Matsakis Bids to Make Defiance a Winner

DEFIANCE — He has a football resume second to none when it comes to rebuilding downtrodden football programs. Now Manny Matsakis is poised for his latest gridiron challenge.

The Shadyside High product accepted the head football coaching position at Defiance College late last month. The NCAA Division III Yellow Jackets went 2-8 last fall. The Northwest Ohio school has posted just one winning season in the past 11 campaigns.

Matsakis — who has coaching experience at every level — has spent the last three seasons at Widener University (Philadelphia), serving as offensive coordinator and director of academics. Widener went 7-4 last year while earning a berth in the Centennial MAC Bowl Championship.

Matsakis’ collegiate coaching resume is a national road map.

He has put in stints at the University of Wyoming, Emporia State University, Kansas State University and Hofstra University. At every stop of the way, Matsakis has been cast with a program down on its luck.

Defiance is no different. The Yellow Jackets are bottom feeders in the Heartland Conference.

“It has been crazy but also fun since I arrived on campus. I like the challenge of such a late start,” Matsakis noted. “Our goal is to improve every day. We want to put this program in order. Our college president is a super and supportive lady. She is a strong president and said if we won one game this season she’d be tickled.

“I wanted to come back to Ohio (why he took the job). My family and my wife’s family are from Ohio, so I basically wanted to come home. I have liked every place I have been and I like turning around programs.

“We are going to do things the right way — no shortcuts. High school football is really good in this area so that will help.”

After a stellar three-sport career at Shadyside, Matsakis took his grid talents to Capital University. He was a three-time All-Ohio Athletic Conference performer and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1984.

Matsakis cut his coaching teeth at Hofstra University where he served as offense coordinator. His three-year stint with the Flying Dutchmen earned him a coordinator’s job at Kansas State for Bill Snyder.

At that time, the Wildcats were the worst team in college football history. Matsakis was part of a staff that put K-State on the road to being a perennial top 25 team.

“I was part of a great staff there. We had the Stoops brothers on the staff as well as Mark Mangino,” Matsakis said. “Bill Snyder is the best coach in college football. No disrespect to Nick Saban but no one could have done what Coach Snyder has done at K-State.”

Matsakis then landed his first head coaching job at Emporia State. His four-year stay saw the Hornets go from mediocre to one of the best D-II programs in the nation. Former Buckeye Local great Chet Pobolish was one of Emporia’s key figures.

“It was a great stay in Emporia. I am proud of how we turned things around in four years,” he said. “Chet was a great player. We still talk often.”

His Emporia State reclamation work earned him the offensive coordinator’s job at Wyoming. In one year, he elevated the worst offense in the Mountain West to the top-rated one.

Matsakis then hooked on at Texas Tech with two offensive gurus. Mike Leach — the Godfather of the Air Raid offense — was the Red Raiders head coach while current WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen was offensive coordinator.

“I was Coach Leach’s first hire at Tech. We had a great staff, including Dana,” Matsakis said. “It was a great learning experience, especially on the offensive end.”

He then matriculated to Texas State University as head coach. His offense was ranked No. 1 in the Southland Conference and seventh in the nation in 2003, averaging 443.4 yards per game. The Bobcat offense set 17 school records.

A shakeup in the administration resulted in Matsakis leaving the Lone Star State.

“The school fired the athletic director who I was close to. They were implementing a lot of changes so I felt it best to leave,” Matsakis said.

Since then he has been an assistant with Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League, a head high school coach in North Carolina and head coach at Bethany (an NAIA school in Kansas) before heading to Widener.

“When I took the job here I didn’t know anything about the program’s players. We got the staff in place and the players reported Tuesday,” Matsakis said. “We want to get better each day and at the end of the season we want to be the team in the conference that no one wants to play.

“I have had a great career and it’s only to get better. I am only 56 with a lot of football coaching life left,” he said. “There is nothing like turning around a program. We want to fill this stadium and give the school a team it will be proud of.”

BUBBA’S BITS

∫ Former Barnesville High School administrator Jeff Crosier is the new OVAC president.

∫ Prep football is less than two weeks from kickoff. Nine new head coaches will be in charge of our local teams, an unusually high number. They are Jason Willis, John Marshall; Chas Yoder, Martins Ferry; Josh Ischy, Monroe Central; Anthony Hayes, Harrison Central; Fred Ray, Bridgeport; Bernie Thompson, Union Local; Josh Franke, Toronto; Shane O’Brien’s, Edison; Josh Lowery, Cambridge.

∫ Speaking of prep football, I like the increased number of Thursday night games. I wish there were more Saturday night prep offerings.

∫ One of the class events of the year unfolds Saturday night at WesBanco Arena when the OVAC stages its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The quality of enshrinees remains amazing.

∫ Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Vaughn Fabry. The former St. John Central football and wrestling standout died this past week in Virginia. He was 54. The 1982 SJC grad helped Frank Vingia’s Green gridders compile an 8-2 mark his senior season. He also finished second that same year in the 185-pound class of the OVAC Wrestling Tournament.

∫ The OVAC Rudy Mumley Charity All-Star Football game is a mid-summer spectacle. Unfortunately, the contest attracted just 2,093 paying fans.

∫ I have been to countless football media days during my time in the newspaper business. Veteran Paden City coach Brent Croasmun, however, ranks at the top of the list when it comes to accommodating the media. Croasmun, who has been a Wildcat grid coach for 37 years, the last 20 as the head man, puts together a pre-season media guide many colleges would envy.

∫ Brilliant High held its inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this weekend. The celebration commenced Thursday with a dinner at Fairway River Links Restaurant in Rayland with more than 150 Blue Devil diehards in attendance. Some of the notables in attendance included Jake Olsvaksy, Ron Pobolish, Pete Adrian and Dave Reitter.

Bubba Kapral can be reached at bkapral@timesleaderonline.com

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