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COLUMN: Kopachy exit leaves major void

May 8, 2012
B.J. LISKO - Salem News Sports Editor ( , Salem News

This one hurts.

Mike Kopachy stepped down as head coach of the Salem Quakers Tuesday, effectively ending one of the most successful tenures in school history.

Kopachy was one of those special coaches. A coach who you could see truly got through to his players.

The Salem News' first real experience with Kopachy came in 2006 when despite Western Reserve going just 3-7 two years straight prior to that season, we put the Blue Devils on the cover of our football preview.

It certainly raised some eyebrows, but we weren't the only ones who could see success wasn't far off for Western Reserve. The attitudes were changing. Kids were buying into the program and getting after it on the field. The team went 8-3 that season and made the playoffs. They followed that year with a 6-4 campaign and were back in the postseason in 2008 going 9-3 and nabbing the school a playoff win. It was the first time Western Reserve had three straight winning seasons.

Kopachy came down route 45 into Salem like a hurricane. The entire attitude of the town changed. Salem promptly ran through its schedule like a blitzkrieg and right into the playoffs for the first time.

They traveled to Granville and won, and the next week against perennial power Steubenville Big Red nearly pulled off the unthinkable. Even though they fell in that game, they already won big. There were more people from Salem in New Philadelphia than I'd ever seen at Reilly Stadium. It was louder. It was wilder. It was high school sports at their finest. Truly, it was a sight to behold.

2010 was another successful year and the team earned yet another trip to the playoffs. For Salem football, the success was unprecedented.

Going in, most people knew 2011 was going to be somewhat of a rebuilding year. Salem lost a great deal of talent and were entering a new league known for its strength in football, the Northeastern Buckeye Conference. And despite it all, a Salem team that was run largely by committee still managed to avoid a losing season at 5-5.

While it's understandable to see Kopachy go for personal reasons, it's not going to be an easy transition for Salem.

There's never a good time to step down from a program, and Kopachy's exit leaves Salem in a bit of a mess. While he undoubtedly has changed the face of the program, it only takes one bad season to erase years of hard work. Success does breed success, but it goes both ways.

With the program in the NBC, it's even tougher, because there simply is no margin for error.

That the team is already in spring workouts and with summer two-a-days just around the corner, Salem administrators obviously will have to act quickly. The easiest thing they could do might be to promote someone already within the program, and it may be there only choice.

Salem does have quality assistants capable of taking over the program, but a coaching switch this close to summer workouts is going to be a challenge. In an already extremely difficult league, a smooth transition is going to be crucial for the Quakers to remain in the thick of the NBC race.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at



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