Larry Laird watched Dave Dlugosz lead the Avon Lake football team to the Division II state championship in 2003. The longtime Dlugosz assistant is hoping to duplicate the feat himself, and he expects his mentor to still be right beside him on the sideline if it happens.
Laird was approved as the Shoremen head coach Tuesday night by the Avon Lake Board of Education, and confirmed that the recently retired Dlugosz will be part of his coaching staff next season.
“We have already moved forward on that,” Laird said. “We’ve spent years going back and forth with advice and ideas … the only difference is that now I’ll get the final say.”
Laird, 44, spent nine of the last 10 years as Dlugosz’s offensive coordinator, and that includes the ’03 title team and the squad that lost in the state final in 2004. It was Laird’s offensive schemes that helped Dlugosz win several of his 18 Southwestern Conference championships.
“He knows how to adopt the offense to our personnel,” said Dlugosz, who retired last month after amassing 200 victories in 21 seasons at Avon Lake. “The big thing in football now is the spread offense, everyone’s running the spread. Alabama doesn’t run the spread and they just won the national championship. So he’s very good at making sure the offense fits the players.”
Dlugosz also lists passion for the sport and competitiveness as two big coaching assets for Laird, and said not many coaches spend as much time studying film and preparing for games as his former assistant.
Dlugosz’s stamp of approval carries weight, which may be why it didn’t take Avon Lake long to name Laird his successor.
“He was our first and only look to be honest,” Avon Lake athletic director Tom Barone said. “Even if he wasn’t a longtime assistant coach in our program, he would have been a very strong candidate for the job. We were fortunate to have him involved in our program, because now he knows our players and our program inside and out.”
It’s been the most successful program in Lorain County over the last 15 years, and because of that Laird doesn’t plan on doing too much tinkering.
“Our goals aren’t going to change just because Dave stepped down,” Laird said. “First, we want to win our opener, then we want to win the conference. If we take care of business and win the conference, we should make it to the state playoffs. So our fourth goal is to win a state championship.”
Laird knows how to do it, and not just from his time at Avon Lake. He was Kenton’s offensive coordinator in 2001 when the Wildcats won the Division IV state title.
“I’ve been fortunate during my coaching career so far,” Laird said. “To work under Mark (Mauk) at Kenton and Dave at Avon Lake … those are two Hall of Fame-type coaches and I was able to pick up so much from them.”
Laird starred at Fairport Harding High and Edinboro University before taking assistant coaching positions at Kenton and Avon Lake. He left the Shoremen in 2010 to become Medina’s head coach, leading the Bees to a 9-3 record and the school’s first playoff victory when it beat Canton McKinley, before leaving after one season due to the failure of a school levy.
He teaches the occupational work experience program at Avon Lake.
“I have a really good relationship with the administration,” Laird said. “They know what I’m about and they know what my coaching philosophies are. Now I just want to go out there and carry on the tradition.”