LOGAN — Although his hiring wasn’t made official until late in Monday night’s Logan-Hocking Board of Education meeting, new Logan High School football coach Billy Burke had already expressed his desire to hit the ground running.
Once he was informed earlier in the day that the job would be his, the 36-year old Burke, who served as head football coach at Buckeye High School in Medina for five seasons, asked to meet with both prospective players and coaches toward the end of classes this afternoon.
Upon the recommendation of Steve Stirn, superintendent of L-H schools, and a six-person panel of school administrators and former coaches, Burke was hired as the 30th head football coach in the history of the Chieftains.
“Those are the things that I will tell them first, just so that they can realize I’m just a big, grown-up version of them who has to make all the decisions in the end… that high school football player from right up the road,” he added. “I’m still that football player at heart.”
That “high school football player from right up the road” is a 1995 graduate of Lancaster High School. It’s not like he doesn’t have any familiarity with the Hocking Hills… or with the Chieftains and Gales, for that matter.
He didn’t need to be reminded that the Chiefs will open their 2013 season, as they have every fall since 2004, with an Aug. 30 visit to Fulton Field.
“That’s game one,” he said with a grin.
Burke has a record of success and, as members of the committee indicated to The Logan Daily News, many references who, when contacted by those committee members, painted a glowing portrait of a highly-respected and well-prepared coach.
“We didn’t hear one bad thing about him,” said LHS activities director and former Logan assistant football coach Ron Janey, a member of the recommendation committee.
From 2007 through 2011, Burke was head coach at Division III Medina Buckeye in Medina County, where he compiled a 26-25 record and made an appearance in the state DIII playoffs in 2009.
In his resume cover letter — the committee sifted through 46 applications, granted eight interviews, and brought Burke and another candidate back late last week for a second interview — Burke noted that, as the result of repeated levy failings since 1994, Medina Buckeye had a $395 pay-to-participate fee. Players even car-pooled to games his first season as head coach.
That shouldn’t be a problem at LHS, which boasts one of the top facilities not only in southeast Ohio but in the entire state, with solid bus transportation… and no pay-to-participate fees.
“Right off the bat, (the facilities are) something that attracts you right away,” Burke said. “It shows you a lot about the community, that they want something to represent Logan and Hocking County. I want to do the same with the product on the field (to) represent the community and the county with quality young men in the classroom, the community and on the field.
“We’re going to work our tails off and play our tails off on the field on Friday nights,” he added.
Burke was hired as a teacher, and will likely fill a physical education or science position… but it’s his second job that will be under scrutiny among football-crazed Chieftain Nation, which has seen its beloved Purple & White go 6-24 over the past three seasons after making four-straight appearances in the post-season playoffs.
Burke, who made the trip to Logan from Medina with his wife, Shannon, and their three sons (Jackson, age 6; Brody, age 4, and Landon, who will be 2 in April) for Monday night’s board meeting, watched as his boys — already wearing purple Logan Chieftain T-shirts — excitedly looked around the halls near the LHS library on the Shaw-Davidson campus.
“They’re just as excited as I am to get started down here in Logan,” the new Chieftain grid coach said. “I’ve done a lot of research — as much as probably the committee (researched) me — (and) people have said Logan is a rockin’ place to be and the community really gets out and supports athletics. That’s something I want to be a part of.
“I’ve been away for a little while,” he added, “but I can see the history and I want to be a part of a program that’s been there and is obviously looking to get back there as well.”
At Medina Buckeye, Burke’s teams won three-straight Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division (Sullivan Black River, Sheffield Brookside, Oberlin Firelands, La Grange Keystone, Wellington and Medina Buckeye) championships from 2007 to 2009, going 6-4 in both 2007 and 2008 and posting an 8-3 slate in 2009, when the Bucks lost in the opening round of the Division III playoffs to Hubbard, 30-14.
Medina Buckeye had slates of 3-7 in both 2010 and 2011. Burke did not coach last season.
In 2009, Burke was named PAC football Coach of the Year, Medina County Gazette football Coach of the Year and the Cleveland Touchdown Club Medina County Coach of the Year.
He also coached boys track at Medina Buckeye, winning PAC titles in 2008 and 2009. He was named the conference’s track Coach of the Year those seasons.
A three-year football letterman at the University of Akron, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in May 1999, Burke earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Dayton in 2009 and a Mastery of the Basic Elements of Coaching certificate from the University of San Diego that same year.
Before heading north to Medina County, Logan’s new grid boss was an assistant football coach and strength training coordinator at Hilliard Darby High School from 2002 to 2007.
At Darby, he was a defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator and linebackers coach as well as, for two seasons, the head junior varsity coach.
Burke, who was a linebacker under coach Tom McCurdy at Lancaster and under former Lancaster coach Lee Owens at Akron, was asked what he will bring to the program.
“I would like to think I was a pretty good player myself, so I think I bring some intensity and some energy to the program, to show young guys what it takes… because I’ve already been there,” Burke said. “I’ve already done some of the things they want to do.”
No doubt, Chieftain Nation wants to know what kind of style of play to expect. But, because he’ll need time to learn the personnel, nothing’s set in stone.
“I learned a while ago not to pigeon-hole what we’re going to do,” Burke revealed. “We’re high school… we get who lives in the district and we adapt. You’ve seen some of these offenses, per se, that are zone-read style, and we’re going to do that, whether it’s one back or two backs.
“Do we throw the ball a lot more than we run the ball? I don’t know. We’ll see what the personnel dictates,” he continued, “but I can assure you from an offensive standpoint we’re going to play fast, and defensively the first and foremost thing we’re going to do is we’re going to tackle. We’re going to get everybody covered down (and) line up to their formations, but the first and foremost thing we’ve got to be able to do is that first guy has to be there to corral (the ball-carrier) and get the tackle made.”
Monday night marked the end of a process that LHS had not experienced in more than a quarter-century, when Clarence Perry was hired starting with the 1985 season.
Perry was succeeded in 1990 by then-assistant coach Dale Amyx who, in turn, was succeeded by longtime assistant coach Kelly Wolfe, who became head coach in 2010.
It was revealed in November that Wolfe’s supplemental contract as head football coach would not be renewed after the Chiefs posted records of 3-7, 1-9 and 2-8 in 2010, 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Wolfe was the first-ever LHS graduate to become head football coach. As mentioned, Burke becomes the 30th Chieftain grid coach since records began being kept in 1912.
The search committee consisted of Stirn, assistant superintendent Christy Bosch, LHS principal and former assistant football coach Jim Robinson, LHS assistant principal Theresa Schultheiss, Amyx and Janey.
And they all are confident they made the right recommendation to the school board.
“When I was (coaching) at Hilliard Darby we played Lancaster and we went to five overtimes, and I came up on the short end of the stick,” Burke recalled. “It means a lot to me to represent myself against my alma mater — but I’m a Logan Chieftain now, and game one is game one.
“We’re going to come to play regardless,” he added, “hopefully come out with a W and get the season rolling in the right direction.”
Let the games begin.