After stepping down last May after five seasons as Genoa's head football coach, Mike Vicars has decided to return to the head coaching ranks, this time at Clay.
Vicars brings with him a distinguished resume that includes success at several schools, most recently Genoa High School.
Vicars takes over a program that was making steady progress in six years under Mike Donnelly, a 1992 Clay graduate. Donnelly, who is currently serving as the school's athletic director, will stay on in that role.
Vicars, no stranger to building elite programs, will have his work cut out for him at Clay, a Division II football school. The Eagles currently compete in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, which has proven itself to be one of the state's best leagues.
The TRAC includes the likes of Central Catholic, this year’s D-II State Champion, and Whitmer, the D-I state runner-up, as well as St. John's Jesuit and Findlay. There are three private Catholic schools in the conference that play football and the four remaining public schools are all bigger than Clay.
“It's a great challenge, that's for sure,” Vicars said. “There are some great programs in this conference. I'm excited about meeting the players. I already live in town, so I've gotten to know some people in the community, too.”
The Eagles, who went 5-5 and 3-4 in the TRAC last season, return 27 juniors, including quarterback Josh Pennington. Pennington made great strides last season, completing 131-of-243 passes (53.9%) to go with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran 111 times for 417 yards (3.6 per-carry) and six scores.
It will be interesting to see how Vicars, who ran the Wing-T at Genoa, will adjust to a team that is used to running a spread offense. He did note, however, that he is flexible and will coach according to his talent.
“With Matt Bassitt at quarterback, we ran the ball about 60-40, maybe 65-35,” Vicars said of his play-calling percentages while at Genoa. “And with Kyle Nutter, we ran the ball as much as 80 percent of the time. I coach based on the talent I have.”
Vicars previously coached at Holgate, Ada, Hilltop and Delta, guiding the latter three schools to their inaugural postseason appearances. Vicars currently holds a career record of 153-82 (.651) in 21 seasons.
While he did an incredible job in Genoa, some of Vicars' best work may have come at Delta, where he inherited a team that went 0-10 in 1998 and led them to a 62-29 record in eight seasons (1999-2006) while competing in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League. The Panthers won three NWOAL titles, qualified for the postseason six times during that span and advanced to the Div. IV State Semifinals in '03.
After stepping down as head coach from Genoa last May, Vicars stayed on as the offensive coordinator under Tim Spiess. Spiess, oddly enough, was Vicars' top assistant for the previous five years before taking over.
The move allowed Vicars to step back and take on a lighter workload, something that enabled him to recharge his batteries after investing so heavily as the head coach for five years.
In five seasons at Genoa, Vicars went 56-7 (.889), including 48-2 in the regular season and won four Suburban Lakes League titles while establishing the Comets as one of the top programs in Division IV. But it was in the postseason when his teams made their mark, going 8-5 and advancing to the state semifinal in '08. In five years as the head coach, the Comets won at least one game in the playoffs each year. And this season, with Vicars serving as the team's offensive coordinator, Genoa went 11-1, won their first Northern Buckeye Conference title and advanced to the regional semifinals.
In the four years before Vicars got to Genoa, the Comets had gone a combined 9-31. But he instantly turned things around, leading the Comets to a 10-2 record, an SLL title and an appearance in the D-IV regional semifinals in '07, the school's first postseason berth.
“I built some great relationships with the people at Genoa,” Vicars said of the football-rich community. “The winning was great, but the best part was getting to know people in the community. It's a great community and they supported our football program so much.”
In addition to being the head football coach, Vicars, who is currently the assistant principal at Genoa Middle School, will serve as the assistant principal at Fassett Junior High.
In addition to hiring Vicars, the Oregon school system welcomes Dave Conley as head volleyball coach, who spent the last eight years at Toledo Christian. Conley led the Eagles to five Toledo Area Athletic Conference titles and twice took them to the Division IV State Meet. Conley, a Univ. of Toledo graduate, has ties to the area, having worked at the local YMCA in the late 1990s. And his wife currently works as a nurse at Mercy St. Charles Hospital in town.
Dr. Mike Zalar, the superintendent of Oregon schools, had high praise for both men.
“For us, it's about having two coaches with integrity that can build relationships with our student-athletes,” said Zalar. “These two coaches have had success in the past and we're hoping they can continue that here.”