Dave Wirth looks at the Badin High School football program and sees memories of an important time in his life.
That’s not to say Wirth, now the first-year head coach at Purcell Marian, is unhappy with his current job. But his five seasons at Badin, from 2004 to 2008, left a mark.
“I’ve always felt very, very strongly about my time at Badin,” Wirth said Monday evening after a practice session in East Walnut Hills. “I made some lifelong memories there and still have relationships with a lot of those kids to this day. I love ’em to death. They’ll always be a huge part of my life.”
Wirth is preparing his Cavaliers (1-2) for a Greater Catholic League Coed Central Division game against Badin (2-1) on Saturday night at Walnut Hills. It will be the first time he’s squared off with the Rams.
“I always get a little bit more stoked up to compete against the people that I care for, and I care very much for Badin,” Wirth said. “But you know how it is. The second that ball’s teed up, it really doesn’t matter if you’re playing a team with 11 family members on it. It’s time to compete and go out and win.”
His career path has taken him through multiple jobs in the Greater Cincinnati area. That’s not exactly unique among football coaches.
What was unique about Wirth coaching at Badin was that he’ll forever be known as the guy who replaced Terry Malone.
It was an unenviable — some would say no-win — task following the coaching legend with 360 career victories. But somebody had to do it, and Wirth thought he was ready to be a head coach after working as an assistant at Moeller and Covington (Ky.) Catholic.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Wirth said. “I just knew it was a good GCL school, a good Catholic school. It was a good community with a rich football tradition, and it was an opportunity to be a head coach. I was extremely impressed with the people that were on the interview committee. With every interview I’ve done from that day to this day, that was absolutely the best-done thing I’ve seen.”
There were many challenges. Longtime Badin fans didn’t know what to make of Wirth’s spread offense, particularly in a program that had a bruising ground attack as its foundation.
Wirth wasn’t Terry Malone and had no desire to be. He wanted to blaze his own trail.
“I was too naive,” said Wirth, a 1993 Moeller graduate. “I didn’t know enough about Terry Malone and everything Terry Malone had done and all the lives that Terry Malone had affected.
“A little bit of that worked to my disadvantage, but I would say overall, my naivete worked significantly to my advantage because I was never really concerned about replacing Terry Malone. One would be a fool to even think about replacing him. I just tried to come in and do my own thing and be respectful of what they had done before. I’d like to think over the course of five years, it ended up working out.”
The Rams were 2-8 in his first season, following (in order) with 5-5, 7-3, 5-5 and 8-4 campaigns.
That first year was especially difficult for numerous reasons.
“That was the first senior class to ever not have Malone see them through,” Wirth said. “And we’re coming in and doing radically different things. Not only schematically, but how we were training and the language we used and our points of emphasis and the fact that we were trying to be technical and not just knock the dog snot out of everybody, which was part of what we were trying to do, but it was one component out of many things.
“I don’t know if jaded is a a fair word, but we certainly did not have complete buy-in with that senior class. The next year, it got a lot better.”
Zach Toerner, the leading passer in Hamilton Catholic/Badin history with 5,425 yards, and No. 3 Ryan Riegert (3,563 yards) flourished in Wirth’s spread attack.
“What I’ve always thought was that if you had inferior athletic ability, you had to do something schematically to give you an edge,” Wirth said. “For me, that was always the spread, and I’ve been really blessed to have great quarterbacks.
“It didn’t matter if you were taking someone who was a little bit more of a raw gunslinger like Ryan Riegert, or a great runner like Nick Martini who could throw when he had to, or someone like Zach Toerner who could throw touch and throw lasers and run over people and occasionally run around somebody. I tried to find an advantage to help my teams. I got set in that offense and continued to research it and harness it and make it good for us.”
He listed his on-field highlights with the Rams like this:
• Ending a 17-game GCL losing streak by beating Purcell 7-0 in double overtime in 2005.
• Winning GCL Central Division championships in 2006 and 2008.
• Reaching the Division IV playoffs in 2008 and beating Clinton-Massie 33-27 in overtime, the program’s first postseason win since 2001.
There were some people who were never going to accept an outsider in charge at Badin. That’s simply the way it is, especially in small-town programs.
“But I think winning cures everything,” Wirth said. “By the time I left, I think a lot of people considered me a Badin guy. When you put that much time and effort into a school, I don’t know how they couldn’t consider you one of their community. It doesn’t make you an alum, that’s for sure. But if that’s the overriding criteria for acceptance, then that’s some pretty serious ignorance.”
He left after the 2008 season to take the head coaching job at Covington Catholic, where he posted a 49-27 record in six years. Wirth resigned at CovCath after what he called “a significant erosion of the relationship between me and the principal and the incoming AD.”
The last two seasons were spent as an assistant coach at Mount St. Joseph University. He then accepted the head job at Purcell, where he teaches four religion classes and heads the campus ministry.
“I never had any aspirations of college, so doing that was something in the meantime until I found my way back into high school and in particular into the GCL,” Wirth said.
Looking back at his decision to leave Badin, he said there were multiple factors.
“There were some family aspects to the move, and I had had an experience at (CovCath) before,” Wirth said. “I was probably a little too obsessed or too wired at that time with climbing the ladder. Certainly the lesson I learned is that the size of the program means absolutely nothing. It’s really just about the job you do and the people you impact.
“I have zero regrets about my time at Badin. If anything, my only regret is ever having left it, especially with the classes that I left, and probably not valuing it in the way that I should have.”
His goal now is to rebuild a Purcell program that’s endured a long run of hard times. The last time the Cavaliers had a winning record in GCL play was 2000.
Badin graduates Ian Goddard and Ryan Graber are assistant coaches at Purcell. Wirth said coaching at an inner-city school like Purcell is very different from coaching in Hamilton, but he believes winning is possible at PMHS.
“The similarity between Badin and Purcell is that you have a lot of really good kids that want to win and get better,” Wirth said. “Our kids are at the forefront of this process like the ’04 and ’05 teams were at Badin. The one constant in life is that no one likes change and change isn’t easy, especially when change challenges you and asks you to look at your role in previous failures.
“The bottom line is you want someone to come in and coach the hell out of our kids and push them and make the program better. I’d like to think I did that pretty well at Badin. That’s what I’m trying to do here.”