- Rick Cassano Staff Writer
Middletown High School has selected a head football coach from inside the Greater Miami Conference.
The school announced Wednesday that Princeton defensive coordinator Don Simpson is the Middies’ new coach, pending school-board approval Dec. 18.
This is the first head coaching job for Simpson after stops at Norw ood (four years, 2006-09), Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (six years, 2010-15), Deer Park (one year, 2016) and Princeton (one year, 2017).
“When you’re going after a Division I GMC school to become the head coach there with no head coaching experience, you’re kind of the dark horse in that race,” said Simpson, 43. “But like I explained to them, in all the different positions that I have been in, I’ve done everything that a head coach has done — just without the title.”
Simpson is currently an adult probation officer supervisor for Hamilton County, but he’ll be in the high school full time in the 2018-19 school year. The position has yet to be determined.
“I am very excited about becoming part of the Middie family. To have the opportunity to help students reach their full potential on and off the field is a responsibility I take very seriously,” Simpson said. “I think Middletown right now is hungry for a winner, and they’re doing it the right way. They’re setting the environment. Now we’ve got to get it all flowing.”
Middletown received just under 50 applications for the football job, according to athletic director Aaron Zupka. He said the search yielded numerous strong recommendations on Simpson’s behalf.
“We called a lot of people and kept hearing great things about him,” Zupka said. “And then when he showed up in person, he didn’t disappoint. He blew us away.
“Coach Simpson brings a tremendous amount of passion and enthusiasm with him to Middletown. He is a kid-first guy and understands the importance of building positive relationships with our students, parents and community. He’ll bring instant excitement to our program. He’s a great fit for what we need at Middletown right now.”
Simpson grew up in northeast Ohio and graduated from Warren G. Harding High School in Warren in 1992. He went on to play defensive back for Rick Minter at the University of Cincinnati and earned a criminal justice degree in 1997.
Princeton coach Mike Daniels said Simpson made a significant impact in his one season with the Vikings. His defense came up with a school-record number of turnovers.
“He did a phenomenal job coming in and installing his system and really creating a culture on defense that was actually pretty special,” Daniels said. “He’s a man of integrity, an attention-to-detail guy. He loves kids. He’s not a guy to take shortcuts.”
Daniels said he hates to lose Simpson, but he’s happy to see him get a head coaching opportunity, even if it is in the GMC.
“I told him I hope he goes 9-1 every year,” Daniels said. “He’s the real deal, as good as they come. He understood our kids, who are very similar to the kids that Middletown has. I’m happy for Middletown looking beyond head coaching experience and saying, ‘Let’s get the right guy in here,’ and they did that. He’ll make some changes in the community in a very positive manner.”
Simpson is replacing Lance Engleka, who posted a 1-19 record in two seasons at the helm. Engleka cited death threats in his October resignation letter.
Asked about coming into a situation like that, Simpson said he’s starting with a clean slate.
“Never did I worry about any of that,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just not the right fit. You hate that it gets to that point, if it truly did get to that point. But I truly believe some of these young men will never play organized football again after high school, and there’s no way to get to the level of that discomfort with it being a smooth fit.
“I understand the game of football. I know this environment and this atmosphere. People are passionate. I love it when you’ve got a passionate fan base.”
Simpson said he relates well to high school kids and works on those relationships daily.
His background is mostly on defense, and the Middies will run the same attacking 3-4 that Simpson has used elsewhere. Offensively, he said Middletown will be “exciting.”
“Everybody talks about my expertise being on the defensive side of the ball, which it is, but I think what you’re going to see is a wide-open style of offense,” Simpson said. “What’s going to shock people is how much emphasis I’m going to put on the offense to make sure that we’re successful running it. Being a defensive coordinator for so long, I know what gives defensive coordinators problems. I know what they don’t like to defend, so my offense will run the things I don’t like to defend.
“I’ve been running this defense over the last eight years, and it has amassed so much success at every level. My philosophy is I don’t let offenses dictate to me what I can do. I dictate to them what they can do. You have to predict who’s coming because someone usually is. Getting after people will be the true trademark of a Don Simpson-coached team.”
He plans to hire coordinators to run the offense, defense and special teams.
“I want coaches to coach and spread their wings as coordinators, but I’ll kind of have my thumbprint on all three areas because I’ve been a part of all of them,” Simpson said.