By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State athletic director Ron Strollo is about to make the biggest hire in the nine years that he has been the head of the Penguins’ athletic program.
With the resignation of football coach Jon Heacock on Sunday, Strollo must find a replacement for the school’s program which generates the most money to the athletic department each year.
And he doesn’t have a lot of time to fill the job.
“Football’s official signing date is the first week in February and it’s important that we get a coach in place to oversee the recruiting process as quickly as possible,” Strollo said Monday at a press conference held at the Beeghly Center’s Coaches Court Room.
“There’s going to be a lot of good coaches interested in this position,” Strollo said. “The question that will going through their minds is will this situation be a good fit for them.”
Heacock became the fifth coach in YSU history in 2001, finishing his nine-year career with a record of 60-44 and six winning seasons.
But the veteran coach, who has spent 16 years with the program, made it to the postseason only one time in those nine seasons.
He took over the job when Jim Tressel left the school to take over at Ohio State. In 15 seasons, all Tressel did was post 12 winning seasons, 10 postseason appearances, six trips to the national championship game and four national titles.
Tressel, whose recommendation led to Heacock’s hiring, has remained close to the YSU program and Strollo admitted he talked with the former YSU coach on Sunday after Heacock’s announcement.
“I’ve talked with Jim Tressel and I asked for some advice from him,” Strollo said.
“He said that when we get down to the final applicants that he would be happy to give his insight on the hiring,” said Strollo, who later clarified that he would ask several people, not just Tressel, for their opinions on the finalists.
Strollo said he’s looking for someone with college coaching experience and that he’s not going to tie it down to someone who has worked previously with Tressel or at YSU.
“Our problem right now is that other than the Big Ten, most everybody is still playing, some teams with multiple games remaining,” he said.
In the past when Strollo was seeking a new basketball coach, he used a extensive search committee and brought in the top applicants for interviews with the local media.
“This will be a different search,” he said. “We’ll still have a committee, but the search will be narrowed down a lot quicker because of the time element.
“Part of my job is to know who the quality coaches are out there who might be available,” Strollo said.
Another problem has been the salary offered new head coaches. At $125,000, Heacock was one of the lowest paid coaches in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
“We are prepared to make adjustments to the salary,” Strollo said.
“Our football program is critical to our athletic program,” he said. “It supports a lot scholarships and has allowed the university to expand through its exposure.”
The resignation of Heacock has been very difficult for Strollo.
“I’ve known Jon for half of my life and this has been a very difficult process,” he said. “Jon loves this institution and this program and he more than anyone understands what the expectations here are.
“This job is going to be sought after by some highly qualified candidates,” he said. “But some of these guys are still coaching this season.”
Strollo also said that he would have no problem with a young coach using this job as a stepping stone to bigger things.
“I think that Jim Tressel proved just what some success here can lead to,” he said.