Struthers hires former YSU basketball assistant coach
By Dan Hiner
Mike Wernicki only spent one season coaching at the high school level. But a year removed from the Youngstown State University campus, he’s ready to rejoin the prep level.
Tuesday, the Struthers Board of Education approved the former YSU assistant coach as the next head coach of the Struthers boys basketball team.
Wernicki, who does not have a teaching contract, will take over for James Franceschelli, who resigned on May 21 for personal reasons. Franceschelli went 50-46 during his four years at the helm, including 15-11 last season.
Wernicki, who was Jerry Slocum’s assistant, coached at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pa., in 1997 prior to coaching in college.
As an assistant at Franklin Regional, Wernicki helped lead the Panthers to the state championship game and a 29-4 record.
The assistant coach’s 12-year stint with the Penguins came to an end following Slocum’s retirement in 2017.
“He has no high school experience, so we were a little surprised about [his application],” Struthers athletic director Nancy Knight said. “Interviewing him, speaking with him ... you can tell [he is] a genuinely good guy.”
During his time with the Penguins, Wernicki worked with YSU’s guards and coached some of the top players in YSU history.
He worked with All-Horizon League players Kendrick Perry, Cam Morse and Blake Allen. Warren Harding graduate Damian Eargle also learned from Wernicki and was named the Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
The Wildcats are a smaller team and ran a high-tempo offense under Franceschelli. Wernicki said he might build on Struthers’ “small ball” offense if he has some creative players.
But Wernicki doesn’t know what his system will look like and will mold the scheme to the strengths of his players.
“The biggest thing is going to be teaching these kids how to play,” Wernicki said. “It’s one thing to play a style, but do your kids understand what they’re doing in that style? That’s going to be the biggest thing.
“We’re gonna take a lot of the things we’ve done in the past and try to build upon them.”
After 24 years as an assistant, now was the perfect time for his first head coaching position. Wernicki applied to college and G-League coaching positions before accepting the Struthers job.
“The industry of coaching has changed,” Wernicki said. “When I got into the business there weren’t a lot of people who wanted to be coaches. But now it’s just exploded over the last 10 or 12 years to something everybody’s trying to do. It’s become just that more difficult to get those jobs.
“I’m just grateful I have an opportunity here.”