Rutherford reflects on memories coaching, playing at Eastwood

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

In all, Craig Rutherford has been involved with football at Eastwood High School – either playing or coaching – for 17 years.
Probably the only man more synonymous with the program is his father, Jerry, who was the head coach for 35 years.
Craig Rutherford graduated from high school in 2006 after his playing days, and, following his graduation from Bowling Green State University, came back to Pemberville to work as an assistant coach for seven years before being named the head coach in 2017.
A few weeks ago, Rutherford stepped away after six seasons as the head coach of the Eagles, taking on a new challenge that has him joining Andy Brungard’s staff at Anthony Wayne.
Rutherford, 36, leaves with plenty of memories and friendships cultivated on the football field, some of the most poignant coming when he was a kid growing up.
“Playing for my father, growing up and living for Friday nights when I was a kid, that was the highlight of the week. I got to play with my brother, Eric – and not many people get to catch touchdown passes from their brother. I got to coach with my youngest brother, Jeff, for my first year as an assistant. There were so many guys I got to be with as a kid,” Rutherford said. “The quarterback is always going to be the guy the little kid wants to be like. Gary Haas was the quarterback, and he was the guy I wanted to be, and he was an assistant while I was playing.
“I remember when I was in first grade, my dad let me go out for practice for two-a-days all suited up, and Eric Coger, who was the quarterback, had to help me try and get my helmet on. I used to love building forts out of the practice dummies and leftover pads. It was as good as it could be growing up around Eastwood football,” he said.
Rutherford’s best season came in his first year as the head coach when the Eagles went 14-1 and lost in overtime, 21-14, to Mechanicsburg in the Division V state championship game. Eastwood made the playoffs in four of the next five seasons and won three league titles in his tenure, which was 58-12 and 34-6 in the Northern Buckeye Conference.
He said he has many special memories, including the season finale against Genoa in 2011 – an Eastwood victory that ended the Comets’ 48-game, regular-season winning streak. Three years later, the Eagles defeated Genoa again to win the NBC.
“Every season is special for different reasons. In the 2011 game against Genoa, they had won so many games over the last few years, and we broke the winning streak; both teams were undefeated going into week 10 and it was the first year of the NBC. It was definitely not because of my coaching (that we won),” said Rutherford. “When you’re a young coach, you don’t know everything, and I still had a lot to learn. To get to be a part of a game was special. That was a special group of seniors and the underclassmen.
“The 2014 team was another special group. We were able to come together and win a league championship after another game with Genoa,” he said.
Rutherford credited his assistant coaches.
“The cool thing is, you spend so much time around (your assistants), you either get close with everybody or you’re miserable. I had the most fun with people who have been connected to Eastwood football, whether it was the older players and me looking up to them; the guys I’ve coached with, and the players I’ve been able to coach with for the last 13 years. Those are some pretty special relationships and a lot of people I respect,” he said. “I’d have to go on for an hour to name every single one of them – coaches like Joe Wyant and Glenn Owens – guys that have been around and coached at other places. I played for Coach Wyant; he was an assistant my senior year. And Andy Friess and Rick Keyes, that was fun playing for them.
“Steve Aungst is who I did my student teaching with, he was the head coach at Bowling Green High School. He came over and was an assistant for us. I would go to him for advice — but not just for football. He had been really influential as a teacher and just taught me about treating people the right way and having some fun,” he said. “The other thing, some of the guys that I coached I eventually brought back as assistant coaches, and that’s been nice because they know what Eastwood football means, whether it was just for a year (or so).
“Some of the coaches were with us for some time,” he said. “Lucas Friess, Andy’s son, Cade Boos, Addison Clark and Blake Kohring – those were great players that I enjoyed coaching and they came back and helped out.
“Denton Saunders has helped me out on defense the last couple of years. Matt Caris has helped coached with me for a while; he’s been up in the press box for the last five years. He’s been instrumental in the game plan. I can get a little excited, and he was kind of the calming influence behind the scenes,” Rutherford said.
Wyant is now the head coach at Gibsonburg while Evan Karchner, another former assistant, just took over at Maumee, which is joining the NBC next season.
“It’s nice to see guys move on, but you wish you could keep everyone together forever,” he said.
Coaching in the NBC made for some great rivalries.
“The other coaches in the league were so respectful, not just to me, but it seemed to everyone else, too. I learned a lot from them, having to coach against them,” said Rutherford. “Mike Vicars and Tim Spiess at Genoa, they were really good at what they did, and they were difficult to stop. Paul Patterson at Genoa, Coach (Todd) Drusback at Rossford, he took over just before I got into coaching, and their offense is so difficult to stop. Coach (Mark) Emans at Lake, Coach (Greg) Bishop at Elmwood, Coach (Matt) Dzierwa at Otsego — we had some battles with the Knights. They beat us four times in a row, that will sting for a while. We finally beat them in week 10 this year.”
Rutherford talked about why he decided to take a job with Anthony Wayne, where he previously taught.
“There are a lot of reasons. I think that it will be a good challenge; it’s just been a little while since I’ve been an assistant. Coaching for a few years now, there are things to learn and ways I can become a better coach. Number one, I really enjoyed teaching at AW, and I still enjoyed teaching at Eastwood. Even though I had been at the junior high in the past, I enjoyed teaching there, and when that opportunity came up to interview for that job, I had a potential opportunity to go back there and teach again,” he said.
“On the football side, I think they do it the right way — they practice and prepare as well as anyone. There are other programs that do it well, like Perrysburg, Findlay and Whitmer, their rivals. That will be exciting to be a part of. I just saw it as a challenge and also a place where I could continue to grow as a teacher and as a coach. That was a place where I had the opportunity to go to. We’ll see what we can accomplish,” he said.
Pemberville and Luckey will always be near and dear to Rutherford’s heart, he added.
“Anybody who spends a little bit of time in the community, you just get surrounded by so many great people and people who really care. I don’t think that it’s one or two or even 10 people. It goes back decades,” he said. “There have been so many people invested in seeing Eastwood be great, too many people to name. If you spend any time in the community, there are a lot of great people who care and will make sure it continues to be special,” he said.
In addition to his father and two brothers working in the coaching ranks, Rutherford’s wife, Megan, is the head girls soccer coach at Lake. She was previously the coach at Eastwood for 11 years, going 152-45-16, including 77-7 in the last four seasons while winning four league titles and four consecutive district championships to finish out her career.
Rutherford says he knows the program will be in good hands because of the community.
“Eastwood didn’t win football games because of me. I’m grateful to have worked with some great people – people who coached and played long before me that had such an impact on the program and me,” he said. “I wish I could name everybody that has impacted me and made the program what it is. I’ll always be thankful; it was a fun program to grow up in. Friday nights were always special as a little kid, a player and as a coach.”


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