It wasn’t listed that way on the schedule, but Ursuline’s basketball game against Chaney on Friday night was a Homecoming game for the Irish.
Well, actually, it was Homecoming for Dan Reardon.
It was a bit of an open secret that Ursuline was in talks over the last few weeks with the most successful head football coach in its history on a possible return to Youngstown.
But as is typical in these situations, things didn’t exactly play out in public. Instead, the search for Larry Kempe’s replacement happened behind the scenes.
That didn’t stop the odd leak of information here and in Canton, where Reardon has spent the last four seasons coaching at Canton McKinley.
But even as word leaked late Friday afternoon that Reardon was meeting with the Bulldogs to tell them of his decision to return to Youngstown, school and diocese officials remained tight-lipped.
And even when Reardon appeared at Ursuline on Friday night for Homecoming, there was still no official word from the school. A diocese representative said only that any announcement — if and when it came — would come from Ursuline.
No matter. Reardon’s wardrobe is about to go from red and black to the familiar green and gold.
No Irish coach has ever looked better in the colors. Reardon — a Canfield graduate — coached at Ursuline from 2004-10 and guided the Irish to three straight Division V state championships (2008-10) and four consecutive appearances in the title game.
Reardon then spent three years coaching at Poudre and Wheat Ridge high schools in Colorado before returning to Ohio and taking the Canton McKinley job in 2015. He went 30-15 there.
Oddly enough, Reardon replaced Thom McDaniels as the Bulldogs’ head coach. Reardon had worked for McDaniels at Warren Harding in the early 2000s before taking the Ursuline job the first time.
McDaniels’ 2014 stint at McKinley was his second there. He first coached the Bulldogs from 1982-97.
Ursuline, of course, probably plans for Reardon’s second stint here to be longer than McDaniels’ second stint at McKinley was.
Ursuline officials asked Reardon not to speak to Valley media on Friday night, so he politely declined an interview request from The Vindicator’s Tom Williams.
But from the tone of comments Reardon made to The Canton Repository later that night, it sounds like he’ll be with the Irish for a while.
Why? The decision to return was not so much about football as it was about family.
“It was a full family decision,” Reardon told the Canton newspaper. “I’m originally from [the Mahoning Valley], obviously, and there were some family things going on with my parents getting up in age that was part of the decision. And there were some personal things that aligned, too. I’m obviously familiar with the Ursuline community and a lot of things aligned just right, so it really seemed like it was meant to be.”
And yet, news of Reardon’s return — while rumored for the better part of a month — still came as a welcome surprise to some.
“If you had asked me six months ago if this would happen, I probably would have said no chance,” Reardon said. “Yet here we are.”
An official announcement from Ursuline on the details of Reardon’s return to coach the Irish is expected on Tuesday.
After coaching stops at Harding, Ursuline and McKinley, Reardon knows all about the expectation to win. And since his last three Irish teams won state titles, there are those who will expect a quick turnaround.
But Ursuline has gone 3-7, 2-8 and 1-9 the last three years after advancing to the Division IV state semifinals under Kempe in 2015.
It isn’t a stretch — nor is it unfair — to think the depth and talent in the program is not comparable to what it was a decade ago, when a lot of players who might have been at East or elsewhere were wearing the green and gold.
Things have changed. East is a solid program now, Chaney has football again and enrollment at diocese schools overall is down.
It won’t be easy, but winning — not to mention winning championships — has never been. But it can be done.
Warren JFK rebounded from back-to-back 2-8 seasons in 2013 and ‘14 to make the playoffs every year since under Jeff Bayuk. The Eagles even won a Division VII state title in 2016.
That’s what Ursuline wants to do. That’s what Reardon wants to do. And they did it together three times when he last coached the Irish.
Reardon may have left Canton, but the Irish are hoping he hasn’t coached his last game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“Hopefully, we can get a team back to Stark County to play in that stadium,” Reardon told The Canton Repository.
Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.