The coach of Division V state champion Coldwater says the wait for his title was all part of high school football, but admits…it was very nice, for everyone, to finally win!
Coldwater - Look, they don’t come nicer, or better, than Coldwater head football coach Chip Otten.
He’s a great coach, yes, but he’s gracious with his time, as well…respectful and appreciative for the fact of media and its coverage of high school football.
He’s kind of low-key, patient, and experienced enough after years of coaching to know that what goes around, comes around. Today’s tragedy is often the impetus for tomorrow’s triumph. It’s high school football.
An example: Prior to last year’s Division V championship rematch with Kirtland he was asked, by Press Pros, if he felt the pressure of having to win after three successive appearances in the title game and coming up empty, losing twice to Youngstown Ursuline in ’09 and ’10, and Kirtland in 2011.
“No,” he responded with a shrug. “We’d like to go up there and win the thing this time, sure, but sometimes you just run up against a team that’s better than you are on a particular day. That’s the way it was against Ursuline in ’09, and give it to Kirtland…they had a great running game and played near-perfect football in the ’11 game.”
But every dog has its day. Fortunes, like rosters, change. Armed with a large and experienced senior class in 2012 Otten and Coldwater atoned for that 2011 championship loss to Kirtland last December, surviving with a 10-9 win over the defending champions to claim the Cavaliers’ third Ohio High School football title.
It’s not considered good etiquette in high school sports to talk about it. Pressure, and an emphasis on winning…the reality of scorn and criticism when you don’t win the ultimate game after so many opportunities consecutively. It is, after all, high school, and all that business about the game being about the kids…sportsmanship, character, the company line set forth by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
But nonetheless, there are reminders and parallels to other famous unfortunates…Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings, who lost in the Super Bowl in 1969, ’73, ’74, and ’76. And Marv Levy and the Buffalo Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls from 1990 through 1993.
Proper? Maybe not, but a reality in sports, regardless of level and league. You just don’t get there four times in a row. Winning counts. For a lot of reasons with prep sports correctness you don’t bring up the proverbial “monkey on your back” over such matters. It’s just plain bad manners. But Chip Otten understood without being asked last December that his legacy and reputation as a coach was on the line.
“Well, the first time John was here (former coach John Reed),” said Otten last week. “But you’re right. The last two were on me and there’s always pressure because of games like that. If you’re a competitor you want to win. And if you lose four in a row you become the Buffalo Bills of high school football. You go into games like that knowing that you might never get back there again, so you want to take advantage of the opportunity any time you get there.
“I guess I’m old enough, and have coached enough, that games like that aren’t as pressure-packed as they once were. After all, we’d been there a couple of times when we had won it. But coaches are paranoid people sometimes. Sometimes we come across as confident, even arrogant. But in the back of your mind there’s always that doubt about something that you could have done better. Why didn’t we win that game? Am I ever gonna’ get back? Those kind of things. So yes, those are the things that you think about when you’re in the situation we had last year.”
They won it, yes, and it was anything but a gimme. From the sideline, one of the hardest hitting, most savagely competed high school football games in memory. Nerve-wracking if you’re a coach, it was a game of punts and field position. An early touchdown by Coldwater in the first quarter. An answer by Kirtland to tie the score in the second. A 28-yard field goal by Coldwater kicker Kyle Bergman in the third, followed by a fourth quarter Kirtland safety that closed the deficit to a single point as the game entered its climactic final moments. The question: Did Otten feel that monkey crawling up his back one more time?
“Well, those tough games are the ones you like to remember,” he admitted last week, prior to the opening of two-a-days. “But the pressure…it was there. We never trailed in a game last year, not one second. And really, by the fourth quarter every game we played last year had been decided. So I’m not gonna’ say otherwise, when it got tight like that it got pressurized. Outwardly I was trying to stay calm, but inside I had the feeling of, oh no, here we go again.
“They got the safety in the fourth quarter that made it 10-9, and I brought the guys to the sideline and told them it’s not a big deal. We’re still ahead and we just flipped the field position back in our favor. I didn’t see any panic in the kids. They were older and they’d played a lot. It was just another opportunity for our defense to go out there and shut ‘em down, like they’d done all year.
“What made it extra special for me was the fact of our kids never, ever giving in. When it got a little tight there, we gave ‘em the safety and it looked like the tide was turning. But the kids had practiced hard and we take a lot of pride in our preparation and poise. We don’t react and we don’t throw helmets. They may cuss under their breath, but we don’t let things fly outwardly. So it was really satisfying not only to win, but the way we won. The kids demonstrated the character that we try to teach. They bought in. They handled their responsibilities. They did a good job of representing the school and the community.”
The simian references put aside now Chip Otten set about two-a-days this week as he prepares for another season with the pride of a champion and the optimism for another day in Massillon one day, some day…whenever it might come. For now, a new year, new faces, and new challenges.
“Oh yeah,” he chuckles. “That’s what makes high school football so much fun. Every year and every week you see something different that you have to prepare for. If it’s Minster you have a coverage designed just for them. If it’s Covington you prepare for the option, the double slots and all the motions. In the Kirtland game they played two tight end, stack I. You don’t ever see that, except Kirtland. You learn to adjust and be ready for the next challenge. Jay Niswonger used to call it keeping the tool box loaded and ready. You never know what you’re going to need.”
And you never do know when you’re going to get back there, to Massillon, Columbus, wherever. Championships are not automatic, even in the MAC. Coaching in a league that’s won more than a hundred state titles, a league that’s dominated state football since 2000, it’s nice to join the other names: Al Hetrick (Versailles), Jeff Starkey (St. Henry), Todd Schulte (Delphos St. John), Tim Goodwin (Marion Local), John Reed (Coldwater)…Chip Otten, coach of the Cavaliers.
Trust it. It’s nice to have your name on a title…and the monkey off your back!