Hoover graduate and current ESPN college football analyst went 45-49 in four years as Vikings head coach.
NORTH CANTON The thinking is Todd Blackledge needs to devote his full attention to his broadcasting career, and Hoover High School’s varsity boys basketball coach needs to devote his full attention to the program.
So Blackledge resigned from his position as head basketball coach of the Vikings. He spoke to his players Sunday night and the district announced the move Monday morning.
A 1979 Hoover graduate who won a national championship as Penn State’s quarterback before being drafted into the NFL, Blackledge went 45-49 in his four years as Hoover’s head basketball coach while juggling the demands of his job as one of ESPN’s lead college football analysts. His coaching tenure was highlighted by an 18-7 record and a district final appearance in 2016-17.
After graduating the bulk of that team and Blackledge’s own son, Eli, leaving the program for personal reasons early this season, the Vikings tumbled to a 4-19 record — Hoover’s worst since going 2-19 in 1989-90.
That’s not the reason the 57-year-old Blackledge is resigning, he stresses. The competitor in him wants to embrace the challenge of getting the Vikings back on track. He believes there is a lot of young talent in the program (including his son, Owen, a Hoover freshman) and says the youth program “is probably the best it’s ever been.”
“When I’m honest with myself, I know what it takes to do this job right from a time commitment and energy standpoint,” he told the Canton Repository. “I don’t feel like I’ve cheated this job or my ESPN job. … I just don’t know if I’m the right person for the job anymore. They need someone with a singular focus, that’s going to give what the job deserves and what those kids deserve.”
Blackledge adds he’s entering a contract year at ESPN, so his responsibilities could increase this season.
Handling his schedule was a point of concern from the moment he succeeded Randy Montgomery as Hoover’s head coach in 2014.
Blackledge was gone Thursday through Sunday during the college football regular season. He also was on the road during parts of bowl season. That led to practices being canceled or assistants running the show.
Hoover improved from 10-12 in his first year to 13-11 in his second to the 18-win season a year ago before this year’s ugly campaign, which included a 2-10 Federal League record and the Vikings losing 17 of their final 18 games.
“I think overall I’m happy,” Blackledge said of his tenure. “I don’t regret trying. You don’t know if something is right for you until you try it and give it a great effort. It wasn’t because of the 4-19 season I’ve leaving. I’m the son of a coach. I know you’re going to have seasons that go south on you. We had some adversity. We had some issues. But you’re going to have years like this sometimes.
“Coaching always was about more than just wins and losses. It was about an opportunity to impact kids I got to work with and coaches I got to work with — being in this together and working toward the same goal. It’s the kind of thing that goes beyond the scorebook.”
Blackledge, the son of former longtime NFL assistant coach and Kent State head coach Ron Blackledge, was a three-sport star at Hoover. He led Penn State to the 1982 national championship and won the Davey O’Brien Award. Selected seventh overall in the fabled 1983 NFL Draft, Blackledge played seven seasons professionally with Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
Blackledge, who maintained basketball was his favorite sport despite his football success, was an assistant coach in Montgomery’s program from 2003-12.
“Todd has given Hoover his all over the past four years, and I’m very appreciate of all that he has done for our program,” Hoover athletic director Tim Walker said. “Todd is a man of tremendous character and I respect the decision that he has made to step away at this time.”
Walker said the district is figuring out what its next steps are. North Canton has a property tax levy on the May 8 ballot. If it doesn’t pass, the district expects to make $2 million in reductions. So it’s unclear if a teaching job will be available to offer with the coaching position.
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