Boudreau Was The Right Choice For Leathernecks


You have to know Chad Boudreau’s roots to understand.

Boudreau grew up in Farmington, Iowa, a town with a population of just under 600 people. He graduated from Harmony High School, which closed in 2016.

Back in the late 1980s, when Boudreau was a sophomore at Harmony, his dad talked about moving to Quincy, Ill. Boudreau had attended basketball camps at Quincy High School and was fascinated with the program’s success under legendary coach Jerry Leggett.

“My dad said, ‘What do you want to do? Let’s do it. I’ve got a job, we can do it,'” Boudreau said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t. I want to win a championship. I want to go the state tournament at Harmony High School. It’s never been done.'”

Harmony played in the 1991 state tournament when Boudreau was a senior. It was the only boys basketball tournament appearance in school history.

Boudreau mentioned that during his introductory press conference as Western Illinois University new men’s basketball coach, and it was a good explanation of what he expects out of his new job.

The Leathernecks have never been to an NCAA men’s tournament at the Division I level. They’re coming off back-to-back 16-win seasons with Rob Jeter as head coach and Boudreau as his associate head coach, a two-year stretch that hasn’t been seen since 2012-13.

So, go back to that state tournament run at Harmony, and now see what Boudreau sees.

“It was amazing,” Boudreau said Thursday. “Nobody expected us to do it. I expected us to do that then, I expect us to do that now.

“And I want to do something special.”

Western Illinois athletics director Paul Bubb had options when word got out Friday that Jeter was taking the head coaching job at Southern Utah.

Bubb is a veteran AD, so he has that break-the-glass list of candidates for head coaching candidates should an opening arise. And it didn’t take long for him to get calls from interested coaches, or someone wanting to recommend someone for the job.

Boudreau had his own options. He could stay and apply to be the head coach. He could go with Jeter to Southern Utah. Or he could start applying for openings elsewhere.

Bubb’s choice was Boudreau. Boudreau’s choice was to stay.

“My question was, was he going to go with (Jeter) or could I convince him to stay here?” Bubb said. “I didn’t have to convince him, because this is where he wants to be.

“A lot of coaches look at jobs like this as stepping stones, whether they’re trying to get back into (coaching), get their careers going again, or jump-start young careers. To me, somebody who wants to be here, and doesn’t look at this as a stepping stone, but as a lifestyle, a place they want to be because they want the same pride they have in this area to be felt by everybody else, that is so important to me.”

The Western Illinois job was a major rebuilding task for Jeter and Boudreau in 2020, when they took over at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They had to construct a new roster with the NCAA’s limitations on recruiting because of the pandemic, and then try to build a program in a state that had some of the toughest COVID restrictions.

Three years later, the Leathernecks finished fourth in the Summit League after being as high as second place in early February.

Bubb didn’t want to give up on that momentum. And so he knew the right option was already in Western Hall.

“I do believe the chemistry, the relationships (Boudreau) has with the players, that does exist, and he’s looking forward to keeping that moving forward,” Bubb said.

Boudreau expects most, if not all, of the current returning roster to stay. Two starters are coming back — guard Quinlan Bennett and forward Jesiah West — as well as K.J. Lee, a key bench piece.

Boudreau, who has head coaching experience at the junior-college level to go with his Division I experience at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Western Illinois, knows he has to fill some roster holes and create more depth. He announced during his press conference that he already has gotten one player — Joe Petrakis, a 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from Illinois State.

Western Illinois is not an easy job in a highly-competitive Summit League. There is more money and better facilities around the conference, and putting together a consistent winner is a challenge that only Jack Margenthaler in the 1980s, Jim Kerwin in the mid-1990s and Jim Molinari in the mid-2010s have solved.

But, go back to Harmony High School. Go back to the roots. It’s where Boudreau learned how to deal with the challenge he’ll face.

“When I took (the associate head coach’s job in 2020), I got just as many texts as I got now, saying, ‘What are you doing?’ Boudreau said. “I said, ‘It’s home. I’m proud of where I’m from.’ And I think I’ve articulated that. I’m very proud of where I’m from. And because of that, that’s going to boil over to who I am as a head coach. I want to represent the Tri-State area. I want to win. I want to bring excitement. I want people in Macomb to be excited. I want everyone around us to be excited.”

Photo: New Western Illinois head men’s basketball Chad Boudreau speaks during Thursday’s press conference.

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