Columbus high school football: Former head coaches make impact in supporting roles
Nestled between Ron Hopper Stadium and Interstate 270 sit the practice fields for the Worthington Kilbourne football team.
The walk from the locker room in the back of the school to the fields is familiar to Vince Trombetti, who spent 13 seasons as the Wolves’ head coach and the previous 15 as an assistant to the program’s first coach, Jeff Gafford.
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After a four-year absence, Trombetti has returned to the sideline this season as a defensive ends coach under his successor, Mike Edwards. He’s ready to follow the chain of command.
“I understand that he’s the boss now; he’s the head coach,” Trombetti said. “Just as there were things that I expected from my assistant coaches, there are things that he has communicated that he expects from his assistant coaches. We talked a lot about that even before I accepted the position.
“Obviously, (if) we’re not going to agree on stuff, then it’s not going to do either of us any good. I think (Edwards) and I are on the same page in everything we’ve talked about so far. The bottom line is that he’s the boss.”
The reasons vary as to why a former head coach would return to being an assistant: they love to coach regardless of the role; they missed being involved; they want to make a difference; they loved the head coach’s sales pitch; they see it as an opportunity for personal growth. But regardless of the reason, numerous programs in central Ohio are capitalizing on the knowledge and experience these coaches provide.
Brent Morrison had no intention of leaving the profession when he resigned as Westerville Central coach at the end of last season. He’s now a running backs coach at Olentangy Liberty.
“I never had an intention of completely leaving the sport and someday I may want to be a head coach again,” said Morrison, who went 21-20 in four seasons with the Warhawks. “I drew a circle around my house (in Westerville) that I thought was an acceptable driving distance and I started looking at programs in that area that I thought did a phenomenal job. I saw this as a learning experience for myself where I could go be a part of their program and see how they do things.”
When Mark Crabtree resigned from Dublin Coffman in January 2021, he wasn’t planning to get back in the game so quickly.
“The whole reason I’m there is because my youngest son (Dane) is at DeSales. He’ll be a sophomore,” said Crabtree, who is in his second stint as an assistant at DeSales, where he serves as offensive coordinator. “I just was there to be supportive of my son. Then, the head coach (Ryan Wiggins) talked to me at the beginning part of June last year. I didn’t know (what) I was getting myself into because I didn’t plan on coaching.”
Crabtree guided the Shamrocks to a 179-55 record over 20 seasons after stints at St. Charles and Fisher Catholic. He went 228-74 overall in 26 seasons and hadn’t been an assistant since his first stint with the Stallions.
“When you go back (into coaching) and now you’re an assistant, I think you’ve got to remember your place,” Crabtree said. “I think you’ve got to remember that this is someone else’s program and it’s not yours. You’ve got to be really OK with other people’s thoughts and ideas because that’s what you have to do your best to implement.
“I always thought I was a good assistant the first time around. But it’s a little different this time around because the way that I’m used to doing things may not be the way that other people are doing them. I have to fall in line with the way things are. So, that’s been a little bit of a learning curve for me.”
Former Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White is enjoying his first season as an assistant at Hilliard Bradley.
“I always thought I made a better assistant coach,” he said. “Being a head coach, you’re a manager. You’re managing an entire program. I proved that I could do that. I’m just not sure I want to do it again.
“You can relate to the (players) in a totally different way as an assistant coach. You’re going to be closer to the players, especially your position group.”
Former Olentangy coach Mark Solis expected to take some time away from the game. Then, the opportunity to become defensive coordinator at Hilliard Davidson popped up.
“I knew I was going to coach again – that wasn’t a question,” he said. “I really wanted to take a year off. I was tired (after) 23 years as a head coach.
“There was a void in my life. I was missing coaching. Really, it comes down to the interaction with kids and helping them develop and helping them reach their goals – that process of offseason work and all the things that people coming to watch the games on Friday night don’t see.”
‘We develop reputations’
Like Morrison, Solis saw an opportunity for personal growth by taking on an assistant’s role. He spent the last nine seasons leading Olentangy to a 68-36 record.
“We develop reputations – good, bad or indifferent,” said Solis, who hasn’t been an assistant since 1998 when he was at Lodi Cloverleaf. “I think that people throughout the years have had a misperception of who I really am and what I stand for. Some of that is my fault. I’m very closed and guarded and it comes off the wrong way to certain people that I’m unapproachable or arrogant or I’m full of myself or I’m brash.
“It’s something that I know I want to continue to work on. We all have to get better in a lot of different aspects of our lives.”
Solis has a reputation for being an offensive guru, leading Olentangy to eight playoff appearances after the program made eight postseasons before his arrival. Now, he’s on the other side of the ball.
“I’ve never called defense,” he said. “But I know what works and what doesn’t work and that’s based upon all the years of building game plans, calling plays and adjusting and adapting (during games) against some of the best defenses that we played against. I’ve always had a knack for calling plays on game night.
“The biggest thing for me is just getting to know the kids at Davidson and objectively evaluating their skill sets. It doesn’t matter what we’re going to do scheme-wise. ... (We) better take what the kids do extremely well and then adapt the defense to (their ability).”
Davidson’s defense features 10 returning starters, including safety Colin Neimeister.
“After being the offensive (play-caller) for the last 23 years, he knows basically everything there is to know about defense,” Neimeister said. “He knows what to do and where to (line us) up. It’s been great so far.”
Head coach Jeremey Scally first approached Solis in the winter about coaching the offensive line.
“We had some turnover on the staff,” Scally said. “He came up for a workout and met some of the coaches and even came for a basketball game just to see the fit. (Like) any job, (it comes down to) fit and timing. ... The timing was just a little bit off for him in the winter.
“Fast forward to April or May and I had an opening for a (defensive) coordinator. It was a good fit for me and a good fit for him and then the timing piece clicked.”
Solis, who was finishing a master’s degree in educational administration last winter, saw the benefits of joining Scally's staff.
“(Davidson) is a storied program,” Solis said. “There’s tradition, there’s tremendous people (and) the administration and everyone is aligned there. ... And I know there’s value in what I can bring to the table there. So, it’s a good fit.”
‘He bleeds red and gold’
Joe Weaver has been on both sides of the coin at Big Walnut. A year after he was hired to coach the Golden Eagles in 2009, he brought back his predecessor, Scott Wetzel, as defensive coordinator.
Now, Weaver is back with the Eagles under the coach who succeeded him, Rob Page.
“I started my coaching career under Scott,” Weaver said. “One of the things I learned from him, aside from the football knowledge, is we’re coaches. We coach. It’s not about a title, (and) it’s not about a position.
“From that perspective, I learned that whether you’re a freshman coach or a (junior varsity) coach or a defensive coordinator or a head coach, when you’re on the field, the main thing that matters is just coaching kids. You’re trying to make them the best person and the best player they can be.”
Under Weaver, the Eagles were 55-60 in 11 seasons with two playoff appearances and two OCC-Capital Division titles.
“I don’t think anybody on this earth loves Big Walnut as a community, as a school and as a football team as much as Joe Weaver,” said Page, who is in his third season. “He played here, and he coached here. He bleeds red and gold, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to love Big Walnut as much as he does just because of the history.
“(We’ve) had a pretty good relationship since I got hired. When we had an opening (at linebackers coach), I talked to him about it and he was really excited. Then, boom, he’s in.”
Weaver, a 1994 Big Walnut graduate, was Centerburg’s offensive line and linebackers coach under Adam Colella in 2020 and defensive coordinator at Sparta Highland under Ty Stover last season.
“It’s hard at times because as the head coach, you’re making all of the decisions and a lot of the pressure is put on you,” Weaver said. “It wasn’t hard (to adjust back to being an assistant) from the standpoint of ability, but just by habit and making decisions. I remember talking to coach Colella and I told him, ‘Hey, if I’m ever out of bounds and I need to step back a little bit, (let me know because) it’s not malicious.’
“As a head coach, you’re still coaching kids. But you’re also focused on so many other things. (My experience at Centerburg) reminded me, you’ve just get to pour into every kid everything you’ve got.”
‘Maybe you’re done’
Some coaches need a little more convincing.
Hank Patterson thought his coaching career was over after resigning as Grove City Christian’s coach after last season, going 15-30 in five seasons.
“I was just going to say, ‘Maybe you’re done,’ ” Patterson said. “(But coach Donte Goosby) called me and asked me if I would consider coming to Centennial.
“I thought about it. ... You have a (former) head coach that’s done. You don’t want that on your staff. But he kept calling me and I said I’d come over and discuss it. He wanted me to help his quarterbacks (and be offensive coordinator). So, I decided to do it.”
Patterson is on his eighth stint in the City League after two stints at Whetstone along with Marion-Franklin, Mifflin, Eastmoor Academy, West and Northland.
“This wasn’t the first time I reached out to Hank,” Goosby said. “I tried to get Hank to come over five years ago when we had Jaylen Gilbert coming in as a freshman and I knew he was going to be pretty good. But (Patterson) was already committed to Grove City Christian.”
Goosby has seen Patterson’s work firsthand.
“As a defensive coordinator coming up in the City League-North, there were three guys that I had battles with (in Patterson, Jim Worden and Anthony Thornton),” Goosby said. “They just forced me to be better at what I was doing to have any kind of chance of stopping them from scoring.
“When I became a head coach, if any one of those guys were open, I knew I was going to do everything I could to get them as offensive coordinator. It so happened that I worked with all three of them.”
Brian Miller, who went 24-46 at Mifflin from 2003-09, joined Northland in similar fashion.
Physically and emotionally drained, Miller took some time away from coaching from 2016 until Ryan Sayers persuaded him to join his staff at Northland before last season.
“He’s charismatic, which is one of the reasons why I’m back. He’s a pretty good talker,” Miller said. “I had opportunities to go coach at Gahanna (with Bruce Ward), Walnut Ridge with (Byron Mattox), Eastmoor Academy with (Jim) Miranda – I just didn’t feel like I would ever have the urge to get back into it.
“(But now) I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business. I’m a competitor, and I missed the competitive nature of coaching.”
‘We were always really, really close’
It didn’t take much convincing for Bradley coach Mike LoParo to get White to join his staff. The two had struck an agreement in 2011 after LoParo took over the Jaguars and White became the coach at Reynoldsburg.
“We made a deal that whoever leaves first, if they don’t leave for a head-coaching job, then we’d go to the other head coach and work with them,” White said. “So, I left first and kept my end of the bargain.”
The two had previously served as assistant coaches with the Raiders.
“Mike LoParo and I have been really good friends for the last 17 years,” White said. “We met at Reynoldsburg in 2005. LoParo was the defensive coordinator at the time, and we developed a relationship. We were always really, really close.”
White stepped down at Reynoldsburg after going 67-46 with five playoff appearances over 11 years. Part of the reason he left was a back injury.
“I am feeling so much better,” he said. “I’ve been working with my pain doctor, and he’s really been taking care of me. I feel rejuvenated.”
White is coaching receivers, including Preston Wolfe and E.J. Teah, who are both receiving offers to play at the next level.
“He just attracts human beings,” LoParo said. “He just has that kind of personality. The kids absolutely fell in love with him immediately. I don’t know how you quantify it or measure it. He just brings such great, great passion and desire to help Bradley be the best we can be.”
‘Coaching is coaching and teaching is teaching’
Trombetti retired as a science teacher at Kilbourne at the end of the last school year. With his son, Jack, done playing at Findlay, he had time to spare.
When Edwards needed a defensive ends coach, he reached out to Trombetti.
“Four years ago, when I got this job, Vince was extremely welcoming to me (and) helpful,” Edwards said. “He’d answer any questions and do anything I needed him to do and help me with to get me off on the right foot. So, we started with a really good relationship.
“It just speaks volumes of his class and his character. I always told him, ‘If you ever want to come back, there’s always a place for you.’ He reminds me a lot of John Magistro. Magistro was a head coach his whole life, and I’ve been lucky enough to have him the last four years. I think John and Vince are approaching the latter part of their careers the same way. They want to be supportive of their head coach and just coach football.”
Trombetti, who went 72-66 with four playoff appearances with the Wolves, hasn’t had much trouble getting back into the swing of things.
“Coaching is coaching and teaching is teaching,” he said. “There are certain ways to present what you want done. Probably the biggest hurdle right now is just getting to learn the terminology. Technique is technique, but do you call it the same thing?”
Magistro, who is Kilbourne’s defensive coordinator, went 242-113 over 32 seasons at Bellaire and Westerville Central, where he resigned in 2017. He spent a season at Olentangy before joining Edwards’ staff.
“(Edwards is) from Martins Ferry, and I’m from Bellaire,” Magistro said. “I coached against him (when) he was a player. (We’re) from the (Ohio) Valley, (where) everybody knows each other. He’s a great young coach, and he’s got some good coaches under him.”
Also with the Wolves are Dave Dunkelberger (secondary coordinator), who has held various jobs at the high school and collegiate levels, and Ken Kish (secondary), who coached at Centerburg and Berlin Center Western Reserve.
That level of experience benefits the players.
“(Trombetti) has been through it all,” said rising senior Connor Asbury, a defensive end. “(Magistro) is definitely the guy. Every college I go to, (they) know him. Then there’s coach Ken and coach Dunk. Dunk knows what he’s doing. He’s done it for years on end.”
It’s come full circle for Trombetti.
“I’ve known coach Trombetti for a long time,” Asbury said. “My uncles (Mark and Darren Baldwin) both went to Kilbourne (and) graduated in 1993. They played for Trombetti, so it’s kind of like a family thing.”