Oregon School Board President P.J. Kapfhammer called Mike Vicars the “perfect hire” to lead Clay’s football program for the next “10-15 years.”
School administrators announced in January that Vicars would be Clay’s next head football coach. But Vicars never was actually hired by the Oregon School District.
“He was going to be the assistant principal at Fassett Junior High and he would have also served as the AD (athletic director) there,” Kapfhammer said. “He was the perfect hire. The only problem was, he never was hired.”
Kapfhammer said he had signed the contract, then sent it to Vicars, but the school board never received a signed document back from Vicars.
On April 19, Vicars informed Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar he was resigning the $90,000 position to work for the Pike-Delta-York school system, where he led the Panthers to the Division IV state semifinals in 2003. Vicars, Kapfhammer said, had applied for an opening as a middle school principal there. Currently, Delta High School, where Vicars coached for eight years, does not have a head football coach.
“We bent over backwards to get him,” Kapfhammer reflected. “We really wanted him. At the time I thought he was just the greatest hire. I wondered to myself how we even got him. I could not wait to see him in action. Our administration courted him for weeks. The board immediately approved him. I signed his contract and sent it to him, and he never sent it back. He was never officially hired.”
As shocked as the Clay football community was to learn they were losing a respected coach with an impressive resume, rumors began surfacing concerning the reason Vicars bailed on the Eagles’ football program.
“He told us he wanted to go back to Delta,” Kapfhammer said. He debunked allegations Vicars left because Kapfhammer did not want to hire two assistant coaches that Vicars had wanted.
“To say that he left because I supposedly would not allow him to have the two assistant coaches he wanted is crazy. No one leaves a $90,000-a-year job because of that.”
“Nobody wanted him more than me,” Kapfhammer added. “I wanted the kids to have a winning team. I was uber excited. I would have done anything to keep him. You can point fingers at me when things go wrong. I am used to it. This is absolutely not one of those times. I would have done anything to keep that guy.”
Vicars, who declined a phone interview with The Press, said via email there were issues with the contract dates. He said he was waiting for an extended-day contract before he signed. Vicars said the timing was just a coincidence.
“As that process was proceeding, I got really busy with football things and simply forgot,” Vicars said. “There was never any intent to not sign it and turn it back in. It was just coincidence that it happened that way.”
Looking for work
Vicars said he does not know if he has a job at any school at this point.
“We all were working hard towards the betterment of the program,” Vicars said. “I was even coming to 6:30 a.m. workouts three times a week with the kids. I didn't even apply for a position at Delta until last Friday, after I spoke with Zalar. I don't even know if I have a job anywhere right now, let alone Delta at this point. When this decision began to weigh on me, I never even thought of other jobs. I was trying to make it best for all involved. That meant I had to come to terms with it so Oregon City Schools could move forward.”
Delta’s head football coaching position opened up when Nate Ruple, a former assistant there under Vicars, resigned after his fifth season as the Panthers’ coach.
In a combined statement, Zalar and Vicars refuted the rumor that Kapfhammer had anything to do with Vicars’ decision.
“My decision to resign was based solely on my personal assessment of the different skill sets required to lead a big-school program,” Vicars stated. “My experience has always been with smaller schools. I came to the realization that I was neither comfortable nor confident that I could make the transition to the big school at this stage of my career. I only met Mr. Kapfhammer once or twice, and we never had any discussion about potential assistant coaches.”
Zalar added, “I have had numerous conversations with Mr. Kapfhammer and he was always positive about Mr. Vicars. Mr. Kapfhammer expressed to me that he believed coach Vicars would be good for the kids and lead the program back to prominence.”
Clay sophomore Aaron Seymour, who played running back and safety for the Eagles last season, said he was disappointed he would not be able to play for Vicars for the next two years. Seymour said Vicars sent a group text to all of the football players last Friday, telling them he would not be their next head coach.
“He didn’t really have a reason,” Seymour said. “He said, 'It’s not going to work out this year, guys. I wish you the best of luck. I can’t be the head coach anymore.' I was kind of surprised. Nobody knew why he did it. Everybody feels a little let down, because they got to know Vicars. He talked to a lot of us individually. I was going to set up an individual meeting with him. I run track, so I couldn’t [meet right away]. I wish he would have stuck around.”
Based on Vicars’ track record as a head coach, Clay appeared to have hit the proverbial jackpot.
Vicars had a 62-29 record in eight seasons at Delta and led the Panthers to the Division IV state semifinals in 2003. The Panthers won three Northwest Ohio Athletic League titles and made the state playoffs six times.
Genoa had never qualified for the state playoffs until Vicars was hired there in 2007. In five seasons, he led the Comets to a 56-7 record and five playoff appearances – they reached the D-IV state semifinals in 2008 – and led them to their first Suburban Lakes League title since 1994.
Genoa also won 48 straight regular-season games under Vicars, who resigned following the 2011 season.
He remained on the staff as an assistant coach under new head coach Tim Spiess, who was Vicars’ defensive coordinator the previous five seasons.
Last fall, with Vicars as the Comets’ assistant head coach/offensive coordinator, Genoa went 10-0 and averaged more than 52 points a game during the regular season. The Comets won the Northern Buckeye Conference title and were ranked No. 6 in final Associated Press D-IV state poll. The Comets finished 11-1 after losing in the second round of the state playoffs.
“As far as attention to detail and game planning, I’ve never worked with a better coach,” said Spiess, who has known Vicars since 1971.
Spiess indicated he believes Vicars changed his mind about the Clay job because he simply misses living back in the small towns of Liberty Center, his hometown, and Delta.
“Last spring,” Spiess said, “Mike mentioned, ‘Don’t you miss being back home?’
That desire, at least on the surface, now leaves Clay looking for another head coach.