Randy Asche has been the coach of – and face of – Eastland-Pearl City football for the past decade, having led the program to the ultimate heights.
The veteran coach has called it quits after 11 seasons at the Wildcatz’s helm, where he amassed an 84-33 record that included three consecutive undefeated regular seasons, capped by the Class 2A state championship in 2014.
“It’s just time,” Asche said of his resignation. “I’ve been thinking about it for a little while now, with more demands at work and needing to be available to do more in my job. I just can’t commit the time that coaching football really needs.”
Asche, a former dairy farmer, is the head of customer service at Lanark Ag, and felt that the responsibilities in his day job were affecting his performance for his night gig.
“My head’s not in it as much as it should be when I’m coaching,” Asche said. “I have to give the final answer on everything related to customer service and sales [at Lanark Ag], and it’s time to become the coach there instead of on the football field.”
Asche took over the EPC program from Bill Johnson in 2007 and continued to build the perennial playoff contender. The Wildcatz made the playoffs in all but one of Asche’s years as head coach, but lost in the first round five of those 10 seasons.
This fall, EPC finished 5-4 before losing to eventual 2A state champ Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 50-14 in the first round.
“I was a little disappointed in this past season, because these kids are better than 5-5,” Asche said. “They’re great kids with a lot of talent who work their butts off for me, and I don’t want them to suffer because I’m not all-in all the time. It’s time to get out when you start underachieving, and I didn’t think I was being fair to the kids.”
The Wildcatz won the NUIC Northwest title in 2010, ’12, ’13 and ’14, and didn’t lose a regular-season game from 2012-14. The 2012 season ended with a first-round playoff loss, then 2013 was halted in the second round by a Newman team that eventually won the 2A state title.
But in 2014, EPC finally got over the hump. With a talented, experienced group of senior leaders, the Wildcatz ran the table that fall, culminating in a 41-12 rout of Maroa-Forsyth in the 2A state championship game.
“You could coach 30 years and never have another team like that one,” Asche said. ”It’s been a hell of a run from where we started to where we built this program. Over the years we maybe beat some team that we shouldn’t have and also lost to some teams we shouldn’t have, but I always went to bed knowing that the better team had won that night, and that I did the best I could to get the kids prepared.”
Eastland athletic director Scott Hartman knows the co-op has no easy task in replacing Asche, and said the players are the ones who will miss him the most.
“The kids loved Randy’s energy, and they’d run through a brick wall for him. A lot of them are crushed right now,” Hartman said. “He put the program on his shoulders and ran with it, took full responsibility in the down times and gave the kids all the credit in the up times, and they loved him and worked hard for him and played hard for him.”
Asche’s son, Peyton, was a senior this past season, and will suit up for Illinois State starting next fall. The ability to watch Peyton’s games played a small part – one of “hundreds of little reasons I could give you” for stepping down, according to Randy – and also looks forward to some more free time to pursue other interests, including big-game hunting.
He says he’d love to stay involved with the EPC program, mainly to continue building relationships through the game he loves.
“I’ll always remember the relationships; they’re special to me, the best part of this, and that’s the biggest reason I’m sad to be leaving,” Asche said. “When you’re not around the kids everyday, you don’t get that opportunity, and that’s tough because it was always special with the kids. every year a group would come through and impact this program, always do everything I asked of them.
“That camaraderie and those relationships with the great kids, great parents, and great fans, that’s what I’m saddest right now. But it’s time for me to go, and I want to make sure this current group gets the best opportunity to succeed.”
EPC will lose only five seniors to graduation, so that success may come very quickly.
“The cupboard is definitely not bare,” Hartman said. “Randy built this program back up, and he’s leaving it in a very good position. Whoever fills in for jim with keep moving in the right direction.”
Hartman said that the principals at both Eastland and Pearl City will start the search for a new coach together, and that both school boards will be involved in the process of hiring Asche’s replacement.
Record: 84-33 in 11 seasons
Conference titles: 2010, ’12, ’13, ’14
Playoff appearances: 10 (9-9 record)
FYI: Led EPC to 2A state title in 2014. … Had three straight undefeated regular seasons from 2012-14. … Lost in playoffs to eventual state champion in 2009 (Morrison), ’11 (Morrison), ’13 (Newman) & ’17 (Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley).