Olson father-son duo finds success at Niles North

Niles North head coach Glenn Olson (left) and his father Don (right) coaching the Vikings' practice Wednesday (Brent Schwartz/MEDILL).

By Brent Schwartz

“Let’s go!” shouted Niles North head coach Glenn Olson, urging one of his scrimmage teams to push the floor during an intense practice. He is often animated, but focused when running practice, keeping his players on their toes.

After practice, Glenn addressed his team with a sense confidence.

“A lot of you guys have never cut down nets before,” said Glenn Olson. “I have. I can help you get there.”

Standing by the team huddle was Glenn’s father, Don Olson. Don is more than just a proud parent. He serves as Glenn’s assistant, continuing a long career in coaching.

There was a part of Don in Glenn’s speech. After all, Glenn grew up watching Don inspire his own players over the years. Like father, like son.

“Glenn used to come watch my practices, and say, ‘This is what I want to do,’” said Don Olson. “He has unbelievable passion for the game.”

Don, known as “Papa O,” spent 35 years coaching high school baseball and football, and was inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993, for his years coaching Maine East baseball.

“Just watching him coach with intensity taught me a lot,” said Glenn Olson. “My dad always taught players to do the right thing, and they really respected him.”

Since Don’s background isn’t in basketball, his role is monitoring intangibles, such as effort, from the sidelines. With Glenn roaming the court teaching players the X’s and O’s of the game, Don sits back and monitors players who aren’t hustling, and calls them out.

“I just come in and lower the hoops, and sit here and watch,” said Don. “That’s the beauty of my position.”

Don has done more than just watch in his 10 seasons helping Glenn coach basketball at both Niles North, and Maine East. In between practice drills, Don talks to players who he sees are in need of a pep talk.

“I asked my dad to come back, not just to spend more time with him, but because I knew he would help,” said Glenn Olson. “He’s like our team psychologist. He just gets kids. He gets it.”

After junior guard Ryan Murphy went through a spurt in scrimmage scoring baskets and playing tight man-to-man defense, Don shared his thoughts.

“If 21 [Murphy] can play this whole season like he has these past five minutes, we’ll be in good shape,” said Don Olson, while sitting in his usual spot, in a folded chair on the sidelines.

What is most impressive about Don Olson is his ability to rattle off facts. During practice, Don wrote down the records of all eight seasons during his son’s tenure at Niles North, as well as remember tidbits from each game.

“You’ll like this kid,” said Don Olson, pointing out the Vikings’ star player, junior guard Damaria Franklin. “As a sophomore in his first regional game against Libertyville, he had 14 points in the first quarter.”

It is remembering those statistical nuggets, and his ability to observe every player on the court using his coaching experience and wits, while his son is focused on drills, that make him a valuable cog in the program.

The relationship between the Olsons and continuity within the coaching staff has created a dynamic that fits.

Upon arriving to Niles North, the Vikings had not been to a regional championship in 36 years. In his eighth season with Niles North, Glenn Olson has won three regional championships, with help from his father and Drase.

Glenn’s other assistant coach, George Drase, has coached with the Olsons at both Maine East and Niles North.

“Working with the Olsons has been more fun than I ever imagined,” said Drase. “I love Coach O’s energy and enthusiasm. Papa O’s realism has kept me sane for the past 15 years. It’s been nice because I fall right between them age wise so I get the best of both worlds.”

Photo at top: Niles North head coach Glenn Olson (left) and his father Don (right) coaching the Vikings’ practice Wednesday. (Brent Schwartz/MEDILL).