By Joe Scalzo
Three days after finishing up the best season of his four-year stint at Niles, Red Dragons football coach Brad Yeager decided it was time to leave.
“You get an instinct about when it’s time to move,” said Yeager, who went 14-26 in four seasons, including 5-5 this year.
Yeager’s resignation came on the same day Warren Harding opted not to renew the contract of first-year head coach Rick Rios. They are the third coaches to leave Trumbull County schools this fall — Liberty coach Jeff Whittaker retired after 17 seasons.
Rios went 2-8 this fall, losing seven straight games before defeating Warrensville Heights 40-20 in the season finale. That was the only game where the Raiders scored more than 15 points.
The district intends to immediately post the vacancy.
Rios, who declined comment, was hired on March 22 after a sometimes-frustrating two-month search that saw three coaches turn down the job. Rios had spent the previous 11 years as the head coach at Toledo Rogers, his alma mater.
Rios replaced D.J. Dota, who went 23-17-1 in four years at Harding. Dota was hired at West Branch in the offseason, going 4-6. Harding athletic director Paul Trina said he had no comment beyond the school’s two-sentence announcement.
Yeager was nearly replaced in the offseason but was retained by a 3-2 board of education vote after several players voiced their support.
“This senior group was special to me,” Yeager said. “After the controversial offseason last year, I wanted to go out with them.”
Yeager and his wife have two sons — one 21/2, the other six months old — and said that played a big part in the decision.
“When you have two young boys at home, it’s tough putting in all that time and be a family guy, too,” he said. “I’d like to thank my wife for all the support she’s given me in the last few years. She’s a great lady, a great coach’s wife.”
He then added with a laugh, “Make sure you mention that. It might give me some brownie points.”
Yeager, who teaches ninth grade physical science at Niles, recent got his master’s degree in administration and could seek a job in that field.
“I’m open-minded about my future,” he said, “but it’s still a joy to teach these kids.”
Although Niles missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season, the Red Dragons handed Brookfield its only loss and, in Week 9, became the first team to beat Canfield — in any varsity sport — in four years.
“Hopefully that win can turn the program in the right direction,” he said.
Yeager said he’s not sure who will next coach the team, but said he believes the search is in good hands with school superintendent Mark Robinson.
“I’m sure he’ll do a wonderful job and find the best fit for the good kids we have,” he said. “And my arms will be wide open to help support the next coach the best I can.”
When asked if it was a bittersweet decision, he said, “It is. Obviously, any football coach is going to miss coaching. This is the first time I won’t be on the sideline in 15 years and next August is going to be the toughest part.
“There’s a love-hate relationship with Niles but I’ll continue to love the place. I took a lot of shots on the chin but I’ll always be positive about it.”