In just three years, he put an end to one of the region’s oldest expectations … of how and when the Versailles Tigers would reign again as a powerhouse in the Midwest Athletic Conference and OHSAA Division V football champion. This made Ryan Jones our 2021 football coach of the year.
It won’t be a surprise if you know anything about Versailles, Ohio and Versailles Tiger football.
It’s fashionable. It always has been, thanks to former coach Al Hetrick’s record and legacy and his six state titles with the Tigers in fourteen years (1990 to 2003).
It’s unifying, something everyone in the community can seemingly agree on – ‘Tigerball’!
And, the eighteen-year gap between titles was like a void in the local culture, something that must have felt like an eternity. The Tigers went through three different coaches after Hetrick resigned in 2005, in search of the right person and the right attributes, only to ultimately bring them back to where Versailles thought he rightly belonged.
They found their guy in Ryan Jones in 2019, who in three years has led them from 3-7, to 5-3, and this year 15-1 … and yes, the 2021 Division V State Championship.
This guy, Ryan Jones, has the distinction of being the professional press space Coach of the Year in zonal football – a notable distinction when you consider the other candidates.
Bill Nees de Piqua led the Indians to a 12-1 record and a regional final with eventual Division II state champion Winton Woods.
Marion Local’s Tim Goodwin led the Flyers to a perfect 16-0 season and to the Division VII titleâ¦ and their twelfth, to capture the OHSAA’s absolute lead in titles won.
Bret Pearce of Milton Union led the Division IV Bulldogs to a 10-2 record before losing to Eaton in the second round of the playoffs.
Tipp City’s Matt Burgbacher continued to challenge the odds of those who were cynical about leaving Troy three seasons ago to rebuild the Red Devils. Division III Tipp was 10-3 this year, losing to Bellbrook in the regional semifinals.
Othersâ¦ Chip Otten brought Coldwater back to the Division VI final game, where he finished second behind Carey. Chris Schmidt returned from the 2020 Division VII Championship to rebuild New Bremen to an 8-4 season. And Brad Luthman coached St. Henry to a 10-4 record and three playoff wins.
But Jones and Versailles captured the hearts and expectations of Darke County and all who remembered those glory days of the ’90sâ¦ as he gave’ Tigerball ‘the respect it deserves.
âI wanted a challenge,â he said in an interview with Press Pros three years ago when accepting the Versailles post. âI wanted to train in a place where there were high expectations, with the right values. I wanted to be a coach at Versailles.
âThere is a lot to build here. The kids are fantastic. The equipment is at the top. Support from the school and the community is all you would want. I don’t know if it’s about rebuilding … or just continuing. There are always bumps in the road, and maybe things haven’t met Versailles’ expectations. But I’ll do what’s best for the program. We are not going to look back, we are going to look to the future and worry about the future. One game at a time. “
Many coaches say these same words when they take up a job. It should be there in the manual.
But Jones approached the future with a realistic perspective of improving the little things, through teaching and a style of play that quickly paid off with a cycle of talented athletes. Win or lose, his attitude and vision never wavered as he endured the learning curve that comes with Marion Local and Coldwater. And last August, when it was widely recognized that the Tigers were talented, experienced and deep, his perspective was still to play one game at a time, while also adapting his style of play to the staff.
The staff responded, resembling the good old days of ‘Tigerball’ – blocking, tackling and physical football. Leaders have emerged like quarterback Carson Bey, running backs Jack Osborne and Landon Henry. And the physical personality was defined by the two-way lineman, Taran Tyo.
Their only hiccup came at Marion Local, in Week 3 – a 19-17 loss – and a game determined in the dying seconds by an interception at the goal line. They learned and moved on, amassing three shutouts over the next 13 weeks, including a 14-0 win over No.1 seed Cincinnati Taft and a 28-0 victory over No.1 seed. Â° 3 Preble Shawnee.
Of course, last Saturday Jones and the Tigers finally completed the eighteen-year wait and restoration of an identity with a 20-16 victory over six-time champion Kirtland in the Division V title game. And they did it in just three years!
“They could have said, ‘Who is this little guy from Troy Christian’.” Jones said. “But they [the kids] kissed him. They joined the program. They gave him every ounce of effort they had.
Just like Jones. The players just trusted and followed his example.
The model has been restored, and with it the expectation of this rich tradition defining not only a school and a football team, but a community. They love ‘Tigerball’ in Versailles. That’s what got Ryan Jones there in the first place.
And that makes him our Regional Coach of the Year 2021 in football.
Congratulations to all!