount Carmel graduate, is the winningest football coach in Illinois history (374-77). He has won 11 state championships, had a streak of 11 consecutive Catholic League championships and won six Prep Bowl titles. He was hired in 1984.
Lenti said he is hurt and puzzled by the school’s decision to push him out.
‘‘I was part of the school for 40 years,’’ Lenti said. ‘‘Our staff coached 451 games in 34 years and never had a three-game losing streak.
‘‘The biggest thing is there is a sadness because I know I won’t have a chance to make a positive impact on the kids. There has been a lot of emotional distress. I’m disheartened, angry, still running the gamut.’’
Lenti received several high-profile job offers through the years, but he always stayed loyal to Mount Carmel. He even turned down Lou Holtz and Notre Dame twice.
Even now, Lenti said he is best-suited to the high school level.
‘‘I view myself as making a greater impact on kids at the high school age,’’ Lenti said. ‘‘Football was a vehicle to making our kids better. We teach our youngsters about life through football.’’
Lenti has another hip surgery planned in the spring but is open to a coaching position next fall.
‘‘I do not feel like I’m done coaching,’’ he said.
Lenti has returned to Mount Carmel once since he was let go. He spoke with his seniors and with Lynch. He clearly still loves the school and wishes Lynch success, but he also has a point to make.
‘‘Sometimes people take success for granted,’’ Lenti said.