GREEN It has worked for two of Green’s Federal League rivals.
Now, district officials, parents, athletes and community members hope it will work for the Bulldogs as well.
When the district announced the hiring of Mark Geis as Green’s new varsity football coach last month, it signaled the beginning of a new era for the program. He takes over for Jon Wallace, whose teams won just four league games the past four seasons, and turning the Bulldogs around looks to be as big a challenge as Geis has undertaken in nearly two decades as a football coach.
“A lot of the appeal comes from my father being an administrator at Green for 20 years, so I’ve had a lot of opportunities to hang out and be close to sports here, being part of community and going to athletic events,” Geis said. “ Also, being part of Federal League is a great part for me because I grew up going to Hoover and know this league well.”
The reason Geis fits the pattern of other league rivals is because both Jackson and Hoover have head coaches who enjoyed success at Division VI schools elsewhere and were hired to help turn around their respective programs with the idea of having a coach who has won and built a program come in and implement his system at a bigger school.
At Jackson, head coach Tim Budd brought his system from St. Thomas Aquinas and during his short tenure, has led Jackson to a share of one league title and two straight playoff berths in Division I. This past season, the Polar Bears just missed out on the postseason, but still had a winning record.
Hoover, meanwhile, took a year longer than Jackson to push its way back to the top of the league standings, but went 7-3 and shared the league title with Canton McKinley last fall under head coach Brian Baum, who came to North Canton from Fredricktown and had a arguably a bigger rebuild on his hands than Budd after both men were hired by their respective schools in the same offseason.
Geis has a connection to Budd, as the two scrimmaged when Geis coached Rootstown from 2012 to 2017, and Budd was at Aquinas. He also sees ties between the paths he, Budd and Baum took to Federal League head coaching jobs.
“There’s a lot to be said about being a head coach at a small school. There are a lot of little things we have to do ourselves that you don’t necessarily have help with, so you have to develop strong work ethic,” Geis said. “When we scrimmaged Aquinas and I was at Rootstown, you could see coach Budd did a great job turning that program around.”
Now, Geis will attempt to affect a similar turnaround at Green. He took Rootstown from winless to an undefeated regular season capped with a regional final appearance in his final year with the Rovers and after one season at Kent Roosevelt, he’s taking on a program that was 1-9 and 0-6 in league play last season. As with many coaches who step into a similar situation in any sports, Geis views the turnaround in both a short- and long-term sense.
“What I like to do as a head coach and what I’ve learned the past seven years is that it’s about reaching down all the way youth level, building good youth programs,” Geis said. “We’ll be heavily involved in developing relationships with kids and coaches and be involved in practices at the youth level. Another thing we want to do is get involved in a great strength and conditioning program. We need to get our numbers up and be strong and tough.”
Those are more long-term tactics, ones that won’t immediately turn the tide at the varsity level, so it makes sense that those in and around the program may wonder what Geis’ plan is to get the Bulldogs turned around this fall.
“What I’ve learned is it takes some patience and there are some areas where you need to be really patient and trust the process, but there are other areas where it’s important to communicate what you want to be done and to put your stamp on how you want things done,” Geis said. “The heart and the meat and potatoes of what we do will be to run off tackle and be physical up front.”
The offense will be built around running the ball and basing play action passing off the run game, an approach Geis describes as a “power spread” attack. On defense, the Bulldogs will play a multiple 4-3 look that will be predicated on being aggressive and making sure that tackling form is on point. That rings true for a team that is typically among the smallest in the Federal League and needs to be fundamentally sound and tough to compete on a regular basis.
Over the next few months, Geis will be both building his coaching staff and trying to get to know both current and future players in the district as they play winter and spring sports. He says he encourages his players to be multi-sport athletes and not simply focus on football all year round. He and his wife Janie have two children, Jesse, 6, and Kendall, who will turn 4 years old next month, and although Geis doesn’t currently teach in the district, he’s a certified intervention specialist for kindergarten through high school and said the plan is for him to teach within his new district this fall.
For the next seven months, much of the work he and his coaching staff do will be behind the scenes, but come this fall, how well they and their players have done that work will be on full display as the Bulldogs begin their new era.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB