April 25, 2019
The former LaGrange Park resident and NFL ‘sack tasker’ is Fenwick’s newest inductee into the Chicago Catholic League Coaches’ Hall of Fame.
By Mark Vruno
Fenwick Fact: Highly acclaimed Defensive Line Coach John Teerlinck ’69 is the only Friars’ alumnus with three Super Bowl rings from the National Football League (NFL). Teerlinck knows how to creatively apply pressure — in a football context, that is.
Teaching elite athletes the proper techniques needed to effectively rush the passer is his specialty, and the coach excelled at the collegiate and highest professional level. Teerlinck has coached in 32 NFL playoff games, including six AFC Championship Games and four Super Bowls.
He is one of only 23 coaches to win a Super Bowl with more than one team: two back to back with the Denver Broncos (1997 and 1998) in the John Elway era and one with the Indianapolis Colts (2006) in the Peyton Manning era. (“Sorry, Bears fans,” jokes Teerlinck, whose family moved when he was eight years old from upstate New York to suburban LaGrange Park, IL.)
In recognition of his sideline accomplishments, this evening the Chicago Catholic League (CCL) will induct Teerlinck, its native son, into the 2019 Coaches Association HALL OF FAME class. Many football observers refer to Coach “Link” as the GOAT: the greatest defensive line coach of all time. The “John Teerlinck Award” is given annually to the best defensive line coach in the NFL.
“Coach Teerlinck has coached many former teammates of mine, and we have friends in common from throughout our professional careers,” says Gene Nudo, Fenwick’s present Head Coach, who was a coach and executive in the Arena Football League before joining the Friars in 2012. “It surprised me to learn that this great coach was an alum of Fenwick. He, like so many others, has done the ‘Shield’ proud with his many professional achievements,” which is what led Nudo to nominate Teerlinck for the CCL HOF honor.
When he played defensive line for Fenwick in the 1967 and ’68 seasons, the Fighting Friars’ varsity went a combined 10-5. After a 7-2 junior campaign, a 3-5 record as a senior was disappointing. The defensive unit gave up a respectable 15.5 points per game (ppg) in the autumn of 1968. However, an anemic offense could muster only nine touchdowns all year for a paltry average of 7.25 ppg. Teerlinck was an All-Conference selection and went on to become an All-American for the Western Illinois University (Macomb, IL) Leathernecks. “We used to get New York Giants games at Western and I’d watch No. 89, Fred Dryer, and copy his moves,” Teerlinck told Chicago Tribune writer Don Pierson in a 1992 article.
A member of Western Illinois University’s Hall of Fame (inducted in 2000), Teerlinck was a team co-captain and defensive MVP as a senior in 1973. He was the first WIU player ever to record four sacks in a single game and still remains one of only four Leathernecks to ever accomplish that feat.
Teaching the Art of the Sack
In 1974 he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers (fifth round, 101st overall pick) and started as a rookie. Teerlinck played four seasons, on the other side of ball from an offense led by future Pro Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts, until a severe knee injury led to his early retirement as a player. “When I played for the Chargers, I’d get updates on Fenwick and Chicago three to four times a year from referee Jerry Markbreit, who coached in the Catholic League,” Teerlinck said. (Markbreit is a fellow CCL Hall of Famer.)
Some of football’s best quarterbacks feared many of the defensive linemen who trained under Teerlinck’s tutelage during nearly four decades spent coaching college and pro football. With four pro teams – the Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, Broncos and Colts — his players either set the record or came in second in total sacks.
Coach Teerlinck, who now is retired and recently celebrated his 68th birthday, stands 6’5” but many of his star speed rushers over the years were not quite as tall (see below). He coached 31 Pro Bowl (All-Star) players, including four defensive MVPs:
Michael Dean Perry, AFC Defensive Player of the Year (’89), Cleveland Browns. Out of Clemson, the Fridge’s younger, “little” brother, who is 6’1” and weighed 285 pounds, tallied 61 career sacks.
Chris Doleman, NFC Defensive POY (’92), Minnesota Vikings. At 6’5” 290 lbs., he was a tall one. Doleman played collegiately at Pittsburgh, then registered 150.5 sacks during his NFL career.
John Randle, Minnesota Vikings; NFL sack leader in ’97; 137.5 career sacks. Randle stood only 6’1” and struggled to get his weight up to 275 lbs. College(s): Trinity Valley Community College and Texas A&M University – Kingsville (Div. II).
Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts; 125.5 career sacks and a “patented” spin move. At 6’1” 270 lbs., he sprinted 120 feet in 4.48 seconds at the NFL Combine in 2002. The freakish athlete also could leap up to 40 inches vertically. College: Syracuse. (Freeney was a four-sport athlete in high school, playing football, basketball, baseball and soccer!)
During his tenure, Teerlinck coached seven players (Bubba Baker, Doleman, Freeney, Kevin Greene, Robert Mathis, Randle and Neil Smith) to reach 100 career sacks: the ultimate benchmark for a defensive lineman. Both Doleman and Randle have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF). Teerlinck became only the ninth assistant coach selected to present a player at a HOF induction when he presented Randle in 2010.
His players remember their coach as an unconventional teacher who believed in their abilities and who also helped to motivate them to reach their potential. “John Teerlinck is kind of like Mr. Miyagi [the character in the ‘Karate Kid’ movies],” John Randle has said. “He’s very unorthodox: a different breed; rough around the edges. He tells you things that are funny, but they register if you just listen. That’s why he’s the guru.”
Here’s how Randle began his HOF acceptance speech in 2010: “First of all, I want to thank John Teerlinck for presenting me, motivating me, focusing me on the game that I love. I also want to say, John, thank you for saying I could excel and play in the National Football League, even though I wasn’t drafted, didn’t play for a major school. Also thank you for showing me what sometimes I didn’t see in myself.”
A Proud Friar
Before coaching in college and the pros, however, Teerlinck was just proud to be a Fenwick Friar. “Going to Fenwick was a big deal,” he recalled last week from his home in Indiana. Literally thousands of boys would take the admissions test in those days, he said. “Only three of nine [boys] from my school got in,” remembers the straight-A student from St. Louise de Marillac. “About 150 guys would try out for football in those days.” Youthful John is pictured among the 47 new Friars in his freshman Blackfriars yearbook (1965-66) photograph. (The team finished 3-2-1.)