In three short years he ended one of the area’s longest-standing expectations…of how and when the Versailles Tigers would again reign as a power in the Midwest Athletic Conference and the champion of OHSAA Division V football. It made Ryan Jones our 2021 area Coach of The Year in football.
This will come as no surprise if you know anything at all about Versailles, Ohio, and Versailles Tiger football.
It’s popular. It always has been, thanks to the record and legacy of former coach Al Hetrick and his six state titles won with the Tigers in a span of fourteen years (1990 through 2003).
It’s unifying, something that everyone in the community can seemingly agree upon – ‘Tigerball’!
And, the span of eighteen years between titles was like a void in the local culture, something that must have seemed like eternity. The Tigers passed through three different coaches after Hetrick stepped down in 2005, looking for the right fit, and the right attributes, to finally lead them back to where Versailles believed it rightly belonged.
They found their guy in Ryan Jones in 2019, who in three years led them from 3-7, to 5-3, and this year 15-1…and yes, the 2021 Division V state championship.
That guy, Ryan Jones, earns the distinction of being Press Pros’ area Coach of The Year in area football – a notable distinction when you consider the other candidates.
Piqua’s Bill Nees led the Indians to a 12-1 record and a regional final berth with Division II eventual state champion, Winton Woods.
Marion Local’s Tim Goodwin led the Flyers to a perfect 16-0 season and the Division VII title…and their twelfth, to capture the outright OHSAA all-time lead in titles won.
Milton Union’s Bret Pearce led the Division IV Bulldogs to a 10-2 record before falling to Eaton in the playoff’s second round.
Tipp City’s Matt Burgbacher continued to defy the odds of those cynical about him leaving Troy three seasons ago to rebuild the Red Devils. Division III Tipp finished 10-3 this year, losing to Bellbrook in the regional semi-final round.
Others…Chip Otten led Coldwater back to the Division VI state final game, where he finished runner-up to Carey. Chris Schmidt returned from the 2020 Division VII championship to rebuild New Bremen to a 8-4 season. And Brad Luthman coached St. Henry to a 10-4 record, and three playoff wins.
But Jones and Versailles captured the hearts and the expectations of Darke County and all of those who remembered those glory days of the 90s…as he returned ‘Tigerball’ to its rightful respect.
“I wanted a challenge,” he said in a Press Pros interview three years ago upon taking the Versailles job. “I wanted to coach in a place where there was great expectation, along with the right values. I wanted to be the coach at Versailles.
“There’s a lot to build on here. The kids are fantastic. The facilities are top-notch. The support from the school, and the community, is everything you’d want. I don’t know if it’s a matter of rebuilding…or just continuing on. There’s always bumps in the road, and maybe things haven’t met the Versailles expectation. But I’m going to do what ‘s best for the program. We’re not going to look back, we’re going to look forward and concern ourselves with the future. One game at a time.”
A lot of coaches say those very same words upon taking a job. It must be right there in the manual.
But Jones set about the future with a realistic perspective of improving the little things, through teaching and a style of play that quickly paid dividends with a talented cycle of athletes. Win or lose, his attitude and his vision never wavered as he endured the learning curve that comes with playing Marion Local and Coldwater. And by this past August, when it was widely acknowledged that the Tigers were talented, experienced, and deep, his perspective was still that of taking one game at a time, while adjusting his style of play to the personnel.
The personnel would respond, resembling the good old days of ‘Tigerball’ – blocking, tackling, and physical football. Leaders emerged, like quarterback Carson Bey, running backs Jack Osborne and Landon Henry. And the physical personality was defined by two-way lineman, Taran Tyo.
Their one hiccup occurred at Marion Local, in week 3 – a 19-17 loss – and a game determined in the final seconds by an interception at the goal line. They learned, and moved on, amassing three shutouts over the next 13 weeks, including a 14-0 win over #1 seed Cincinnati Taft, and a 28-0 win over #3 seed Preble Shawnee.
Of course, this past Saturday Jones and the Tigers finally fulfilled the eighteen years of waiting, and the restoration of an identity with a 20-16 win over six-time champion Kirtland in the Division V title game. And they did in just three years!
“They could have said, ‘Who is this little guy coming in here from Troy Christian’.” Jones said. “But they [the kids] embraced it. They bought into the program. They gave it every ounce of effort they had.”
As did Jones. The players just trusted, and followed his lead.
The template has been restored, and with it the expectation of that rich tradition defining not only a school and football team, but a community. They love ‘Tigerball’ in Versailles. That’s what brought Ryan Jones there in the first place.
And it’s made him our 2021 Area Coach of The Year in football.