It's been an interesting few months for high school football coaches in Trumbull County.
Legendary coaches like Bill Bohren at LaBrae and Dick Angle at Howland stepped down, and some up-and-comers (Brian Jones at Liberty and Joe Stevens at Mineral Ridge) left suddenly. The departures, which came at schools with great tradition, should make for a very interesting 2013 season for teams with a lot of talent returning.
Howland and Liberty are coming off playoff appearances. Mineral Ridge narrowly missed out on the postseason, and while LaBrae endured a down year, the Vikings lost five games by a touchdown or less and bring back marquee players in Peyton Aldridge and Marcell Richardson.
The biggest question mark for these four schools is how will they endure change. A new coach brings different philosophies, terminology, rules and personality. That's a lot to endure for high school kids - more than people realize.
If the coach built a good relationship with his players, there's a good chance the kids are going to be disappointed in his decision. Considering all four of these coaches enjoyed success at some point, I'm going to say there was a good player-coach bond. Losing that friendship can create frustration within the team and ultimately result in a bad offseason, or no offseason at all. Not to sound like Dr. Phil, but kids can feel disrespected and abandoned during that time, which can detract from their motivation to improve for the upcoming season.
That's a battle incoming coaches are going to have to deal with, whether they like it or not. In talking with countless first-year coaches over the years, winning over the team, from a personal standpoint, is usually the first order of business. The kids have to believe this "stranger" is the person who can blend everyone's talents together and build a winner.
Different coaches do this in different ways. Some focus on the years of success they enjoyed at other programs, while others infuse energy into the program by showcasing elaborate formations and a confidence that spills over onto the players. Either way, the goal is the same: earn their trust. If the players believe in the coaching staff, there can be a seamless transition and immediate results.
Jones is a good example of that at Liberty. The 26-year-old was in his first job as a head coach and used his knowledge from a four-year stint as a grad assistant at Youngstown State University to implement a new offense and defense. It worked. A team that went 0-10 in 2011 finished 9-3 in 2012, won the All-American Conference's National Division and beat Streetsboro in the first round of the Division IV playoffs.
It's unlikely that type of turnover will occur in Howland with first-year coach Dominic Menendez. He was on Angle's staff for the last 15 years, and unless he feels major changes are needed, there's a good chance the defensive-minded Tigers won't reinvent the wheel.
At LaBrae, John Armeni, a 2000 Chaney High School graduate, could go in either direction. While Bohren has a solid foundation built for the Vikings, the 29-year-old Armeni could try and utilize his own tactics to put LaBrae back on top.
It's a mystery what Doug Velasquez will do at Mineral Ridge. Velasquez has been everywhere during his time as a coach. He's had stints at Moorehead State University (the school's defensive coordinator was Rex Ryan at that time), Tennessee State (the school's defensive coordinator was Rex's brother, Rob Ryan - no, seriously) before moving to the high school level. That span included stops at Beaver Local, Ursuline, Salem, Springfield and the last two years at Boardman. So, good luck figuring out what system he's going to deploy with the Rams.
Since Jones' departure came later than most, the Leopards will have to scramble to make a move - and fast. The list of candidates is hard to determine at this point because most are already with a team. A few names to keep in mind are Niles assistant Chet Allen, former Mathews' coach Jim Parry, former Newton Falls coach Marc Bjelac and who knows, maybe longtime Leopard leader Jeff Whittaker, who retired in 2011, will come back to coach a team loaded with talent. I have a feeling he's enjoying his house on the lake a little too much for that though.
Whoever it is, he'll have the same challenge as the others: win the team, and you'll win some games.