John Jackson was one of those guys who took a little while to get to know.
That’s what happened to me after he was hired as Plainfield’s head football coach in 1997. But like a lot of interesting people, once you got to know him well, then you learned that his tough exterior only briefly hid what many soon learned was a deeply caring inside.
John recently passed away from cancer at the age of 58. He still had the fire that he carried throughout his 35 years of coaching, but the terrible disease often shows no mercy.
This past week, he was remembered in Plainfield for his dedication to the many students and athletes that he cared so much about during his years at what is now the Central Campus.
He attended both high school and college in downstate Jacksonville. But the old-school coach with the tough approach also will be remembered for being a key figure in Plainfield.
During a time when the original Plainfield High School was getting split three times with the creation of South, North and East high schools, John was one of the constants.
For most of his 19 years of leading the Wildcats, he put competitive teams on the field. He took seven squads to the IHSA playoffs and had three teams that won conference titles.
Shortly after coming to Plainfield after his head coaching debut at Collinsville, he had his most success. From 1999 to 2002, the Wildcats went 33-10 and made four playoff trips.
No one from Plainfield from that era will ever forget his 2000 squad, which won its first 11 games and reached the Class 6A quarterfinals before dropping a tough loss to eventual state runner-up Glenbard North.
I wasn’t surprised that John was a good coach, since he had been a defensive coordinator for many years at Naperville North with his longtime friend Larry McKeon, the Joliet Catholic graduate and former Wildcat coach who recommended him for the PHS job.
John definitely was a throwback who probably would have loved working in an earlier era.
But he adapted to the times and proved to be a very deserving candidate for induction into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in April.
Due to all of the losses of both talent and staff as a result of the splits, the last few years at Central were tough ones with not many wins. But as I told him in his last season there, I thought he had done some of his best coaching when he had little to work with.
Besides being recognized as an outstanding social studies teacher, another of John’s qualities was that he was someone who could be relied upon to get something done correctly. He was skilled at announcing wrestling tournaments, assuring that they ran smoothly.
As someone who has learned a lot about and publicized the rich history of Plainfield Central athletics, there’s no doubt in my mind that John ranks among the many influential coaches who enjoyed long careers there. The legacy that he left will be remembered for some time.