WELLINGTON — One of the toughest offseasons in recent memory for local football coaches continued Wednesday when Wellington’s Matt Stoll tendered his letter of resignation and informed his former players he will not be returning for the 2014 season.
The 54-year-old Stoll said he had previously hoped to coach at least one more season but came to what he called a “joint decision” to step down after a postseason meeting with the administration.
Stoll joins longtime North Ridgeville coach Jeff Riesen, Lorain High’s Tony Shoulders and Oberlin’s Fred Howery among local coaches not returning next year. Another veteran coach, Midview’s Bill Albright, retired after 28 seasons on the sidelines.
The Dukes finished this season with a 2-8 record but were just two years removed a 7-4 season. They made it to the Division IV regional quarterfinals that year, where they lost to eventual state runner-up Kenton, a team led by current University of Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk.
Stoll’s teams also made the playoffs in 1997, 2000, ’01 and ’03.
“I was disappointed and didn’t agree with my evaluation, and that led to do some soul-searching about if I really wanted to return,” Stoll said. “I guess I really don’t have much else to say about it. I would rather remember the good times.”
There are a lot of good times to remember for Stoll, who compiled a 149-103 record with five playoff appearances in 24 seasons as the Dukes’ head coach. Stoll also coached six seasons at Black River, where he went 46-16 and guided the Pirates to their first playoff berth in 1985.
Wellington athletic director Dennis Ziegler said he met with Stoll on Monday to discuss the future of the football program.
“We had left that meeting with an agreement to develop a plan moving forward for the program,” Ziegler said. “After that, he decided that it was just his time to walk away. Matt has been a great coach here for 24 years and one of the most respected guys in the whole county, so I know it hard to be a hard decision for him. I wasn’t looking to make a change.”
Junior football player Bryce Gibbs said rumors of Stoll’s departure had been circulating around the school for days, but he didn’t want to believe it until he heard the words come from Stoll’s mouth in an emotional meeting in the school’s library Wednesday afternoon.
“When he started talking we were all in shock,” Gibbs said. “Myself and a couple of the other players broke down and started crying. Coach was crying, too, and we had never seen him that emotional before.”
Wellington appeared to enter the offseason on a positive note after dropping its first eight games of the year, closing with a pair of 35-0 wins over Firelands and Brookside.
“This last season had its up and downs but I coached the same way as I did the last 23 years,” Stoll said. “Some people felt like we were just going through the motions, but every member of this coaching staff coached with the same level of enthusiasm that we did in the years we went to the playoffs.”
Football has been a major part of Stoll’s life, dating back to his days as a student at Edison High School, where he graduated in 1977. He then went on to Baldwin Wallace, where he had the chance to play football for legendary coach Lee Tressel.
Stoll started coaching and teaching at Black River. Prior to the 1990 season, he moved to Wellington to take over the Dukes football program and teach at McCormick Middle School.
“A part of me really wants to coach again,” he said. “What I will miss most is the players and the camaraderie of my coaches. When I think about losing those things from my life it bothers me. Right now I’m content with the great memories of some of the teams we’ve had here and the players I have coached that went on to become great athletes and members of our community.”
Gibbs said Stoll took the time to make the football players feel like part of his extended family.
“Coach reached out to us to help us with academics as well as football,” he said. “He taught us that life is about more than this game. He taught us about accepting responsibility and becoming a man.
“I felt like he wasn’t just a coach. He was like family to the guys on the team. Even though our season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, coach Stoll was always in a good mood and he made sure we stayed together as one.”
“I want to bring in a new coach that has similar characteristics to Matt,” said Ziegler, who hopes to have a new coach in place sometime in January. “Someone who is going to be there for kids and truly cares about the program and the community.”
Gibbs said although the players are upset about Stoll’s departure, they’re ready to get back in the weight room and get ready for the 2014 season.
“It’s going to be tough, and some of us are really upset about it, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to take off and be down about it,” Gibbs said. “If coach Stoll was still here he would want us to keep working hard. We want to bring home a Patriot Athletic Conference championship next year. Our home fans deserve that and we want to do that for coach Stoll. We know he still cares about us and wants us to succeed.”