Paul Adams taught a generation of Deerfield High School students how to be winners both as a football coach and teacher.
As the Warriors football coach from 1966-92, Adams compiled a 220-56 record, according to IHSA records. He coached Deerfield to the Class 5A state championship in 1975 and finished second three times in the next decade. Deerfield plays its home games at Adams Field in his honor.
Adams, a Waukegan native who lived in Deerfield for more than 50 years, died of natural causes while hospitalized Thursday, according to his son, Alex Adams. Paul Adams was 82.
Jamie Harrington, who was Adams’ defensive coordinator from 1973 to 1979, said Adams instilled the feeling in all of his players that they could win every game. Usually, they did.
Harrington said Adams prepared meticulously for every game by watching hours of the opponents’ game film and then diagramming every play. He always knew what would be coming, and he used that to teach his players what it took to be a winner.
“He was a master motivator,” Harrington said. “He would pick a game during the season and tell the kids football was like having a son. A team was like that because you share the same value and beliefs. Kids could really relate to that. He instilled the feeling you were going to win somehow.”
Harrington went on to be the head coach at Loyola and Stagg, but he returned to Deerfield as an assistant coach in 1992. He took over for Adams as the head coach the following year.
Adams was also a mentor to current Deerfield football coach Steve Winiecki, who replaced Harrington in 1999. Adams coached Winiecki in clinics years before the latter would become the head coach himself.
Winiecki credited Adams for the Warriors’ success today.
“The whole cachet of what Deerfield football is today is because of Paul Adams,” Winiecki said. “He created the expectations we have today. Every season we set the goal of making the playoffs. I’m very proud to be part of the tradition Paul Adams started.”
Though Alex Adams and his brother, Michael Adams, both played football for their father at Deerfield, Alex Adams said football came second to Paul Adams after his family. That was magnified when Adams’ grandchildren were born.
“Family was everything for him. He always said, ‘A family takes care of each other, stays together and loves each other,’ ” Alex Adams recalled, with fond memories of how Paul Adams loved his grandchildren. “He would just glow.”
Paul Adams was born July 10, 1936, in Waukegan. He attended Waukegan High School, then played four years of football at Illinois. His roommate was Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, who starred for the Green Bay Packers.
“I remember the times (Nitschke) came to the house,” Alex Adams said.
Alex Adams said his father had the chance to play pro football but chose to join the U.S. Army instead. He was discharged in 1961 as a second lieutenant.
“That’s where he learned his leadership skills,” Alex Adams said.
After leaving the Army, he took a teaching job at Highland Park High School before transferring to Deerfield, where he both taught and coached.
In addition to his sons, Adams is survived by his wife of 52 years, Adriane (Margas) Adams, and two grandchildren.
Visitation is scheduled from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Kelley & Spalding Funeral Home in Highland Park. The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Libertyville.
Steve Sadin is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.