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BOWLING GREEN - No one in northwest Ohio has waited longer or more patiently than Von Graffin for the chance to be called a head coach.
Nineteen years is how much time Bowling Green's first-year head coach spent toiling as a dedicated and devoted assistant before finally getting his shot at calling a team his own.
Graffin's time to be held accountable for wins and losses has finally arrived and that's perfect for the Bobcats' new coach, who has already led Bowling Green to twice as many wins as last season. The Bobcats, who will play at Southview tonight, are 7-3 overall and sit surprisingly at the top of the Northern Lakes League with a 5-0 record.
“One thing my father always said was there's no hurry,” the 42-year-old Graffin explained. “I saw a lot of coaches getting head coaching jobs and they were in their late 20s and early 30s, and they're already out of the profession.”
Graffin's coaching experience is vast, beyond just the total amount of years he's carried a coaching clipboard. He's served under more than one head coach and has worked as an assistant at several area schools, including Macomber, Rogers, Rossford and Bowling Green.
At every stop, Graffin displayed the kind of characteristics considered necessary for a respected and successful head coach. He proved invaluable for retired coach Bart Schroeder when they coached at Macomber when Jim Jackson was a standout there.
“There was no doubt in my mind that Von really wanted to become a head coach,” Schroeder said. “He's very energetic. He energizes all the people around him and that will go a long way.
“He always went above and beyond the call of duty.”
Former Rossford head coach Kirk Lehman also appreciated and admired Graffin's total commitment. Lehman believes Graffin's opportunity to become a head coach was long overdue.
“It was always a goal of Von's to do that,” Lehman said. “He has always had a great desire for coaching. He puts in an awful lot of time and I think that really reflects in how well-prepared his players are for games.
“He communicates really well with the players and the people associated with the program. He also has a great knowledge of the game.”
Graffin's first job offer to become a head coach came about prior to this school year when former Bowling Green head coach Mike Vannett stepped down. Graffin had served three years as one of Vannett's assistants.
Once Bowling Green school officials whittled down the pool of candidates, it was Graffin receiving the job offer.
“The one thing we were looking for was we wanted someone with enthusiasm. Someone passionate about the game, which he is,” said Vannett, the Bobcats' athletic director and dean of students. “Obviously the fact that he was an assistant here didn't hurt since he was already familiar with the program.”
Nonetheless, offering Graffin the job was due as much to his previous employment.
“He's been around some pretty good people,” Vannett said. “He's been around some pretty good programs. He's had a pretty well-rounded coaching experience. He's been involved in the City League and the suburban schools.”
A twist of fate has Graffin coaching the team his son, Michael, plays for. Had it been up to him, the elder Graffin probably would be serving as the head coach for one of the City League schools or at his alma mater, Port Clinton.
Graffin, who has been a teacher in the Toledo Public Schools since 1984, figured his first opportunity to become a head coach would come about at one of the City League schools. However, once Macomber closed its doors and later others filled openings at Rogers and the Northern Lakes League's Rossford, Graffin wasn't counting on his first head coaching job to come in the City League.
“It really was a great situation at Macomber and had it not closed I'd probably still be there,” Graffin said. “Those other two [Rogers and Rossford] were two good places to coach at, too, but circumstances were out of my control.”
Graffin, who believes he was more than qualified to handle the jobs at Rogers, Rossford and Port Clinton, said he really doesn't harbor any resentment about being passed over for those positions. He believes everything has worked out the way it was supposed to.
“I was fortunate to get picked up as an assistant by Mike Vannett and was fortunate he stepped down,” Graffin said.
And the Bobcats have responded to their new head coach. Picked to finish near the bottom of the NLL, the Bobcats have the only unblemished record.
Graffin has sold the Bobcats on team play. No one has scored more than 20 points in a game and five different players have led the team in scoring at least once this season. Juniors Michael Graffin and Eric Radabaugh top the team at 11 points a game while seniors Justin Rex and Chris Hanna are averaging nine points apiece.
“These guys have had some success because they've bought into some of the things we do,” Graffin said. “I know it's early, but these kids are feeling good about themselves right now.”
Schroeder, who is retired and has lived in Cleveland for the past year, has attended one of Bowling Green's games in support of his former assistant. Regardless of how the first season under Graffin turns out, Schroeder thinks Bowling Green has the right person in place.
“Winning is wonderful, but it's all about how the kids respond and are playing for you,” Schroeder said. “I think Graffin would be just as pleased right now if his team was 3-7 and was showing the same kind of hard work.”