ROBINSON -- Wherever Tim Nolen coached, football success followed right behind. 

Over the course of his 40 years of coaching, he led Villa Grove, Mount Zion and Robinson to a conference championship. 

But after 10 seasons at Robinson, Nolen decided recently to resign from his position as football coach. 

Although he might not be coaching next season, Nolen hasn't totally closed the door on walking the sidelines again. 

"I don’t know if I’m necessarily retired yet, I may coach again, but right now I’m resigned," he said. "(Having time off) is going to be interesting and I’m sure I’ll find something to do."

He had decided to retire from teaching at the end of the academic year, but was unsure if that included coaching. However, following his team's last game against Trenton Wesclin he let his team know his decision.  

"This was going to be my last year of teaching," Nolen said. "I really wasn’t planning on necessarily retiring from coaching, but I just decided the time was right and I wanted to do it right after our last game to tell the players myself and let the school get on with whatever procedures they needed to get on with in finding a new coach."

Nolen's tenure at Robinson included four consecutive playoff appearances from 2011-14 and a trip to the Class 3A quarterfinals in 2014. 

But since that season, the Maroons' program has had difficulty continuing to grow. 

"Our first seven years were very good years and through those years we went from five wins to six wins to eight wins to 10 wins. We brought playoff football back to Robinson and I’m very proud and very happy about that," Nolen said. "Unfortunately after the 2014 season when we went to the quarterfinals, our participation has dropped off. In the last three years we have really struggled because we just haven’t had enough numbers to compete with the people we are playing against. The last three years have been frustrating, but I have really enjoyed these last 10 years of coaching at Robinson. It has been a very rewarding experience for me."

Nolen began his coaching career at Newton in 1982 before moving to Villa Grove for the 1984 season and then two assistant coaching stops in college at Wittenborg University and Eastern Illinois. 

Nolen returned to prep football by taking the coaching job at Mount Zion in 1994, where he stayed for 14 seasons. 

"Mount Zion is just a special place and you are lucky if you get a chance to coach there," he said. "It was really a lot of fun to coach there and we had some really good teams and some really good players."

Ben Davis, Mount Zion's athletic director, served as Nolen's assistant coach with the Braves and learned a lot from him. 

"(Tim) is so passionate about the game," he said. "The biggest thing that jumps off my plate that I learned from him was how thoroughly prepared his teams were. He dotted every ‘i’, crossed every ‘t.’ He was also very good at seeing the big picture of what his program needed and was constantly self-evaluating himself and the program."

In 2008, Nolen left Mount Zion to take the Robinson coaching job which was a return to his roots.  

"Robinson is my hometown and they asked me to come back there and I really had no intention of leaving Mount Zion. I was at a great job, at a great school, and we had had success there," he said. "It was just a great challenge for them to ask me to come back and try to get (Robinson) back to where the program was at one time."

Nolen's success at multiple schools led to his induction to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. He finished his career with a 169-138 career record.

"This year was my 40th straight coaching and my 50th straight of being on a football team, going back to junior high through high school and through college in some capacity," he said. "It doesn’t seem that long but I guess that is what people always say when they stop doing something that is the only thing they have ever done."   

Nolen has seen a lot of changes in the high school game but none greater than the advances in technology. 

"One of my jobs at Newton was to drive over to Effingham after the game and take our game film to the airport and then on Sunday night I would drive back over and meet the airplane as it landed and we had all of our game film developed," he said. "It was 16mm film and so we didn’t get a chance to see our game film until Sunday night and now we’ve progressed to where we have just couple of computer clicks and we are seeing everything we want to see and that has really been a tremendous plus for us."

If this does prove to be his final stop as a coach, Nolen's career was certainly a remarkable one. 

"This was all I ever wanted to do was coach football and I was a very lucky guy that I got to do what I wanted to do for 40 straight years at four different high schools and two different universities," he said. "I feel very blessed that I got to do that and it’s not just been my job, it has been my passion and I’ve had a lot of great assistant coaches and great players and I have really enjoyed every place I’ve been." 

mflaten@herald-review.com | (217) 421-6968

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Sports Writer

Sports writer for the Herald & Review.

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