Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites and outdoor publications, and for the past ten years has served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Widely knowledgeable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the Midwest. He and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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His success has been so startling, so consistent and now expected, it’s made Marion Local’s Tim Goodwin the state’s hottest commodity among high school football coaches.  Except, to be a commodity you have to be available, and Goodwin makes it very plain…he’s perfectly happy where he is

(Ed. note:  Having won five of the last six state titles in Division VI and VII football, and nine overall with last fall’s victory over Cuyahoga Heights, if you didn’t see our August 2013 feature on Marion Local’s Tim Goodwin we thought you’d enjoy reading it now.  Obviously the figures are out of date, as since this story was published Goodwin and the Flyers have won two more state titles, in 2014 and 2016.  As we approach our seventh anniversary of publishing Press Pros, it remains the single most-read feature on an individual in our tenure.  Enjoy this encore presentation. – August 10, 2017)

In the annals of sports history, about 70 years ago, Brooklyn Dodger manager Leo Durocher once uttered what would come to be a legendary phrase when he said, “Nice guys finish last.”

That quote has spawned a number of derivatives over the years, about how the quiet, the modest, and the meek usually take a back seat to the brash, arrogant, and self-aggrandizing.

But the New Testament book of Matthew then says that the meek shall inherit the earth, about which an irreverent journalist once jested over one poor running back in a college football game who couldn’t get out of his own backfield time and again.  Finally left face down in the dirt after one particularly ruthless tackle, the writer opined,   “The meek shall inherit the earth.  And Murphy just inherited a whole mouthful of it.”

Well, Leo Durocher never met Tim Goodwin – quiet, modest, confident and purposeful – who in eight trips as head coach with the Marion Local Flyers to the OHSAA Division V, VI, and VII football finals has finished first 87.5% of the time.  He’s won seven of the eight times he’s gone to the championship game, losing only to Columbus Grove in 2003, and only then as the clock ran out on a furious Marion Local fourth quarter comeback.

Quiet?  Professionally, he largely keeps to himself, sharing time with his family, players, and his staff.  It’s taken me ten years of covering Marion Local to honestly say that I’m easy with calling Goodwin now to ask for time.  He graciously grants, but you weigh your questions carefully.  Tim Goodwin, state champion, high school principal, and the analytical former math teacher, does not suffer fools or foolish questions lightly…or such is my impression.

Modest?  His Flyers are the talk of small-school Ohio high school football once again in 2014 following back-to-back-to-back titles the past three seasons, two in Division VI, and last year in the inaugural year of the state’s seventh division.  Of his state titles, three times he’s won in back-to-back fashion…in 2000, ’01, in 2006, ’07, and in 2011, ’12, and ’13.  His total of 50 playoff wins since 2000, against just 9 defeats, is virtually incomparable…a winning percentage of 85%, overall, and the best in the state!

His team embarks on the 2014 season with a rare opportunity…one of the state’s rarest opportunities.  Only one other program in Ohio high school history has won four consecutive titles, that being Cleveland St. Ignacius, which holds the record with five titles in a row won between 1991 and 1995.  Ignacius also hold the record for most titles all-time, with 11, but Goodwin and the Flyers are creeping up on that mark in not-so-quiet fashion.  They’re just four behind, with seven.

And yet his modesty prevails as to any question of his being a sudden celebrity among the coaching fraternity.

“I’ve had great players here with great work ethics over the years.  I’ve had great support and I’ve had great coaches. “

“Sometimes people recognize me and want to talk about football, and I wonder who they are and how they would even know me,”  he says sheepishly.  “But it doesn’t happen all that often, and when it does…I talk.  I really don’t mind.”

And when he’s asked the inevitable, if a “four-peat” is first and foremost the topic of conversation with his team as the Flyers prepare for the 2014 season, Goodwin’s 15th, he has it calculated like a two-minute drill at the end of the game.

“Obviously it’s something I’m thinking about,”  he shared recently.  “It’s something that hasn’t been done very often, and we do have a lot of talented kids back from last year’s team.  But, we also lost some very good players, and leaders, from last year’s team.  Obviously Adam Bertke, but Jason Brunswick and Troy Homan are going to be hard to replace….a Division I (college) quarterback, our leading receiver, and our best lineman.  Jason Brunswick was one of the most incredible leaders I’ve ever been around.  He even motivated me.  So yes, we’re going to be talented because our senior class this year has played since they were sophomores.  Very talented, but we’ll see how it all comes together.  We’re still looking at a couple of positions and people to fill them.

“As far as the four in a row part, you might think about it, but thinking about it won’t help you at all.  You have to go out and play.  You have to do what you do.”

As we say…modest!

And confident?  Well it’s not something that Goodwin talks about, but he doesn’t need to, either.  You know when you’re in his presence that he’s perfectly happy in his own skin, to borrow from the popular soap commercial.  Colleagues, rival coaches, and former and present players will tell you that the reason for so many “Marion Miracles” in the past 14 seasons rests squarely with the considerable coaching attributes of Tim Goodwin.

“Hands down, he’s the smartest football coach I’ve worked with,”  says former assistant and retired Marion Local teacher, Bill Elking, who served on his staff for five of the Flyers’ state titles.  “Tim has the ability to watch another team warm up and spot their weaknesses.  He can scan the field during a play and immediately recognize adjustments.  I’m taking nothing away from anyone else, but Tim Goodwin is the best I’ve ever been around.”

“He is a big reason why we are what we are,”  says senior quarterback Dustin Rethman.  “Everyone respects him, for sure, but he’s also a tremendous motivator.  He can be intimidating, too, but once you get to know him he’s really a good guy.  You want to play for him.”

“His ability to make halftime adjustments is really amazing,”  adds senior wide receiver Ryan Bruns.  “We’ve won a lot of games that way.  He comes in and tells you what you have to do, we go out and do it, and we win.”

All of which makes Goodwin roll his eyes and shake his head when he hears such talk.  If modesty is a virtue…Tim Goodwin is already a saint!

“I don’t know about any of that, or even what to say about that,”  he says.  “I’ve had great players here with great work ethics over the years.  I’ve had great support and I’ve had great coaches.  I probably have three or four guys on my staff right now who could be successful head coaches.  I don’t think many small schools around could say that.

“”Sometimes people recognize me and want to talk about football, and I wonder who they are and how they would even know me,”  says Goodwin.  “But it doesn’t happen all that often, and when it does…I talk.  I really don’t mind.”

“I think I have a gift for what I do, but I’ve worked at it for a long time.  Part of it comes from being the son of a coach and being a part of football since I could walk.  And a big part of it comes from paying attention.  When I was a little manager on my dad’s team I wasn’t out on the back forty throwing a football.  I was right there watching and listening to what was going on.  I’ve always been like a sponge around the game and other coaches, and I think my greatest asset as a football coach is what I observe.  I can watch a play and pretty much tell you what all eleven guys did.  I don’t know how I do it.  I guess it comes over time, but I think it gives me an advantage.”

A math teacher by training prior to entering school administration, Goodwin draws a lot of his insights in football from corollaries between the two subjects.  Once a teacher in the classroom, he now teaches a different critical analysis on the playing field.

“There is a correlation between math and football,”  he says.  “I’m more into the probabilities of math, and my philosophy in football is that you enhance your probability with every play.  Every play is a trial and over the course of a game, or a season, and if you do it enough times I think you can gain a probability of advantage.  And you know, that accumulates.

Probability?  In last season’s district final with Covington (in the estimation of many the state championship game three weeks prior to the actual game in Massillon), Goodwin chose to go for a first down on fourth and 10 from midfield with 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, rather than kick the ball to Covington and running back A.J. Ouellette, who already had 237 yards rushing in the game.

“We hadn’t stopped him (Ouellette) all night,”  said Goodwin afterwards.  “I felt we had a better chance of getting the first down than stopping their offense if we kicked.”  And it worked.  Marion converted for the first down and eventually went in for the winning score.  Forced to throw when they did get the ball on the ensuing kickoff, Covington could not answer.

All of this contributes to the talk about legends, and dynasties, and a coach being in demand for more prestigious jobs in larger markets, with larger budgets and bigger resources.  If you could make such a comparison to college or professional football, where coaches change jobs like they change socks, Tim Goodwin would be presently the hottest commodity in Ohio high school football.

He blushes a bit, and he smiles at the mention of such excess and bluster.  From the back porch of his home outside Maria Stein Goodwin can gaze across the rolling fields of corn and soybeans and see the spire of the town’s Catholic church;  and the grain elevator at the corner of routes 119 and 716.  The lights of Booster Field, the Flyers’ quaint little home field, are visible just one short mile away as the crow flies.

His property consists of about three acres on which there are a half dozen tomato plants, a couple of calves in a small pasture…and goats.  Everything that Goodwin, wife Dawn, daughters Maddie and Kate, and son Joel appreciate most in life, its simplicity, is right before them.

“I’ve thought about how my life would and my family’s life would be different if I had taken a different job years ago,”  he admits.  “I’ve thought about not taking a grad assistant’s job in college, and where I might have been today had I not gotten so deeply into high school football when I did.  Look, my world is pretty small, and I can truthfully say that everything I need and want I have here in this community.  I cannot imagine leaving and going anywhere else because if I were at Moeller or Hilliard Davidson I would doing the same things I’m doing here…the same schemes, the same coaches, the same practice schedule, everything.  But I think I can do everything I want to do in football right here.  Marion Local and I have been a perfect fit.  So why would I want to leave?

“”As far as the four in a row part, you might think about it, but thinking about it won’t help you at all.  You have to go out and play.  You have to do what you do.”

The 85% overall winning percentage and the remarkable playoff record lends itself to an even tougher question for Goodwin, when asked.  Has his success over 14 seasons made Marion Local the top football program in the state, even playing in Division VII?

“That’s really an unanswerable question,” he fumes, frustration showing in his voice.  “I mean, I guess we’re in the conversation.  But how do you equate what we’ve done to a school like Hilliard Davidson?

“I think the thing that gives me as much satisfaction as winning the titles is what we’ve done with some teams that weren’t that talented.  To take a 5-5 team and still compete in the playoffs like we did one year.  How we’ve kept moving forward with some of those teams and how we’ve done some pretty good stuff.  Tradition is so important in high school, and success like we’ve had can go away in a hurry.  It’s happened in other schools if you look around, and you don’t have to look very far.  I just hope we all appreciate what we have right now…the kids, the resources, the support, and the tradition.”

As the landscape of Maria Stein, Ohio has changed in fourteen years, so too has Tim Goodwin’s methods and probabilities regarding football.  Beautiful new homes dot the countryside.  No longer a farming community in the strictest sense, Marion Local, the “bedroom community” for those who work in Celina, Sidney, Piqua, and Lima, has benefited from its new-found pride in a football tradition, and respect for excellence.  Winners on the field, the school’s classroom standards are just as high, and good athletes more often than not are good students, as well.

It’s everything a guy who lives by the laws of probability could want, proof to the contrary regarding Leo Durocher’s statement.  Modest, confident guys can, and do, finish first!

One in particular, about 87.5% of the time.

 

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