Nobody can accuse Jeff Conroy, former head football coach at Miami Trace and Oak Hill, of not doing things the right way.
His passion for the game of football was obvious. All you have to do is look at his combined record at both schools, as he finished with 176 wins and just 53 losses.
Success rarely goes unrewarded and Conroy will deservedly be rewarded in June 2017 when he is inducted into the 2016 class of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
In a recent interview with The Jackson Telegram, Conroy extended a lot of credit to his father for his coaching success.
“My dad coached me in basketball and baseball when I was a young kid and I think he taught me a lot of things about the right way to do things,” he said. “I am proud of my coaching background and how we treated opposing players, coaches and teams.
“When I look at an honor like this, I know the honor is coming my way,” Conroy said. “I look at it as a team honor.
“The 18 years I was at Miami Trace, I had a core group of coaches with me that made all the world of difference,” Conroy said. “There was Mike Bernard, Johnny Enochs, Rob Enochs, Steve Zink, Bryan Sheets, Joe Black and Shawn Riley. Those were young men — at that time, we were all young men — starting out together.
“With Mike, we were together for 18 years,” Conroy said. Bernard succeeded Conroy as the head coach of the Panthers.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how lucky I was to have that core group of coaches,” Conroy said. “When you look back at the success we had at Miami Trace, it was a family situation. Not only were we coaches together, we were friends together and we’re still best of friends today. That cohesiveness really made a difference for us.
“I was able to put together a group of coaches who all felt the same way,” Conroy said. “We wanted to win, but, we wanted to do it the right way. Those guys brought a lot of character to our staff. We brought a family atmosphere to our program. I think we got the most out of our coaches and the most out of our kids and we put together some really nice winning seasons.”
Miami Trace had to play as an independent team for many years under Conroy. With no league title to strive for, making the playoffs became the focus of the program.
In 1996, the Panthers not only made it to the playoffs, they went to the State Final Four, falling to Fostoria, the eventual State champion.
“It was an exciting thing,” Conroy said. “We were once step away from getting to play (for the State title) in Massillon. That was a group of football players — we weren’t the most-talented; we weren’t the biggest or the fastest, but, there was something about that team — the cohesiveness, togetherness; a great set of families. It was just one of those miracle, fun seasons. We played awfully good football that year.” The Panthers finished 1996 with a record of 12-1.
“The kids at Miami Trace were extremely hard-working,” Conroy said. “It paid off on Friday nights when we were able to put some victories together.”
Conroy got his start in coaching at Trimble High School in Athens County, working for the late Ed Bolin.
He also served on Bolin’s staff at Waverly High School in 1984 and 1985, before coming to Oak Hill.
“Ed was the first person I got the chance to work under and I think what I learned from him was X’s and O’s were fine, and they are going to win you some ballgames but your relationship with your kids and your coaches is probably the most important thing,” Conroy said. “As I look back and I look at the successes we had, both at Oak Hill and Miami Trace, I think it was our relationship with our football players, our coaches, our families and our community, which were the keys for the success we had.”
Conroy said he was very excited when he learned about his recent induction.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “I was in the profession for quite a few years and I got a chance to be around a lot of great coaches and a lot of great people; so just to be put in the same category as some of the people I got to coach against was really quite an honor.”
Conroy, a 1976 graduate of Jackson High School and a standout quarterback for the Ironmen, got his first head-coaching job at Oak Hill High School in 1986. In his four seasons at the school, the Oaks had a combined 37 wins and three losses, including a perfect 10-0 season in 1987.
“I was a young coach and I walked into a young staff,” Conroy said about his time at OHHS. “I had some great coaches around me, including Scott Bartholomew and you have seen what he has been able to do at Westfall and Logan Elm. Another was Steve Kalinoski, who has been at Circleville High School for years and was the head girls’ basketball coach there.
“Jimmy Slone was also with me so I was surrounded by some good young guys and we kind of had a goal in mind, which was to win football games. We were fortunate and I think the timing was right. I came to Oak Hill when there was some great young football players coming through at the time.”
His success at Oak Hill helped him land the head-coaching job at Miami Trace High School in 1990. He succeeded Al Riffey, who was also a former coach at Jackson during his playing days. He also had the opportunity to work with Randy Burnside, who was an assistant coach at Jackson in the 1970s.
“There were some familiar faces when I got there but again, the fortunate thing for me was, I went to a place where football was important,” he said.
Obviously, everybody knows the history of Miami Trace football with such names as Art Schlichter and Glen Cobb, who both went on to play at The Ohio State University.
Schlichter threw for more than 4,000 yards in high school, and his photo still hangs in the hallway at Miami Trace.
Of course, Conroy coached Schlichter’s nephew Miles (Schlichter), who was a pretty fair quarterback in his own right at Miami Trace from 2002-2005.
“He was an awfully good quarterback in his own right,” Conroy said about the younger Schlichter. “We won a lot of games with Miles behind center. He was a four-year starter for me at quarterback, which you just don’t see very often. But he was a mature young man at the time and he had the physical ability to play as a freshman and he got better and better. When his senior year came around, we thought he was as good a quarterback as anyone in the area.”
He also coached Nathan Williams, who went on to be a three-year letter winner at Ohio State.
Although, the majority of the players he coached at both Oak Hill and Miami Trace weren’t necessarily Division I athletes, they were kids who worked hard, who loved football and did whatever their coaches asked of them, according to Conroy.
“I think that is what I am most proud of, that we were able to take good kids and turn them into what we felt was a good football program,” he said.
In 18 seasons at Miami Trace, Conroy led his team to 139 wins and 50 losses, including six playoff berths.
“I feel really good about the fact that I was able to stay at one school for 18 years,” Conroy said. “There’s no doubt about it, my family was a big part of that. We would have linemen at our house every Thursday. My wife would cook for everybody. I knew that the only way I was going to be successful was if my family became a part of it. To survive in sports and in coaching, it has to be a family atmosphere. Being able to coach my son and have my daughter on the sidelines, those things were very important to me.”
In 2017, Jackson will join the South Central Ohio league, spelling the end of the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, but Conroy sees it as a great opportunity for Jackson, as well as the SCOL.
“Jackson has great tradition. Andy (head coach Hall) has done a great job there,” he said. “They have great facilities and Jackson is a great football community and I’ve told our people, you better be ready to play when you go to Jackson. I know Miami Trace takes their football serious, but I don’t think any more serious than what Jackson does.
“Hopefully, it will be a nice rivalry and I think it is going to be a good league. We need to find a couple more teams and get to an eight-team league. I think it will make it better for everyone, but I think it is a start with the addition of Chillicothe and I think it is the start of something really good.”
Conroy and his wife, Rogina, have two adult children, son Brock and daughter and son-in-law Kyle (Dan) Bauman. The Conroys have been blessed with two grandchildren, granddaughter Bentley and grandson Baylor.