Charlie Dowdle is back in the Catholic League.
One of the best Loyola athletes in school history, Dowdle (Class of 2012) is returning for his second season as an assistant varsity football coach at St. Ignatius. Last year, the Wolfpack (10-4) tied for the Catholic White title and advanced to the Prep Bowl final, where they lost to Simeon 19-16.
After playing tight end at University of St. Thomas, where he earned All-American honors as a senior, Dowdle spent two years chasing the NFL dream. He signed with the Chicago Bears as undrafted free agent following the 2016 NFL Draft and then joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. A Glenview native and product of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Dowdle officially retired in September.
“After Chicago, I felt like I had a lot more to give, and I knew I had room to grow,” he said. “Even though it didn’t work out with Jacksonville, it was easier to walk away.”
But football still had a hold on him.
In July, Dowdle received a phone call from St. Ignatius head coach Matt Miller, who was set to start his first season with the Wolfpack. Miller later offered him a job as the wide receivers coach.
“I’ve been lucky to play for coaches who had a big impact on me,” Dowdle said. “I felt like coaching was something I might enjoy doing someday.”
Dowdle’s first opportunity came last year when he coached running backs during St. Thomas’ spring camp. Over the summer, he helped out the Ramblers as a volunteer assistant. Loyola head coach John Holecek said he could tell Dowdle was a natural.
“He’s a student of the game,” Holecek said. “He understands the techniques and mechanics of the game. He’s also nice, polite and thoughtful. He’s got it all. Trouble is, there’s not a lot of movement on the varsity staff here, so we didn’t have an opening for him at the time.”
Knowing Dowdle’s interest in pursuing a coaching position, Holecek reached out to his contacts and eventually hooked him up with St. Ignatius. Incidentally, Holecek’s first high school coaching job was with the Wolfpack, where he worked as a varsity assistant in 2004 and 2005.
In many ways, Dowdle reminded Miller of himself. A former player at Guerin Prep and Ripon College, Miller served as the Wolfpack’s offensive coordinator for two seasons before he was hired as head coach at 28 years old. Miller said he was grateful for the referral and the possibility of adding someone of Dowdle’s pedigree to his staff.
“We got lucky,” Miller said. “He comes from outstanding high school and college programs, and he even got some NFL experience. It wasn’t a surprise that he did great job for us in his first season.”
It wasn’t easy, and the learning curve was steep at first, according to Dowdle.The Wolfpack’s flexbone triple option was an unfamiliar offense to him. Furthermore, the culture was different.
Dowdle played at a football powerhouse. During his four years, the Ramblers went 46-8 with two trips to the Class 8A semifinals and a Class 8A runner-up finish his senior season. At St. Ignatius, he joined a team that rostered 28 varsity players and never had won a state playoff game.
Miller sold Dowdle on the prospect of building a program.
“It was a completely new experience, but I loved being part of that,” Dowdle said. “At Loyola, the program was already established, and I didn’t get to see how they got there. It was exciting and challenging to be at St. Ignatius at the beginning of something.”
Dowdle said he was encouraged by what he saw from the Wolfpack last year, and he’s looking forward to making more progress this season.
“I think we set a precedent of what we expect every day from the players,” he said. “We are going to be ahead of where we started last summer, and I will have more confidence in myself as a coach.”
As for returning to Loyola, where he earned all-state honors in football and all-American honors in water polo, Dowdle didn’t want to speculate on his future. In addition to coaching at St. Ignatius, he’s living in Chicago and working full time in the marketing field.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen down the road,” he said. “I love Loyola, and I still keep up with the football program and talk to the coaches. They did a lot for me, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them. I am forever grateful for that.”