If it put a smile on a kid or a coach’s face, it would put a smile on Steve McInerney’s.
The beloved former athletic director at Oswego from 2006-2012 passed away at the age of 56 from a rare form of pancreatic cancer on April 14.
“I’ll never forget when he called me and said ‘I’ve got to talk to you,’” said Brian Cooney, the current football coach at Oswego. “He said it was important and he met with me and hired me. He talked about how happy he was and had so many kind words to say. Even after he left, he stayed in contact and was keeping tabs on the program. Unfortunately he was leaving as I was just getting started in my first year, so I didn’t get to spend more time working with him, but I’ll always remember his pride in this school and all the great things he did for the kids and athletics.”
Before coming to Oswego, McInerney spent years as a minor league baseball trainer in the late ’80s and into the ’90s. He spent some time working with Hall of Fame Tigers manager Sparky Anderson and was even awarded a 1993 World Series ring thanks to the heroics of Joe Carter and the Blue Jays. He later served as an athletic trainer at St. Charles East and St. Charles North. The Brother Rice and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale graduate is survived by his wife, Sherry, and three children.
Oswego boys basketball coach Matt Borrowman recalls a great storyteller and someone who always made time for the coaches and the student-athletes.
“You could have a two-hour conversation with him and never be bored one second of it,” Borrowman said. “He was always very visible around our team. I was coaching golf and was an assistant boys varsity coach when he was here. He used to come out to golf meets and ride around in a golf cart and get to know the kids, and the thing he taught me is, if you had a long bus ride or something with your team, you made sure you provided dinner for the kids and coaches. He made sure that was taken of. He was awesome. He was rare in that sense that he did so many things like that.”
Former boys basketball coach Kevin Schnable recalls a man who let coaches do what they were hired to do – coach.
“He never questioned our already established strong tradition in athletics,” Schnable said. “He added to the culture and pride of our program by letting coaches coach. We built trust as colleagues and friends because we were honest with each other in order to make each other better. Mac helped me improve as a coach and helped me raise the expectations and results by providing our program with opportunities and resources to move it forward to the next level of competing the month of March.”
Chad Pohlmann, who coached girls basketball during McInerney’s years at Oswego, noted the same thing.
“What I loved about Steve was that he always allowed our staff and I to coach. He had a line of ‘let the coaches coach’ and never micromanaged. He wanted to make sure we could do our jobs,” Pohlmann said. “For example, when both the girls and boys programs made it downstate in 2009 and 2010, the Friday night after the first-round games he took both teams/programs out for dinner. Players, coaches and their families were all included. He had a passion to take care of us. He had everything ready to go for the program so that we could best do our jobs. Those kinds of thing go a long way with people.”
McInerney also had a unique knack for being there after tough losses, knowing what to say and how and when to say it.
“Everybody loves a winner, but you know you got a leader and a friend in your corner after the tough ones,” Schnable said. “The state championship loss comes to mind, he wouldn’t let me feel defeated and reminded me that I owed it to our players and fans to celebrate ‘Panther Pride.’”
He will always be a Panther.
“We’d stay in touch and he’d always reply back with a memory of his time at Oswego,” Borrowman said. “Once a Panther, always a Panther. That’s Mac. He had an incredible personality and will be missed.”
“As our relationship developed I found myself going into see him and just talking about whatever,” Pohlmann said, “Sometimes it was not even about sports or our programs. It could have been about politics, family or leadership. I miss those conversations.”
And Mac will be missed by many.