When Dan Williams was hired in 2000 to take over the McDonald football program, he was immediately placed in pressure-cooker situation which demanded immediate success.
Not only was Williams returning to his hometown and alma mater, but he was now in charge of a program which boasted a history that was as rich and successful as any football program in the Mahoning Valley. On top of that, he was replacing a legend in Andy Golubic, the very coach Williams played for in the late ‘80s.
Eight years later, it seems safe to suggest that Williams has successfully handled the pressure. He currently owns a 56-35 record, which includes a pair of playoff appearances. After guiding McDonald to the post-season last year, Williams has his Blue Devils off to a 7-0 start in ‘08.
Williams, who earned his degree at Youngstown State University, teaches in the McDonald school system. He, his wife Danielle and their three children live in McDonald.
Q. There are currently eight ITCL teams in position to make the playoffs. Does the league’s success further justify the merger of the ICL and the TCL?
A. “I think so. Normally, you’ll see the champion of a league make the playoffs, but in the case of the ITCL lately you’re seeing a handful of other teams in the mix right up to week ten. There’s a lot of parity, and that was the goal. When we were in the ICL, the big schools were getting bigger and the small schools were getting smaller. There was such a separation between the top four and bottom four schools that something had to be done. The merger of the leagues definitely helped balance things out.”
Q. Do you feel added pressure to succeed because you coach at your alma mater?
A. “No question about it, and I think that is the case with any coach who returns home. But that being said, the pressure I put on myself to succeed is stronger than any outside influence. I know how much people love their football in McDonald. Any coach here is going to be placed under the microscope and he’s going to be second-guessed. It’s the nature of the job. That’s especially true in a small, close-knit community.”
Q. Is it too early to suggest that this year’s McDonald team is the best team you’ve coached?
A. “Give me about three more weeks and I’ll answer that question. It definitely ranks among the top three, but in about a month I might have a better picture of exactly where it ranks. Our 2000 team was pretty special, as was last year’s team. Right now, we’re in the midst of something special, but until the entire season plays out, it’s too early to say how good we are compared to teams of the past.”
Q. Quite often, the McDonald roster is dotted with players who are second and third generation Blue Devils. Does that add to the program’s success?
A. “I think the athletes whose parents and grandparents grew up here want to carry on the tradition and they want to leave their own mark on the history books. They know all about the rich history of McDonald football, and they know what it means to be a part of the program. There is definitely a lot of dedication that comes from the kids who want to carry on the tradition established by their older family members.”
Q. Did Jim Tressel make the right decision when he made Terrelle Pryor his starting quarterback?
A. “Coach Tressel is a mastermind at getting young, talented players ready as soon as possible. Pryor brings so much to the table with his athletic ability. Plus, he was on the big stage all throughout his high school career. He was always in the national spotlight, and he handled himself well. I think he was ready to take on this challenge, especially with Tressel’s guidance.
Q. As a coach, your teams have enjoyed success both on the ground and through the air. Do you have a preference when it comes to offense?
A. “Even though I’m an old quarterback, I love the ground game. Obviously, you want and you need a balance of both the run and the pass. But nothing compares to just lining up and grinding it out on the ground. The kids love it, and they take pride in being able to muscle their way to a victory.”
Q. What is your favorite pre-game meal?
A. “A couple of chili cheese hot dogs and fries. The McDonald coaching staff has been going to the Jib Jab on Friday’s during football season since 1978. It’s a tradition I won’t break because I’m very superstitious when it comes to coaching.”
XInterview by Vindicator correspondent Steve Ruman.