Behind every great man is…an even greater woman

By Gus Bode

Linda Quarless just can’t bear to watch.

Her gaze diverts from the field, up to the press box, peruses the McAndrew Stadium crowd and ultimately submerges into the palms of her shaking hands. Her trembling feet uncontrollably shake the bleachers.

The voice of her husband, third-year head SIU football coach Jan Quarless, is remarkably audible above 7,700 screaming fans even from atop the west-side bleachers. Saluki quarterback Sherard Poteete scrambles and finally rumbles across the goal line with no time remaining in regulation, sending the Salukis into overtime with Youngstown State University Saturday.


“What happened?” Linda asks the wives of the other SIU coaches as she peeks between her fingers. The thunderous roar by Saluki fans answers her question first.

The sorority of wives exchange hugs as Linda brushes away tears of joy. Amid all the excitement, the moment only strengthens her understanding that “it’s not just a game.”

For the Quarless family, football is a way of life.

“Football is his life,” said Linda about her husband of 23 years. “Even when he was a little kid, like four or five, my mother-in-law said he used to be out in 30-degree-below-zero weather playing football in two feet of snow all by himself.”

Linda, now a nurse for an otolarygologist in Herrin, and Jan both attended Iron County High School in Iron River, Mich. They both grew up in the small town just across the Wisconsin border but did not attend the same high school until their schools consolidated her sophomore, and his senior, year.

Linda remembers meeting Jan for the first time that year. She and her friends were camping in northern Michigan, when a group of her friends’ boyfriends paid the campers a visit. Linda and Jan seemed to be the only unattached teens in the bunch.

“He and I were the odd people out,” Linda said about the camping trip. “Everybody was paired up. And then after that, we kind of just had a lot in common.”


It is that common ground that preserved the marriage through 23 years of moving from Carbondale to Bowling Green, Ohio, to Lawrence, Kan., to Evanston, to Albuquerque, N.M., to Ypsilanti, Mich., to Winston-Salem, N.C., and back to Carbondale for Linda and Jan.

“You have to be really strong, or at least determined. . .knowing how focused he is,” Linda said. “He’s always known what he wants to do, where he wants to go, and very goal oriented.”

When those goals fall short, as they did in Saturday’s heartbreaking 43-37 overtime loss, Coach Q takes it personally. After the loss, he stormed out of the postgame press conference after a prompt minute and 42 seconds of fielding questions. “Guys, I don’t want to stay longer. I’m sorry, I gotta get out of here!”

“I don’t know the word to describe it,” Linda said, “but it’s a passion. People think he yells a lot. But if you look, so does Mike Ditka and so did George Halas. People look at that as a bad thing in him.

“All he wants, his main thing, is for the kids to graduate. If he didn’t win a game, and all the kids graduated, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. He really, really wants that foremost.”

In addition to increasing the student-athlete graduation rate and winning football games, Coach Q’s days are scheduled with endless recruiting, team meetings and picking apart game films, among an infinite number of other duties leaving little time for Linda and the family.

“I think Linda understands what the game means to me,” Coach Q said. “She’s been a terrific mom. She’s been a dad and a mom at the same time. That’s what’s allowed me to be really blessed.”

A self-described single parent of three, Linda raised 24-year-old Ryan, now a resident of North Carolina; Janna, a 19-year-old undecided freshman at the University of Illinois; and 8-year-old Taylor, a second grader at Giant City Elementary School in Carbondale.

On an average weekday, Jan is already in the office by the time Linda gets out of bed leaving the daily responsibility of raising Taylor solely to her.

Coach Q recognizes that as he ages, he regrets more and more that he did not spend the time that he should have with Ryan and Janna now that they have moved out of his house.

“I regret that in my three years here, I’ve only taken a week off only one time,” he said. “Maybe it is a little bit of my selfishness in trying to build a football team has not served them the right way.”

Though a father with a nine-to-five job may be a better situation for the Quarless children, they know they are fortunate to have such a self-willed, supportive mother they have.

“I never wished he was never a football coach,” Janna said. “I wouldn’t want things to change.”

In Jan’s absence, Linda finds ways to fulfill her life aside from being a mother. She is involved in Taylor’s school, work, local charities, such blood drives, and socializing with Jan’s “other wife.”

Linda jokes that her husband’s secretary, Sharon Lipe, spends more time with the coach than she usually can. Sharon is often the medium Linda uses to communicate with her husband.

When Coach Q accepted SIU’s football head coaching position in 1997, he temporarily left his family behind in North Carolina. Lipe said she did a lot of things during that time that Linda would have done as a wife. Sharon and Linda have become the best of friends because they are able to relate well to what it takes to live with the perfectionist, Coach Q.

“Just like we always joke, [Linda] already has a place in heaven because of what she has put up with through all the years,” Lipe said. “I’ve never met anyone as genuine as she is. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this lady can’t be for real.’ Nobody can be that genuine.”

Heaven definitely has a place for a woman who can understand that her husband’s love for football often takes priority over her so much so that as the due date for Janna’s birth encroached a Saluki road game, Jan, who was an assistant coach at the time, insisted he was getting on the plane and going to the game whether Janna was born or not.

Janna was born hours before the game, and sure enough, Coach Q was on the plane leaving his mother to take Linda and Janna home.

“Most of the people I know, and most of my friends, have always said, ‘I can’t believe you put up with it.’ I really do, I like it though,” Linda said. “I ought to take a long look back when and say, ‘Is this what I want to do? What do I want? What do I like?’ And it is.”

Linda spent countless, but quality, hours with Jan, typing distinct resumes to each NCAA-registered football program in the nation. SIU responded, and Coach Q accepted his first full-time coaching position in 1978 as an assistant under the school’s most prolific coach of all time, Rey Dempsey.

“I always say that if I were to drop dead somewhere, they’re never going to find me because he’s going to be in an office somewhere.”

Linda dreams about the days her family’s livelihood will not depend on wins and losses. But she knows that taking football away from him, one would have to take away his oxygen, too.

“He will probably coach until they bring him off in a box,” Linda said. “I kid you not, he likes it that much. Coaching is his life. Those kids are his life. People don’t believe that when you say that to them.”

It is not as if Jan is not grateful for his faithful, loving wife’s supportive attitude. Though they are few and far between, in Linda’s opinion, Jan will send her an occasional reminder showing his appreciation for her support.

“Through the years, he’s getting more thoughtful,” Linda said. “He’s not a romanticist. He’s just. . .football.

“A couple of times he’s said to me, ‘I know that I’m not around as much as I should be, but you’ve done a wonderful job raising the kids.’

“He’s really not a lovey-dovey, romantic person. When he does say stuff like that, it really comes from his heart. That to me, means more than to say, ‘Here’s a dozen roses.'”

And as the rain fell immediately following the Salukis’ dramatic overtime loss Saturday, Linda’s tears, which minutes earlier were joyful, were replaced by tears of torment, shock and disbelief.

Football is not merely a game it is a way of life for Linda and her family. And she was justly warned before she and Jan married.

“He said, ‘It’s God, football and then you,’ Linda said. I thought nah, it’s not going to work that way. And of course it did.”