1. Dick Cromwell: There is nothing fancy about the way 21st-year coach Dick Cromwell s St. Francis de Sales football teams have won games over the years.
Most local opponents of the Knights usually know what s coming offensively a grind-it-out running game of basic traps, dives and isolation plays mixed with a few passes rare, but usually well-timed. But St. Francis executes so well that few foes have been able to stop it, and there is nothing basic about the Knights record under the crusty but crafty Cromwell.
Combine this proficient offense with an aggressive and stingy defensive scheme concocted by Cromwell s longtime defensive coordinator, Craig Schaefer, and the Knights have been difficult to beat during Cromwell s two stints at the school, 1979-84 and 1990-2004.
So what makes Cromwell The Blade s pick for top head coach is this corner of Ohio?
The record speaks for itself: 159-59-1 at St. Francis with 10 City League titles and 11 playoff appearances, including two state championships (D-I in 1984 and D-II in 2001), one state runner-up finish (D-II in 1982), and one semifinal trip (D-II in 2002).
"A large part of our coaching staff has been together for 10 to 14 years," Cromwell said of continuity. "We run the same offense and defense year after year. The coaches know it, and the players learn it coming through the system. Then we make adjustments with it during the seasons and during games."
And how much credit goes to Schaefer, who previously served two stints as a head coach at Northview?
"I d say it s a 50-50 ratio with me and him," Cromwell said. "With the time he puts in and the the experience he s developed, he takes the heat off of me from having to what a lot of other head coaches have to do," coach offense and defense.
Cromwell points to repetition by staff and players in practice as another St. Francis key.
"I don t think we out X-and-O everybody," Cromwell said. "It comes down to execution and the fact that we ve been together so long."
City League opponents are convinced of Cromwell s expertise. And they have good reason. Especially after the Knights won the league title last year in what was expected to be somewhat of a rebuilding year.
"He s hardnosed, he s stubborn and he s very confident in his system," says Doug Pearson, head coach of Knights arch-rival St. John s Jesuit. "He exudes that confidence and his kids exude that confidence.
"I believe you need two things to be successful in high school football. You have to be able to run the football and stop the run. They do both very well."
Pearson would know. Despite a 59-35 career record over nine CL seasons at Start (1995-2001) and St. John s (2002-03), Pearson, regarded as one of the best up-and-coming coaches in Ohio, is 0-9 against Cromwell s St. Francis teams. That included a 7-6 loss last year that ultimately cost the Titans, who later advanced to the D-I state playoff semifinals, a league title.
"They really know how to turn it up a notch in big games," Pearson said of St. Francis, "and they always improve as the season goes on. It s the same stuff year after year. They are well-coached up front and they have one of the finest defensive coordinators around in Craig Schaefer."
Pearson isn t alone in not beating Cromwell s Knights. Greg Dempsey, another highly-regarded younger coach is 0-6 in his four years at Central Catholic, including two D-II playoff losses.
Only three current CL coaches have beaten Cromwell. Whitmer coach Dan Fought, whose Panthers joined the league last year, is 2-2 in his meetings with St. Francis, including a 36-0 win last year. Rick Rios of Rogers is 1-2, having beaten the Knights en route to winning the 2000 league championship. And, new Waite coach John Johnson, a former longtime coach at Clay, defeated Cromwell s Knights when he was head coach at the former Macomber High School in the 1980s.
Running a close second is Liberty Center s Rex Lingruen, whose run with the Tigers from 1991 through 2001 ranked among the best in Ohio at any level.
Liberty, 21-7 in state playoff action in eight appearances during that 11-year span, began with a 1-1 postseason in 91. The 92 squad fell to eventual D-V state champion St. Henry in the state semis, and the 93 Tigers lost 17-14 in overtime to Steubenville Central Catholic in the D-V state final.
After not qualifying for the playoffs despite a 9-1 record in 1996, Liberty Center was back in 1997, when a 12-1 team beat Amanda-Clearcreek 49-8 in the D-V state title game. LC was 12-1 again in 98, losing to Versailles 28-7 in the state final. The Tigers reached the semifinals in both 1999 (11-2) and 2000 (13-1), and fell in the regional finals in 2001 (12-1).
During this 11-season run, Lingruen s teams went 111-23 overall and 73-15 in league play with five NWOAL titles.
Like Cromwell, Lingruen has the luxury of a top defensive coordinator who was once a head coach. Tim Spiess joined the Tiger staff in 1991, coincidently the same year the Lingruen s Tigers began their strong playoff surge.
Buti, the consummate motivator and game-day coach, has excelled in a league which has produced six state championship teams and two state runners-up in the past 14 years, including his own 14-0 Division II state champions in 1997.
Brunow has been a model of consistency, with no losing seasons since starting as head coach at Hardin Northern in 1984. His worst years were 5-5 finishes in 1986 and 88. In BVC play, Brunow s Bears have posted an impressive 20-year mark of 145-35 (.806). with eight titles. The biggest disappointment was a loss to Mogadore in the 2002 D-VI state final, spoiling a perfect season for the 14-1 Bears.