Brad Spencer feels like a natural fit in his new job as North Central College football’s 26th head coach in program history, despite the fact he didn’t see it coming so soon.
“It’s the natural next step, I suppose,” Spencer said. “It was always going to be a surprise when someone has been somewhere for 20 years.”
That someone is Jeff Thorne, who as leader of the Cardinals program put them into the conversation as one of the best in the country by winning a Division III national championship in 2019 followed by a runner-up finish in 2021 in addition to 12 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin titles.
While it was a surprise to see Thorne go after such a long time at North Central, first as offensive coordinator than head coach, Spencer’s time with the Cardinals stretches back even further. A 2004 North Central graduate, Spencer was a record-breaking receiver during his playing career before immediately joining the Cardinals’ coaching staff under Jeff’s father, John Thorne, following graduation. Spencer could have left at some point, too, but at each juncture has felt that staying was the right decision.
“I was never in a rush to go off to other places,” Spencer said. “I’ve had opportunities here and there and just really enjoyed the culture and environment here at North Central and within the football program. I love our young men and the type of guys that we’ve been able to recruit here and didn’t ever really see a need to leave that.”
Spencer spent 11 years as the team’s wide receivers coach, before graduating to offensive coordinator and assistance head coach in 2015. He knows North Central football better than anyone, which may make him uniquely qualified to handle being thrust into the spotlight of his new role.
“I think being able to be here from the start, having John Thorne hire me in 2004, being a captain for him before that, I got to see everything from the ground up,” he said. “Being able to see the process of building, what it takes to develop great young men, to win football games, and to be champions on and off the field is a unique situation. You don’t see it across the country really at any level of college football where somebody has been at a place or stop as long as I have at North Central.”
Becoming North Central’s head coach is not simply the end point of Spencer’s North Central story, but the next chapter in a long family history. Spencer’s grandfather graduated from North Central in the early 1940’s and his father recently retired after 40 years spent as the College’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement. Add Brad’s 22 years on campus, and the sum total is that this is much more than just a promotion.
“I’ve grown up on the campus,” Spencer said. “Certainly there’s a lot of pride…there’s blood in the bricks and I feel like I’ve been part of the building here with the Thorne’s. You just want to continue that on.”