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Just three months after accepting the job as head football coach at Clay High School, highly regarded veteran coach Mike Vicars has had a change of heart.
Vicars notified Oregon Schools Friday that he will relinquish that post, as well as what would have been a position as assistant principal at Fassett Junior High in the system.
“Over the last several weeks, I felt like the skill set that I brought to the table, was probably a little bit lacking,” Vicars said. “My experiences have mostly been at the smaller-school level, and I felt that there was still time for them to get a guy that had the skill set that the kids needed. So, I decided to step down and do what was best for the kids.”
Two longtime assistant football coaches at Clay, however, said it was interference from controversial Oregon school board president P.J. Kapfhammer that derailed Vicars from taking over as the Eagles head football coach.
Vicars confirmed that two of the coaches he selected to help him lead the team were Clay assistants Rod Achter and Mike Row, both Clay graduates and former college football players, Achter at Toledo and Row at Eastern Michigan.
“I was told I was going to be on the staff, and then Mike Vicars told me he had met with some resistance from the school board,” said Row, who has assisted under three prior Clay head coaches.
Achter confirmed that turn of events and said that it was Kapfhammer who was resistant to Vicars’ hiring of himself and Row.
“That is 100 percent false,” Kapfhammer said. “I have only met Mike Vicars twice, and we never discussed anything about assistant coaches. Mike made a choice of what he wanted to do. He’s a quality guy and a great coach.
A top school official confirmed for The Blade the account by the assistant coaches as the reason Vicars decided to leave the district.
Kapfhammer has been a eeeeeeeeeepolarizing figure in the district since his election, accused of being a bully by a fellow board member and was arraigned after verbally abusing a former Clay student.
He was arraigned in March on one count of menacing and a count of disorderly conduct for an incident in which he allegedly yelled profanities and threatened Thomas Blachowski, a 25-year-old autistic Oregon man who was exercising with the school baseball team as part of his role as an honorary manager.
He said the incident was a misunderstanding stemming from Blachowski not responding to questions about who he was when questioned.
In February, 2012, Kapfhammer allegedly threatened fellow board member Diana Gadus during a policy committee meeting. Kapfhammer denied using expletives or threats with Gadus and said he apologized to her for how he handled the situation.
The Oregon Schools administration had announced on Jan. 18 that Vicars, already a resident of Oregon, would succeed current Clay athletic director Mike Donnelly as the Eagles’ football coach.
“Mike called me today and let me know he was reconsidering the offer to become our football coach,” Oregon Schools superintendent Mike Zalar said. “He said, regretfully, he was declining that.
“What he indicated to me was that he was more of a small-school type of guy, and he was a little bit apprehensive about coming into a big school, and the expectations with the [prestigious Three Rivers Athletic Conference], and things like that. That’s why he reconsidered.”
TRAC champion Whitmer went 14-1 and was the Division I state runner-up this last fall, and conference runner-up Central Catholic went 14-1 and won the Division II state championship.
Clay finished 5-5, and 3-4 in TRAC play, in Donnelly’s final season.
“This won’t be official until our [school] board acts, but I have a resignation letter,” Zalar said. “I reached out to Mike, and we did talk about it. But I feel he was pretty resolute in his position.”
Zalar said Vicars’ decision was met with a disappointment.
“Having spoken with some parents,” Zalar said, “the kids are really disappointed and heartbroken. They were really looking forward to the opportunity of being on a team together with coach Vicars as the leader.”
When asked if other factors within Oregon Schools may have been involved in Vicars’ resignation, Zalar said he could not answer that question.
“All I know is what Mike shared with me,” the superintendent said. “Beyond that, I really can’t speculate. We will be readdressing [the head coaching position] on Monday and making a plan to go forward.”
“Coach Vicars had his staff in place,” Clay principal Jeff Thompson said, “and word got back to him that the merits of a few of the assistant coaches he had selected were going to be questioned at the next school board meeting.”
Thompson declined to name the assistant coaches in question.
“There is an opening at Delta, and I think Mike wants to go to Delta,” Kapfhammer said.
Through the 23 seasons he spent as a head coach at five Ohio high schools, Vicars earned a reputation for building downtrodden programs into winners. Delta was one of those.
Delta athletic director Chad Smith confirmed Friday that Vicars had applied for an opening as a middle school principal in the Pike-Delta-York school system.
Smith said that Vicars had not applied for Delta’s vacant head football coaching position. But, learning that the coach had stepped down at Clay, Smith acknowledged that he would approach Vicars about the Panthers’ coaching post.
At Delta, Vicars inherited a team that had gone 0-10 in 1998 and, after a 1-9 rebuilding year in 1999, he guided the Panthers to a 6-5 record and a state playoff appearance in 2000.
The Panthers went 9-2 in 2001, winning the school’s first league title (Northwest Ohio Athletic League) in 50 years. Delta would win shares of two more NWOAL titles and reached the playoffs in six of Vicars’ eight seasons (62-29 record) there, including a 12-2 D-IV state semifinal run in 2003.
Vicars’ latest turn-around effort came at Genoa, where he took over a Comets team that had gone 2-8, 3-7, and 3-7 (2004-06), had not won a league title since 1994, and had never qualified for the state playoffs.
In five seasons (2007-11), Vicars’ Genoa teams posted a 56-7 overall record, won four Suburban Lakes League titles, and reached the Division IV state playoffs all five years.
The Comets reeled off 48 straight regular-season wins during that stretch, and the 2008 team went 13-1 and reached the D-IV state semifinals.
Vicars stepped down following the 2011 season, when Genoa finished 10-2, but remained on the staff as an assistant coach under Tim Spiess.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.