MEDINA — Dan Sutherland said it at least 20 times Monday afternoon while discussing his decision to resign as Medina football coach following one of the most successful seasons in program history: “I’m tired.”
Sutherland, 37, who has no health or family issues and zero desire to coach anywhere else, informed his players of his decision in a brief 2:45 p.m. meeting at the high school.
“I’ve always asked the kids to give 100 percent,” the 1997 Medina High and 2001 Malone University graduate said. “If I had any question about whether I could do the same, I felt like I should step down. I’m not sure I can give 100 percent right now.”
Sutherland emphasized he still loved practices and games, but said the off-field responsibilities that come with being a head coach wore him down.
“I’m tired,” he said. “I always said when it wasn’t fun anymore, that’s when I knew I would get out. It’s not the practices. These kids are amazing. It’s the weight-room stuff, the meetings, all the off-field stuff. These kids deserve someone who can give it their best.”
Sutherland, who became a Medina assistant in 2002, compiled a 20-32 record in five years as head coach. His first team went 2-8, followed by seasons of 3-7, 2-8 and 4-6. Medina then went 9-3 this fall while averaging a Medina County-record 43.2 points and pushing Solon to the limit in Week 10 for what would have been a share of the Greater Cleveland Conference title.
The 2016 Bees, who are on a short list of candidates for the mythical title of best team in school history, came back from 24-0 and 31-14 deficits to defeat Toledo Whitmer 38-31 in the first round of the Division I, Region 2 playoffs before losing 45-27 to eventual state semifinalist Olentangy Liberty the following week.
“We’ve got this thing now where it’s a true program, top to bottom,” said Sutherland, who estimated he worked 80 hours a week in-season. “It took a lot of work to get to that point. It was a full-time job, and that’s on top of the full-time job I already have teaching (seventh-grade history at Medina’s A.I. Root Middle School).
“When I started, I was a young, cocky guy. I said, ‘It will take two years to turn this around.’ After the first year, I remember going to (former athletic director and current principal) Jeff (Harrison) and saying, ‘It’s going to take a lot longer.’ But even in my darkest times, the administration had my back. That helped a lot, but it was tough.”
Sutherland, who will take a complete break from coaching next year but hasn’t ruled out one day returning to the Medina program as an assistant, would like to see the new head coach be someone from his 2016 staff and has volunteered to be a member of the panel that interviews candidates.
Offensive coordinator Mike Zografos and defensive coordinator Toby Stepsis are widely considered the leading candidates internally, but current AD Todd Hodkey said the coaching search will extend outside the school system.
“We want the best coach and best person for the program, the person who is going to continue the success we had this season and put kids first,” Hodkey said. “This search deserves and demands that all candidates be looked at, whether internal or external. That’s what we plan to do.”
“Caught off guard” by Sutherland’s resignation, Hodkey plans to start interviewing potential head coaches in January and hopes to recommend someone to the school board by Feb. 1.
“I know Dan has put in a lot of time and effort,” the AD said. “I wouldn’t say I saw it coming, but I understand his reasoning.”
Sutherland is confident he’s left the program in good shape, even though the Bees will lose All-Ohio running back Jimmy Daw, all-state lineman Dillon Brauser and a host of other talented seniors to graduation.
Medina’s top returning players include All-Ohio receiver Dylan Fultz, safety J.T. Scoarste, receiver/defensive end Will Mercurio, quarterback Gavin Montgomery, tackle Patrick Ross and running back Daylonte Davis.
“This is not leaving the cupboard bare,” Sutherland said. “This is leaving a lot of talent and a great coaching staff. I don’t want the program to fall apart after one year.”
Dating to 1985, Medina has had back-to-back winning seasons just twice (2002-03 and 1997-98), while its last league title came in the Southwestern Conference in 1973.
“The kids know that, and that’s the goal,” Sutherland said of having another winning season in 2017. “It’s not a one-year thing. That mentality has to change, and it has.”
Medina’s players echoed that thought, but were sad to see Sutherland go.
“You knew he always had your back no matter what,” Fultz said. “He’d always fight for you.
“I don’t think (a coaching change) will affect us that much,” the junior added. “We’re going to come in knowing what we have to do to win.”
Added Ross, another junior: “It will be different without him. I’ve never had another coach and he was in the program so long. But the program isn’t going to change too much. Hopefully, we’ll be as successful as we were this season.”
Daw, who scored 41 touchdowns in a record-setting senior year, had nothing but praise for his head coach.
“He taught me so much, and it was from more than a football standpoint,” the Ball State recruit said. “It was about life. He’s been a really good guy to all of us. He cared about us a ton. He doesn’t have any kids, so we were his kids in a way. We knew he was always there for us, for whatever. He was great to all of us.”
Sutherland first started discussing stepping down with his younger brother, Tim, at the end of the 2015 season. Tim, a longtime Medina assistant, had already decided not to coach next season because he and his wife are expecting their first child in early January.
Sutherland also discussed his coaching future with his wife, Kristen, a former Medina cheerleader.
“We talked the whole year,” he said. “At the end, she said, ‘I’ll love you, Dan, no matter what you decide.’”
The next task was telling his players, which wasn’t easy for the emotional Sutherland, a former defensive coordinator whose greatest strengths were leadership, being big-picture oriented and developing a tight bond with those who played for him.
“The kids know I’m a crier,” he said with a smile. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’m not an uptight coach, but I held back the tears. I think they were surprised (at the decision), but it had nothing to do with them. They were and are wonderful kids. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Medina.”
As for what he will do with his spare time, Sutherland is uncertain, though he does plan to spend more time with his wife at the couple’s cottage on Catawba Island.
“I leave with a lot of pride,” Sutherland said. “I did it the way I thought was right. We had to develop players. It wasn’t about wins and losses. It was a four-year window developing kids and building kids with character and honor and class.
“We had classy kids across the board. It wasn’t just the seniors, though they led the way. It was everyone. These kids are hungry and humble.”
Always classy and humble during his time as head coach, Sutherland could very well return as a Medina assistant when the hunger fully returns.
“I’ve never had a life without football since the fourth grade,” he said. “I don’t know what life is like in the fall without football. I may love it; I may hate it.
“If I ever coach again, it will be at Medina. I’m a Medina guy. I was born and raised in Medina and it’s how I’ll die.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.