June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

High school football: Bees’ Dan Sutherland in for long haul

Every high school football season at every school represents a new beginning, a fresh start, but that approach has been taken to extremes at Medina.

When the Bees trot onto the turf tonight at Kenneth Dukes Stadium to play Garfield Heights in their season opener, seniors like Dillon Wiesler, Mitch Doraty and Danny Eller will be playing for their fourth head coach in four years.

Dillon Wiesler will be playing for his fourth head coach in four years when the Bees host Garfield Heights tonight in the season opener. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

“Think about that,” said 33-year-old Dan Sutherland, who is that fourth head coach, having taken over for Ray Hradek, who took over for Larry Laird, who took over for Greg Reed. “That stinks for them.”

That stench, however, has been replaced by the soothing aroma of knowing Sutherland, a 1997 Medina graduate who teaches at A.I. Root Middle School, not to mention a nine-year assistant with the program who unsuccessfully applied for the head coaching job on two previous occasions, is going nowhere.

Barring some totally unforeseen catastrophe, he will be Medina’s head coach in 2013 whether the current Bees meet their lofty goal of qualifying for the Division I state playoffs or finish 2-8 and last in the unbelievably competitive Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division.

The same will hold true in 2014 and 2015, athletic director Jeff Harrison will tell you, because what the football program needs more than anything right now is stability and continuity.

That starts at the top with Sutherland, a knowledgeable football man who is fully aware of the challenge in front of him but who is also honest, energetic and upbeat as he begins his first — but certainly not his last — season as a head coach.

“I’m a Medina lifer,” Sutherland said Thursday, his bald head glistening in the afternoon sun as the Bees prepared to go through a light practice. “I went to school here and I teach here. I’m not going anywhere, and these kids need to know that.”

They do, but for the seniors, the future is now. When it comes to high school football, there is no next year for them.

Sutherland is fully aware of that fact. A former tight end at Medina who went on to play linebacker at Malone College — he still looks in good enough shape to play a few series — he knows how desperately football players crave success.

Equally important, he knows those football players want to succeed right now, that to them, “down the road” means the next play, maybe the next series, but certainly not next week, let alone next year.

“We owe these seniors everything we can give them,” Sutherland said. “They deserve to go out with something they can be proud of. They should be able to say, ‘I was part of that group that turned things around.’”

Exactly what needs to occur for that last statement to be true is purposely vague, as it should be. It could entail an unbelievable season and Medina’s third playoff berth, or it could simply mean laying the groundwork for future years, regardless of final record.

It could also mean both, of course, but groundwork can only be laid if future teams build upon whatever the Bees, 4-6 overall and 2-3 in the Valley Division a year ago, accomplish in 2012.

Right now, the important thing is Medina seniors seem to realize the revolving door of head coaches has finally stopped. They’ve bought into Sutherland as a long-term solution, yet remain intent on making the most out of their final season.

“It’s definitely been hard,” said Wiesler, who will start at quarterback and cornerback. “You have to learn four new systems. Every year, it’s like starting with a clean slate. You have to forget everything from the year before. It’s difficult.”

Difficult, yes, but success is still possible — on any number of levels.

“We’re building blocks,” Wiesler astutely acknowledged of this year’s seniors. “We’re setting the foundation for a winning program. Even if we don’t have a great record, I want us to be remembered as the guys who got things started. I think that’s important.”

Doraty, a third-year varsity player who will serve as a team captain along with Eller, Emerson Buckland and a rotating selection, was in complete agreement.

“It’s been hard going through every coach’s way of doing things, especially on offense,” the two-way lineman said. “We want to start Coach Sutherland’s program off with a good record and hopefully go to states so they can build off that.”

Sutherland wants that, too, especially for the kids currently on the roster. But he also sees the big picture, which is why he is stressing the importance of “developing a program mentality” and “building this thing from the ground up.”

Right now, the on-field part of that equation will revolve around physical line play and a smashmouth running attack, which is what Laird used two years ago to lead the Bees to a 9-3 record and the only playoff victory in school history.

“We’ve got to try to be better at what we do than anybody else,” said Eller, who will start at receiver and safety. “We’ve got to look at it like, ‘You can’t stop what we do.’ We’re going to try to out-physical other teams.”

It remains to be seen whether Medina will be able to do that well enough, right off the bat, to be highly successful in a Valley Division that features state powers Mentor and Solon, plus extremely solid programs in Twinsburg, Brunswick and, at least until recent years, Strongsville.

“If you win our league, you’re a legitimate state title contender,” Sutherland said. “Let’s be honest. That’s just the way it is. When schools like Mentor and Solon walk on the field, they feel like they’re going to beat anybody they play. They don’t care who they’re playing.”

Ultimately, that’s where Sutherland wants Medina to get to, but he knows there are no shortcuts.

To that end, the varsity staff held a clinic in the spring, at which coaches from Root and Claggett middle schools, as well as those in charge of all local youth teams at all levels, were instructed on the offensive and defensive principles Medina is using.

Some leeway will be given for individual creativity, but Sutherland’s goal is to have all teams run the same base packages, the correct theory being those programs’ primary concern should be developing players for the high school level, not winning youth league titles.

Of course, all those efforts are wasted if the varsity head coach changes on a consistent basis, which is what makes Sutherland the ideal man for the Medina job.

He’s not going anywhere.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.