LIBERTY CENTER - This year's Blade Coach of the Year was also arguably an easy choice for coach of the decade in the 1990's.
None of Rex Lingruen's peers in this area could match his record of 94-25 with six playoff appearances, one state championship (1997) and two state-runner-up finishes (1993 and 1998) at Liberty Center over the prior 10 years, and few can compare to his work this season.
The Tigers' skipper lost starters to graduation at 16 of 22 positions from last year's 11-2 team, which reached the Division V state semifinals before losing to St. Henry. The Tigers were picked to finish fourth this year in the nine-team Northwest Ohio Athletic League.
But Liberty Center wound up the regular season 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in Ohio. Wins over NWOAL-rival Patrick Henry and Delphos Jefferson in the playoffs lifted Lingruen's postseason mark at Liberty Center to 18-5.
Lingruen, who turned 50 in July, is 131-49 in his 16 seasons at Liberty Center.
Also considered for the All-Blade coaching honor were Fostoria's Tom Grine, who took Fostoria from an 0-10 season in 1999 to 8-3 and a playoff appearance this year; Delta's Mike Vicars, who took the Panthers from 1-9 in 1999 to 6-5 and the school's first playoff berth this year; Bowling Green's Denny Marquette, who guided the Bobcats to a 10-1 season and a playoff appearance; Rogers's first-year coach Rick Rios, who led the Rams to their first City League championship and playoff berth, and Lake's Jim Kubuske, whose 8-3 Flyers made their first postseason appearance.
How does Lingruen sustain such excellence within this smallish Henry County community of about 1,100 residents?
Hard work, a staff of knowledgeable assistant coaches, a love for the game of football, and a seemingly endless supply of relatively small, quick, hard-nosed players who buy into Lingruen's frequent 31/2-hour practice sessions.
"We work extremely hard on technique and fundamentals," Lingruen said, "and I have a tremendous group of assistant coaches. The kids believe in everything we do, and that helps."
And how does Lingruen sell the players on these marathon practice sessions?
"You have to win," he said. "If we weren't winning it would be a lot harder. Back in 1994, the year after we lost in the state finals, we knew we were going to be weaker the next year and I thought, 'Maybe we ought to kick it back a little.'
"After that season one of my players came up to me and said, 'We knew you didn't think we were going to be that good because you didn't work us as hard as last year's team.' He was right. I decided right then and there, that'll never happen again. We practice to beat the best teams in the state whether we're playing them that week or not."
What separates Liberty Center football from other area programs?
"We've been fortunate to have some great athletes, this is a football community and the town is behind us and, number one, I just can't stand to lose.
"I'm just a big kid. We have as much fun as we can, yet we get on 'em pretty hard, too.
"Hopefully, what we do here teaches the kids discipline, family and trust."