By Rob Todor
About six weeks ago, D.J. Dota suddenly found himself as a football coach without a team.
It didn’t take very long for him to get another chance.
Dota was approved as the new coach at West Branch on Friday, just over five weeks after he was not renewed at Warren Harding.
“I’m really anxious to get started,” Dota said shortly after the West Branch board voted unanimously to hire him in a meeting that lasted less than three minutes. “My wife [Lori] is really anxious for me to get started, too. I’ve been driving her crazy the last few weeks. She said, ‘You need to find something to do.’”
Dota will find plenty of work to do at West Branch, which suffered a 1-9 season in 2010, the program’s worst since an 0-10 campaign in 1969.
The following season, Jim Laut was hired, and in the 42 seasons since, the Warriors have had winning seasons in 30 of them.
The highlight came in 1994, when when West Branch defeated Clyde 28-11 to win the Division III state championship and complete a 14-0 season.
But since a 9-3 finish and Division III playoff appearance in 2007, West Branch has won just nine of 30 games.
“I know the tradition here, and the desire to get back to winning is here,” said Dota. “Just look at the name on the stadium — Clinton Heacock — and that’s all you need to know about this place.”
Heacock was the first superintendent at West Branch and the father of former Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock.
Another son, Jim Heacock, is the defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Both brothers played at West Branch.
West Branch superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart said he received over 50 applications for the vacancy and was impressed with the qualifications of the finalists.
“Mr. Dota brings a wealth of experience at the varsity level and a true passion for the position of head coach,” said Weingart.
“It was really a combination of experience at that [varsity] level and the success he’s had.
“He has a vision — how he works with kids, as well as, of course, an intense interest in football,” said Weingart.
“He was looking for a place to make a difference and we feel that with the community support of our football program we believe we found a great coach.”
Dota plans to meet with the players the first of next week, and will begin interviewing prospective assistant coaches.
He also plans to bring at least two assistant coaches with him from Warren Harding, and will have a special teams coordinator.
Dota is a graduate of Liberty High School and holds two degrees from Youngstown State.
Prior to his four years at Warren Harding, where he compiled a 23-17-1 record, Dota was defensive coordinator at Struthers. He was also an assistant at Warren Harding, Girard and Liberty.
Dota will be Transition Coordinator at West Branch in the fall, dealing primarily with special needs students.