Not popular but school made the right call
People fear the unknown. And it is very easy to play it safe and stick with what you know.
By all accounts, Westlake High School defensive coordinator Mark Ohradzansky is a good football coach. So when Demons head coach Ron Johnson resigned to take another head coaching job, many assumed the job would go to Ohradzansky.
It would have been very easy for Superintendent James Costanza and others in the Westlake School system to hand the program to a loyal assistant. But instead they turned to East Liverpool coach Robert Thayer. Going outside the district has many Westlakers upset. And Costanza has taken a great deal of heat. We were the only paper to report what happened at last week's board meeting. And in the aftermath, a board member has resigned partly because of hurt feelings. To read more about why Thayer was chosen see my feature story on page 20.
So why devote so much space to a football coach when I should be writing about whether to trade Kevin Millwood? Because I can't believe what people in Westlake are saying. One of the best football coaches in the state (and an honorable and honest man to boot) just dropped in your lap and you are angry. I understand loyalty. I do. But what if a science teacher quit just before the school year started, would you hire a student teacher that the kids loved and knew the course? Or would you explore the resume of a science teacher of the year from another district that needed to move for family reasons. The student teacher may be an excellent teacher but you have the chance for an experienced winner. Why not explore that chance?
The idea that it was too late to make changes is a flimsy one and not a reason to hire someone. I applaud Costanza for having the vision to hire Thayer. Would in the short term, the program win more games with the exact same system? Possibly. But what about long term success? Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the world. And not once, but twice now he has changed his swing. He gave up a few tournaments wins to make adjustments in order to do what was best for his game. I believe Westlake has done just that.
Seriously, no knock on anyone but if this was January, it would have been a no brainer to hire Thayer. If it is the right call six months ago then it should be the right call anytime, calender be damned.
Westlake, you will love Bob Thayer. He will make your boys men and he will do it the right way. Will he make the playoffs and win state championships? Maybe, maybe not. But more importantly, he is an educator and a role model. And he will do it the right way.
It has been overheard in supermarket aisles that this hire will set back the program ten years. I understand people are upset but I believe the program just got accelerated to success. Two 6-4 seasons, while nice, is still just barely above .500. Westlake has not won an SWC title since 1984.
The SWC just got stronger this season with the addition of Berea, Midpark and Brecksville. Avon Lake, Amherst and Olmsted Falls are some of the top D-II programs in the state and North Olmsted is always competitive. It will not be an easy task for Thayer and 2005 could be a long year.
I was never convinced that the spread offense could win in this conference. And if players at St. Edward and St. Ignatius can contribute on both sides of the ball, I could never understand why Westlake's best athletes couldn't. Westlake lost to North Olmsted and Olmsted Falls last season partly because they couldn't score from the spread offense from first and goal at the one-yard line. Are you telling me there wasn't more than one linebacker on that squad that couldn't adjust to playing fullback on the goal line?
While the adults of Westlake grumble and grouse, reports seem that the kids are already starting to buy into the coach. I love the fact that Thayer has asked the kids to respect the position of head coach. He told them he has to earn their respect and he believes he will. He knows if they trust each other, they will be successful.
It also appears most of the coaching staff will return as well when reports had all of them quitting. These men who love football and as much they have loyalty to the system and their friend, it is apparent that Thayer is a good man and solid coach.
Board member Joe O'Malley led the charge to hire Ohradzansky but said he wishes Thayer the best.
"He has a great resume," O'Malley said. "I wish him and the program well. The best thing would be if he is who you say he is. I hope that is exactly what happens. The vote is over and it is time to come together."
The best part is even if the team struggles this season and the heat increases from the stands (and there is a very good chance that it will) Thayer will be non-plussed. He went from the state title game to 1-9 and a year later was back with a 9-1 regular season.
Westlake got a good man. And they are lucky to have him.