Ripley Stepping Down at Magnolia

NEW MARTINSVILLE – There comes a time in every man’s life when a little rest and relaxation goes a long way. That time is now for long-time Magnolia defensive coordinator Bob Ripley, who recently announced his decision to step away after “38 or 39” years.

Ripley’s been doing it so long that he can’t actually remember when the whole thing started, but knows now is the time for it to come to an end.

“I’ve retired from teaching and my wife also retired from teaching,” Ripley said Thursday. “She’s been dealing with some health problems, so it’s time to take care of her a little bit.

“She’s doing a lot better, though.”

Ripley may have stepped down, but he isn’t completely stepping away. He was at Alumni Field watching over things while doing the interview for this story, keeping a keen eye on understudies John Smith, Josh Simms, and Craig and Eric Mason, all of whom played for Ripley in the past and are still some of the best to ever do it defensively at the school.

“They’ve been real responsive,” Ripley said of the foursome that is charged with keeping the tradition alive. “I’m going to try to help them out a little bit.”

The Blue Eagles have always been known as high-flying, offensive juggernauts. But it was no coincidence that Magnolia had its greatest success when the defense ranked up there among the best in the state, which was often.

Back in an age when the vanilla defense was the thing to do, Ripley was ahead of the curve. Often imitated but never duplicated, the Big Blue defense as it’s referred to by New Martinsville residents, has been a force for nearly four decades.

“He was there almost 40 years and his defense speaks for itself,” Magnolia coach Mark Batton said. “We would not have had the success we’ve had without him.

“He sent (defenders) from all different angles and opposing coaches cringed because they didn’t know where guys were coming from.”

That deception was a big part of the successful equation, according to Ripley, but it was hardly as easy as the players made it look. Just the opposite is true, actually.

“When you first look at it you’re thinking ‘anyone can send a linebacker,’ ” Ripley said with a laugh. “But you’ve got to make reads, and even our strong tackle has pass responsibility.

“It doesn’t look that complex, but everyone has a responsibility.”

At halftime of a 1991 game, that responsibility began falling directly on Ripley’s shoulders. Magnolia was getting blown out by South Pointe and then-coach Dave Cisar, who had a hands-on approach, looked at his assistant and told him the defense was now his.

“We shut them out in the second half until late in the game when our cornerback fell down and they scored,” Ripley recalled. “We had actually taken the lead.

“I put the defense in that night at halftime.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Ripley, a Newcomerstown, Ohio, native, had several opportunities to become a head coach, many in his home state, but also at Magnolia when Cisar stepped down. Ripley laughed at the thought of it all because he claims to have talked Batton into taking the job.

“They gave me a shot, we raised our kids here and my two boys played here,” Ripley said of his decision to never leave Magnolia. “I was a head basketball coach here for six years, so it seemed like being an assistant was the way to go.

“The time commitment was bad enough being the defensive coordinator and I had two young kids at the time, but it was sort of like being a co-head coach with the responsibility Coach Batton gave me. I had the best of both worlds.”

Batton said Ripley’s greatest attribute was his ability to judge talent.

“He put guys where they would succeed and he made guys believe in that defense and what they were doing,” Batton said. “Magnolia football is going to miss him so much and I know a lot of coaches are breathing easier around the state.

“I don’t think Magnolia and New Martinsville can thank him enough. I’m just tickled that he was able to get that state championship in 2010.”

Speaking of that magical season, Ripley said that was his fastest defense, but stopped short of calling it his best simply because there were so many from which to choose.

“At least eight, nine, 10 years in a row and most of his coaching career, he had all-state linebackers,” Batton pointed out. “Those kids believed in what he said and they weren’t going to let him down.”

The new coaches “know how hard he worked and they have that ultimate respect for him,” Batton added.

“That’s what we want to carry on.”