After 21 seasons as the Avon Lake head football coach, Dave Dlugosz is calling it a career.
Dlugosz compiled a 200-44 record, won 18 Southwestern Conference championships — including 15 of the last 16 — and guided the Shoremen to the 2003 Division II state championship.
His teams also earned academic all-Ohio honors from the Ohio High School Coaches Association for five years in a row.
Dlugosz told his players of his decision at a team meeting Wednesday.
A 1970 Avon Lake graduate, Dlugosz taught in the Avon Lake district for 38 years, retiring last year. After leading the Shoremen to the Division I playoffs and an 8-3 record this season, Dlugosz felt the time was right to step down.
“Twenty-two years as a head coach is a long time, and that’s essentially what it came down to,” he said. “We still have some very qualified guys on our coaching staff to carry on what has happened at Avon Lake, year after year. We’re also going to have a pretty solid team coming back with 18 lettermen and 12 starters returning. That should give the next coach, whoever it is, a real good head start in his head-coaching career.”
The next head coach is expected to come from the current coaching staff — assistants Ed Citro, Larry Laird and Jeff Ara are considered candidates.
Dlugosz, meanwhile, hopes to remain with the program in a different capacity.
“What’s probably going to happen is that even though I have retired as the head coach, I can easily see myself coming back as an assistant,” he said. “That will free up all kinds of time because I’m not going to be involved in seven-on-seven, not going to be as involved in the weight room and all the organizational things that go with being a head football coach.
“Looking back on things, I have spent a lot of time coaching everybody else’s kids and maybe didn’t give my kids enough time. That’s something that can’t be amended now, but I can make it up a little bit with my grandchildren.”
The district must post the opening for 10 days before officially offering anyone the position. Thursday was the first day the job was opened, meaning Avon Lake cannot hire its next coach until Dec. 16.
“The good thing for us is that we have an outstanding internal candidate,” Avon Lake athletic director Tom Barone said. “There are a lot of benefits of moving forward with someone that has been a part of our program, who has seen what it takes and knows what Shoreman football is all about.
“There are a lot of advantages for an internal candidate, and it’s good for the kids that we have such a strong internal candidate that the transition would be smooth and easy. None of that has been determined yet, but we have a strong candidate in place that would be advantageous in many ways.”
As far as Dlugosz staying with the program in a smaller role, Barone would be thrilled. He also would not be surprised.
“Dave doesn’t have any hobbies and he doesn’t do anything else,” he said. “Dave is Shoreman football and I’m confident he will still be close to the program. Having him as an assistant on our coaching staff would be huge for us, with his knowledge. That’s what I am hoping will happen, that Dave will be part of our staff.”
Dlugosz coached many players that ended up playing college football — so many he could not give a specific number. Dlugosz worked hard to represent Avon Lake, demanded the same from his kids and thinks their acceptance of this role led to success on the field. It became an attitude that was handed down from class to class.
“I’m a born and raised Avon Laker, so I’ve always taken a lot of responsibility as far as trying to represent our community and trying to represent our school to the best of my ability,” Dlugosz said. “That’s what it really comes down to. I’ve been very fortunate to have great kids at Avon Lake, kids that bought into the program, were disciplined and that committed themselves to the things you have to do to be a winner.
“We didn’t always necessarily have the best athletes, and we’ve had our share of good athletes, but a lot of times we didn’t have the best athletes but we ended up having the best team because of the fact that those kids learned from each other, year after year, what it takes to be a champion.”
Ron Willoughby — currently a redshirt freshman wide receiver at Buffalo — played three years for Dlugosz, twice being named a team captain. Willoughby credits his former coach with turning him into a Division I college football player.
“Coach Dulgosz did a great job making me into the person I am today,” he said. “I remember after my sophomore year, I didn’t really enjoy football. He told me to just stick with it because the next year was going to be my year. That’s when I had a great season and received my scholarship from the University of Buffalo.”
Dlugosz was hired in 1992 to replace Jeff Riesen, and the Shoremen went 7-3 in his first season and won the SWC championship. During his career at Avon Lake, Dlugosz won 10 or more games nine times while losing four games just once in 2009.
In a span of years filled with highlights, the back-to-back trips to the state final sticks out most for Dlugosz.
“Obviously, the big team highlight is winning the state championship,” he said. “When you are from a mid-size school that doesn’t have open enrollment, everything has to fall into place. You have to have great kids, real solid coaches and luck certainly does get involved. You also have to stay free of injuries.
“We were fortunate in 2003. All that came together, then in 2004 we made it back to the state final and lost to Columbus Brookhaven. Back-to-back years we played for the state championship, and during that time won 29 consecutive games. That’s darn tough to do.”
Dlugosz made sure his players knew, regardless of their level of success on the field, they were a permanent part of the Avon Lake family.
“Every year at our banquet we would tell the players the same thing — that they had passed on their legacy, but they would always be Shoremen,” Dlugosz said. “They would always be welcome back in our weight room, our practice facility, our coaches’ office … that they could come back and tell us how they were doing.
“When you’re a coach, wins and losses are great, but what you really like to do is watch kids develop. Some of the greatest pleasure you get is seeing that very, very average freshman or sophomore develop by their senior year to where they are all-conference or all-county.”
Trey Stross, who played wide receiver at Iowa and was signed by the Houston Texans, was a member of the 2003 state championship team.
“Being a Shoremen is special, almost sacred, to every player who put the helmet on … ask them,” Stross said. “Watching my brother play on the great 2000 team gave me a sense of direction. We wanted to play for Coach Dlugosz. We wanted to win a state championship for our city. What has made Avon Lake great is no hidden secret. Coaches and players shared the same passion for the game and competitive desire to win, and Coach Dlugosz was the reason for that.”
Dlugosz had a message for his successor.
“I don’t expect him to do as well as me, I expect him to do better,” Dlugosz said. “Everyone is replaceable and I expect things to be taken to the next level.
“When you try to build a program, number one on your list is that you’ve got to have players, and our kids have great work ethics. The second thing you have to look at is your coaching staff, and I’ve been blessed year after year to have outstanding assistants that have always taken on a lot of responsibility, had a lot of pride and had passion for the game of football.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or email@example.com.