The game was over, the trophy presentation done, the interviews finished, but Ursuline High football coach Dan Reardon still had the hardest job ahead of him. So, 30 minutes after his team lost the biggest game of the season, Reardon made his way down from the press box, crossed the empty playing field at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon and walked toward his team’s locker room.
His wife, Amanda, was waiting outside. She hugged him. His 5-year-old son, Matthew, was waiting. His 7-year-old daughter, Emma, wearing an Ursuline jersey and bright pink boots, was waiting. Emma had been with him on the sidelines, hugging him through the postgame television interviews, wiping away tears behind her glasses, holding up the runner-up trophy.
Through it all, Reardon kept his composure. No tears. No excuses. No complaints. Just classy comments and comforting words.
“As a coach, you put this in perspective,” said Reardon, after his team’s 20-14 defeat to Maria Stein Marion Local in Friday’s Division V state final. “The players don’t know what they’ve accomplished, but as a coach, you do.”
He was a coach to the end. Not until the final seconds started ticking away did he remove his headset. Still on the sideline, the game nearing the end, he gathered his players around him and gave instructions on the postgame handshake. He shook hands, kept his head up and said all the right things.
U“We lost to an outstanding team,” he said.
U“They were extremely well-coached,” he said.
U“I’m just so proud of my kids,” he said.
Amanda Reardon, his wife of nine years, stayed outside the locker room after the game, hugging players, wiping back tears, fighting the cold. She’d watched the game bundled up under blankets in the stands, hoping for a different outcome, supporting her husband the same way she has for the past 20 weeks when August hit and she was once again a coaching widow.
“I’m so proud of my husband and all the players,” she said afterward. “They’ve worked so hard. Every week they were underdogs and there were people questioning their heart.
“I hope today they proved to everyone how much heart they have.”
Know this: Behind every good coach is a good woman, working behind the scenes to keep the family fed and the bathroom clean and the house in order as her husband works 15-hour days during the fall, hoping for a chance to play in a game like Friday’s.
Dan met Amanda while he was a graduate assistant under Jim Tressel at YSU and she was a track standout. They were introduced through mutual friends, dated a few times, and it soon became evident to Amanda that Dan was the one. He was just as bald then as he is now — “You can’t write that,” she said, laughing, “that isn’t fair” — but he was a good guy and he’s been a good husband.
Five years ago, he was an assistant coach at Warren Harding when the Raiders lost a close game in the Division I state final.
She’s been through this before. She knows how hard it is.
“Any loss is hard,” she said. “But he’ll bounce back. We’ll help him.”
So will his good friend Matt Koenig, who coached Canfield to a state baseball title in June and was standing on the sideline during Friday’s game. Koenig is Matthew’s godfather, while Dan and Amanda are the godparents to Matt’s second daughter.
“This is going to hurt him” said Koenig, who went to Canfield High with Reardon. “But he’s always been resilient.
“As a coach, you’re never supposed to talk about next year, but you watch, they’ll be in the same place next year. I hope he brings it home.”
Keep in mind that being the head football coach at Ursuline is not an easy job. Reardon is the fourth Irish coach since Dick Angle was let go after the 1996 season. Scott Niedzwiecki lasted two years. Jim Vivo lasted three years, winning a state title in 2000. His replacement, Dan Murphy, lasted two years before leaving.
The expectations are high. And patience isn’t always a luxury.
Reardon took over four years ago after helping build a terrific track program at Harding and assisting on some of the best football teams in school history. He’s brought stability, he’s brought pride and, most important for a coach, he’s brought wins, leading the Irish to just their second state final in school history.
The Irish didn’t win Friday, but they didn’t lose, either. Not really. As a security guard told Ursuline’s coaches afterward, “every other team in the state would like to be here.”
And, for the next few days, the players and coaches will rely on their family and friends to get them through it. They were there for them before this season, and they’ll be there afterward.
“We’ll get our golf clubs out in the spring and summer and have long conversations about success and failure,” said Koenig. “He’ll bounce back.”
After 20 minutes in the locker room, Reardon finally walked outside, exchanged a few more hugs and started toward the parking lot. His kids ran up next to him, Emma grabbing his hand and Matthew walking alongside him.
Reardon had two sets of kids on Friday.
He did a pretty good job with both.