J.R. Bishop, football coach who brought pass-oriented offenses to Naperville Central, Wheaton College, dies at 84
J.R. Bishop built winning football programs at schools including Naperville Central High School and Wheaton College, coaching athletes including future Super Bowl winner Sean Payton.
“Coach Bishop could see potential in people and programs that others could not see,” said Centre College football offensive coordinator Rick Fox, who played for Bishop at Naperville Central and at Wheaton College.
Bishop, 84, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on June 21 at his St. Charles home, said his son, Keith.
Born Jarvis Bishop in tiny Oakland City, Indiana, Bishop played baseball, football and basketball at nearby Princeton Community High School. He received a bachelor’s degree from Franklin College in central Indiana, where he played football.
Bishop taught English and was the head football coach at Franklin High School and then at Lawrence Community High School in Indianapolis, where he led the team to a 73-27 record over 10 seasons that included an undefeated season in 1974.
In 1979, Bishop moved to Naperville Central High School, bringing a pass-oriented offense with him. Over three seasons, his teams averaged a state-leading 30-plus passes per game, and in 1981 the school made it to the state playoffs for the first time since 1975 after finishing second in the DuPage Valley Conference and ending the season with a 9-2 record. Payton, who graduated in 1982, went on to be the longtime head coach for the New Orleans Saints.
“The success that he’s had does not surprise me,” Bishop said of Payton in a Tribune interview during a Saints playoff run in 2007. “The way he was as a player, the way he was as a coach early on and through his career. … I would have bet the bank five years ago that he’d be a head coach in the NFL.”
Bishop left Naperville Central to take over as head coach of the beleaguered Wheaton College football program, which had gone 5-22 in the three seasons preceding his arrival. He was the college’s fourth head coach in four years.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t interested in leaving Naperville at all,” Bishop told the Tribune in 1982. “But in the course of a week’s time I met with 20 people, and I felt I should go. The thing that appealed to me was the chance to coach in a Christian environment.”
Bishop promised to bring his pass-oriented offensive style to Wheaton as well, telling the Tribune that “we’re going to put the ball in the air. We’ll drop back, we’ll sprint out, we’ll play-action.”
In his first season, the team had a record of 2-7, followed by 6-3 records in the next two seasons, which were the school’s first winning seasons in five years.
“He was way ahead of his time in regard to the passing game,” Fox said. “His playbook was relatively simple — thus his athletes could execute at a high level and play fast — but was well coordinated and had answers for whatever the opponents presented.”
Over his 14 seasons as Wheaton’s head football coach, Bishop’s teams posted a record of 84-43-1. He was named the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Coach of the Year in 1991 and in 1995, when his squad won its first conference title since 1959 and reached the NCAA’s Division III playoffs for the first time.
Bishop’s teams at Wheaton also led the NCAA Division III in passing four times.
Jeff Brown, who was Wheaton’s quarterback on the 1995 conference-winning team, likened Bishop to legendary Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry.
“He was not that domineering yeller coach but instead one who was in charge, and one who was humble and collaborative,” Brown said. “He brought a really revolutionary offense to the game and started hanging up a lot of stats and scores and subsequently wins, and I think that attracted a lot of talented kids to Wheaton.”
Fox attributed Bishop’s coaching success to a personality that combined several important traits.
“His secret recipe for impacting was his ability to blend the warmth of an engaging personality, a humor that forced people to drop their defenses and his high expectations that demanded the best from himself and others,” Fox said.
After stepping down as Wheaton’s head football coach in 1995, Bishop stayed on as the program’s offensive coordinator until 2005, Keith Bishop said. In retirement, Bishop for six years continued to run a large summer football camp in Indianapolis he had founded that first was known as the Passing Clinic and later became the Bishop Dullaghan Football Camp, his son said.
In addition to his son, Bishop is survived by his wife of 63 years, Janet; a daughter, Cheryl Royce; and three grandchildren.
Services were held.
Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.
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