REGGIE HAYES: High school football coaching survey reveals Fort Wayne area’s most attractive jobs
Two of the most coveted – and rarely open – high school football head coaching jobs were filled this offseason with Jason Garrett stepping in at Bishop Dwenger and Jimmy Linn at New Haven.
The changes prompted a subjective question: What are the best football coaching jobs in the Fort Wayne area?
On the flip side, what are the most challenging jobs?
I had my ideas after 33 years of covering the sport in Fort Wayne. But I wanted to find out what the coaches think. So I asked them.
News-Sentinel.com found 21 area coaches willing to take part in an anonymous survey about the most attractive and most challenging football coaching jobs in the Fort Wayne area, and why they feel that way.
What have I learned from those honest voices? The jobs that look like the best to most of us look that way to coaches, too.
There are some common denominators for attractiveness, including support from the administration and facilities, but a job coaching at Adams Central (enrollment: 375) can be seen as just as inviting as Snider (enrollment: 1,850). Some consider single-community schools on the smaller side (Churubusco, Garrett) to be the ideal coaching spot while others like the size and tradition of Homestead and Carroll.
The schools at the top of the survey are no surprise, starting with Snider and Bishop Dwenger.
One is public, one parochial, but both boost stellar reputations. Those schools have built their reputations through winning conference and state championships, yes, but also through quality of coaches, their ability to send players on to the college level and the overall benefits of facilities and loyal fan bases.
“When you think of Fort Wayne football, you think of Snider and Dwenger,” one coach said.
Another coach said of Snider: “They have athleticism, tradition and a built-in expectation that they are going to win every week. Dwenger would run a close second.”
Recently retired coach Chris Svarczkopf took over Dwenger in 2002, after succeeding Andy Johns, who had coached the Saints from 1980 to 2001. So that was two coaches (three, counting Ernie Bojrab’s interim 2015 season) in 38 years.
Snider has had three coaches over that span (Mike Hawley, Russ Isaacs and Kurt Tippmann, who has been in charge since 2009).
Two other SAC schools with similar demographics, Homestead and Carroll, rank high on the most-desirable coaching jobs list. Chad Zolman is entering his 14th season at Homestead, Doug Dinan his eighth at Carroll.
Both schools are the lone high schools in their district, with direct feeder systems from the middle schools, which is seen as a major asset by the coaches. Homestead has a home turf field, which is another advantage.
“Districts with one high school are very intriguing due to the fact you know exactly who your kids are, and that rarely changes,” one coach said of his vote of Homestead.
Said another coach of Carroll: “The leadership is strong and supportive. The school is academically rigorous and the families are top-notch.”
Outside of the SAC, the schools most often mentioned by the coaches polled were New Haven, Adams Central and East Noble.
Jim Rowland, who stepped down after 17 seasons as New Haven coach because of the demands of family, built a consistent winner while incorporating many student-athletes from the former Harding High School.
One coach who voted for New Haven as an attractive job pointed to its one-school community and its diverse student body.
“They usually have SAC talent in the NE8 and always have a chance to advance in the playoffs,” one coach said.
Adams Central has had only two coaches since 1977 (Rick Minnich and Michael Mosser). While the Flying Jets don’t have the state-of-the-art facilities larger schools enjoy and are located in a rural area, they have a tradition and support matched by few.
“Wherever they play, their fans are everywhere,” one coach said.
East Noble, with its own turf field and the ability to draw from a bigger small town in Kendallville, earned votes from those who value the continuity and tradition from grade school through high school.
“Facilities are very nice, great football atmosphere from the fans,” one coach said. “It seems like the school corporation and administration values athletics and is coach and player friendly. Both head and assistant coaches seem to be valued and given the necessary tools to develop young men.”
Concordia Lutheran earned one coach’s vote because of how the SAC schedule prepares the team for the Class 3A postseason and other benefits. Concordia won the Class 3A state title in 2016.
“Being a private institution, the dynamics of student athletes (choosing to attend Concordia), parental support and potential facilities would be appealing,” the coach said.
Single-community schools such as Angola, Churubusco, Garrett, Leo and South Adams also earned some votes.
“For me, it comes down to community,” one coach said. “I’m going to live and send my son to the school in whatever corporation I coach in. I am going to choose to live in a district that shares my values and will be a great place for my son to grow up in.”
Many coaches mentioned the need for support and backing from administration, as well as buy-in from the student-athletes. Others were blunt: Does the school understand the value of several paid assistant coaches?
While none of the coaches mentioned pay as a determining factor, having unwavering support to build the program with the coach in charge was a major factor for many.
“Are the kids willing to work for something greater than themselves?” one coach said. “Are the adults willing to create the best possible high school athletic experience for each and every student-athlete?”
The schools at the top of the list meet the criteria.
What happens when facilities, support and tradition are lacking? That’s when challenges arise, including the ones faced at our most challenging football coaching jobs, coming in Friday’s column.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.