By Steve Ruman
As a high school football coach, Paul Hulea had nothing left to prove.
Hulea built winning programs at both Crestview and Poland. In a 15-year career, Hulea’s teams went 115-46. His 1999 Poland squad was the first in Ohio history to post a 15-0 record en route to a Division III state championship.
So, after being removed from the head coaching ranks for 13 years, why return now? Why take the reins of a Leetonia program which has endured eight consecutive losing seasons and went 0-10 in 2017?
“It’s in the blood,” Hulea said. “Coaching at this level is simply a labor of love. For some of us, it’s just a way of life. Once the season rolls around, you can’t picture yourself not being involved in football in some way.”
In all, there were eight coaching changes in the Mahoning Valley during the recent offseason. In all but one instance, schools hired individuals who were not head coaches a year ago, but who had previous head coaching experience.
Hulea stepped down at Poland in 2004. At the time, his son was beginning his high school football career, “and I wanted to be his dad and not his coach.” Hulea ended up with the best of both worlds when he became a Poland assistant coach.
“I was a line coach, I didn’t coach my son but I worked with a lot of his friends and became close with them, it was a great fit,” Hulea said.
Hulea eventually worked as an assistant at several levels — and even officiated for one year — before deciding last winter that the time was right to return to the top.
“I didn’t even check to see what kind of team Leetonia had last year, didn’t know their record. I just felt the time was right and it was a good fit,” Hulea said. “People always say that kids have changed, I don’t buy it. Listen, kids still want to be coached. They want to be guided.
“Yeah, numbers are down, but that’s only because there is so much more offered today. Back when I started, you either played football or were in the band. Now you have fall baseball, soccer, cross country, golf, basketball goes year-round. Kids are still participating, just in a lot more activities.”
PARRY TO HIS ALMA MATER
Prior to taking over the Niles program last winter, Jim Parry last served as a head coach in 2009. During a seven-year stint at Mathews, Parry guided the Mustangs to three conference championships, a 10-0 season and two playoff appearances.
Parry stepped aside in large part due to a growing family, but two months later found himself accepting an assistant coaching position at LaBrae. Assistant gigs followed at Warren G. Harding and Niles.
Parry likens the coaching profession to that of a relationship with an ex-girlfriend.
“A coach once told me that walking away [from coaching] is like leaving a girlfriend,” Parry said. “You walk away and you feel good about it, but as time goes on you miss what you had, and you miss it more each day. I think pretty much all coaches, once they’re in it, they want to find some way to stay involved.”
Parry not only returned to a program which has struggled in recent years, but for added pressure he returned to his alma mater, and to a fan base noted for not having patience with its head coaches.
“The competitor in me was anxious to jump right in,” Parry said. “People say Niles can’t win. People say that the town has changed, the kids have changed. I don’t buy it. I look at communities similar to Niles and see them succeeding, and say why not us. I just become even more driven to build up this program.”
GILLESPIE COMES HOME
Michael Gillespie hadn’t been a head coach since 1990, when he stepped aside at Newton Falls following a 12-year run. That didn’t stop the retired teacher and athletic director from returning to the school for a second go-round this year. Even the fact that the Tigers entered the season having lost 68 of their last 80 games left Gillespie undaunted.
“I wouldn’t have sought out any other coaching jobs but this one,” Gillespie said. “This is home. I played here, coached and worked here, my children were raised here. Newton Falls football is in my blood.
“Coaching has always been a family affair. Back in the day, my wife washed the jerseys, she kept stats, she made sure the boys had Gatorade. Some people might suggest that being a coach can rip a family apart, but I think it brought ours closer together.”
The downside of a return to coaching at the age of 63?
“Well, my golf game has suffered a bit and I’ve spent way less time fishing on the boat, but there will be time for that,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie is quick to point out that “things have certainly changed” since he first coached four decades ago. He noted that when he stepped aside in 1990, the Newton Falls senior class enrollment was roughly 150 students. Today, it’s at 89. A roster of 55 players is now in the low 30s.
“You have more kids working today, you have kids playing dual sports in the same season,” Gillespie said. “In a school our size, you have to allow for concessions if you want things to work. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different than how it used to be.”
OGILVIE BACK AT UNITED
If D.J. Ogilvie was a man of his word, he would be enjoying football games this fall from the stands. Instead, he just began his second stint at United.
Ogilvie was the United head coach from 1998 to 2003. He lead his Eagles’ teams to a 36-23 record, including their last league championship in 1999. From there he went to Boardman (his alma mater) for seven years. While there, he told his wife that if he could get the Spartans program back on track, he would walk away from the game.
Ogilvie accomplished his goal, as the Spartans made two trips to the playoffs under his watch. However, the success only fueled his fire. He eventually moved to Englewood, Fla., where he coached for six years at Lemon Bay High School (and became the school’s winningest coach). He returned to United last year as the athletic director before taking over the football program.
“Last year was the first time in 20 years I wasn’t coaching,” Ogilvie said. “I knew that I would eventually return, I didn’t know it would be this sudden. But yeah, you do quickly miss it.”
Like his peers, Ogilvie believes that the game — and not the players — has changed over time.
“Kids still want to work hard, they are still very willing to put in the time and effort,” Ogilvie said. “I think we as coaches have become better, our practices are more efficient. Today there is much more focus on the mental part of the game, the film and the classroom work.”
Tim McGlynn took over a Champion program which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1994, and which entered the season with a 14-game losing streak. McGlynn has two years of head coaching experience (Jackson-Milton, 2008-09) and has since been an assistant at Austintown Fitch and Harding.
For McGlynn, another head coaching stint is an opportunity to make up for past mistakes.
“Honestly, when I was at Jackson-Milton I was a young pup and I thought I could do everything by myself,” McGlynn said. “Since then, I’ve grown up. I’ve learned a lot from being around some great coaches.
“I wasn’t really pursuing a job. I didn’t want to leave Harding because they gave me every reason to stay. I loved it there. I just felt as though this was a right fit, an opportunity to make good.”
Like other coaches, McGlynn originally halted his coaching career in large part because of a growing family. And while his three children are still young — ages nine, five and four — they are now a big reason why he continues to remain close to the game.
“My nine-year-old is like the girl from ‘Remember The Titans,’ ” McGlynn said. “She is involved in all that I do, she’s on the field during practice. She hated leaving Harding. My five-year-old watches reruns of last year’s college championship. We’re a football family, which makes what I do that much more enjoyable.”
While other coaches for the most part inherited programs which have endured recent struggles, Alan Mikovich has the unenviable task of following a legend. Last winter Mikovich replaced Jim Tsilimos, who retired after 25 years at Lisbon. Tsilimos logged a 147-115 record at the school, and won a state championship in 1995. It is still the only state football title in Columbiana County history.
Mikovich was the head coach at Jackson-Milton from 2001-04. He served as an assistant at Fitch from 2007-16 before sitting out the ‘17 campaign.
“I was asked a few times about applying at a few places, but my son was at Fitch and it was a good situation all the way around,” Mikovich said. “I think being away from it last year got the juices flowing. I didn’t go to any games. As a coach you quickly miss the excitement, the challenge. You miss being around the players.”
So, when or how does a coach know it is time to hang up the whistle for good?
Parry laughs, and suggests that perhaps the question should be posed to one of his assistants, Bill Bohren. Parry says the veteran coach, now in his 80s, shows no signs of slowing down.
“He’s every bit the coach he was when he was [at Niles] more than 20 years ago,” Parry said.
Hulea said he and others can certainly relate to Bohren’s passion for the game.
“I’ve been involved in football in some capacity every fall since I was eight,” said the 57-year-old Hulea. “I think that as long as I can physically do so, I’ll be involved in some way. You’ll find that many coaches feel the same way.”
The other head coach returning to the sidelines this season is Campbell’s Butch Jennings. He coached at Valley Christian in 2016. Jennings did not respond to an interview request.
Howland’s Steve Boyle — a former Tigers player — was the area’s other coaching hire during the offseason.