FAIRFIELD — D.J. Wyrick orchestrated a dramatic turnaround during his four years at the helm of Vandalia Butler High School’s boys basketball team.
Can he do the same at Fairfield? That remains to be seen, but Wyrick is taking a positive, full-steam-ahead approach to his new position in the Greater Miami Conference.
“I don’t even know my way around the building yet, so this is all brand new to me. But I’m very excited,” Wyrick said Wednesday during an interview at the school. “This kind of gives me a little recharge.
“I made a lot of good friends at Butler. They’ve got a great athletic department, a great athletic director. But it’s exciting trying to repeat what we did at Butler down here at Fairfield.”
Darren James Wyrick, who turned 34 on Thursday, has lived in Springfield Township and commuted to Butler for the last four years. The move to Fairfield will significantly lessen his time in a car.
That’s a benefit for sure, but Wyrick said the job is a bigger deal to him than the shorter drive.
According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association enrollment numbers that were used for 2018-19 divisional assignments, Fairfield has the third-most boys (1,169) in the state behind Mason (1,357) and St. Xavier (1,178). Butler is listed at 385.
“I don’t want people to think I came down here just because it’s close to home. This is a very good job,” Wyrick said. “The GMC is obviously a tremendous conference. They have great facilities here. When you’re at one of the biggest schools in Ohio, you should have a chance to win a lot of games if you do it right.”
He is finishing up the school year at Butler, but has already started his basketball duties at Fairfield. The Indians haven’t had a winning record since in 2014-15 and haven’t won a GMC title since 2013-14.
Wyrick has replaced Jeff Sims. He stepped down after going 27-44 overall and 15-33 in the conference during his three seasons as head coach.
“We’ve already started workouts here, and we’ll go right into June,” Wyrick said. “I think there’s a lot of potential here. I think there’s a lot of things that kind of need to be cultivated like the youth program.
“I think people take that for granted a lot in high school sports. It’s kind of like recruiting at the college level. You’re building that up for here. Some people just wait to see what shows up in the ninth grade, and that’s tough to do anymore.”
Wyrick is living in the same area he grew up in. He has a son who will be 3 in July and another son on the way in June.
A 2003 Roger Bacon graduate, Wyrick played for Tyrice Walker for four years at Miami University Hamilton. He had an extra semester to finish after his playing days were done and found that time without a team to be difficult, so he made a bunch of phone calls and ended up as a graduate assistant under Brad Brownell at Wright State University.
“I was pre-law, I had my mind made up, but that year off was just miserable,” Wyrick said.
He spent two years working under Brownell and the next five in various roles under Billy Donlon at WSU. Wyrick then made the decision to move into prep coaching at Butler.
“I was 29 when I took the Butler job,” Wyrick said. “I just got to a point where I was married, my wife and I wanted to have kids, and I wasn’t going to do that where I was. With that lifestyle, you’re either a really good coach or a really good husband and dad. You can’t really be both unless you’re the head coach, so I decided to start looking for some high school jobs.”
Butler’s program wasn’t exactly a beacon of positivity at that point. The Aviators were 2-21 the season before he arrived and went 4-19 in his first year there.
“It was kind of a disaster, to be honest with you,” Wyrick said. “I can still remember the first road game we lost. We’re on the bus coming home and these guys are playing music like it was fine that we just lost. I called my wife and I was like, ‘I just don’t know if I can do this.’ ”
But he persevered, and the results were impressive. Butler progressed through the next three seasons with 13-11, 19-4 and 21-3 records, developing into a Greater Western Ohio Conference power.
Now he’s headed to Fairfield.
“It was a hard decision just because we put in all that time and effort up there,” Wyrick said. “The one thing that makes it easier for me is that I saw my first class all the way through. I think they’re going to have a pretty good team next year too.”
He’s the online coordinator at Butler and will be in the building at Fairfield in an undetermined position, but the basketball piece is No. 1 in his mind right now.
“I told the guys at the first team meeting that to create change, you’re going to have to do something different,” Wyrick said. “I’m a big believer in the offseason stuff. I’m going to try my best to run this like it’s a college program, similar to what I did at Butler.
“We’re going to try our best to outwork people and make up ground that way. I’m hoping fans will see an exciting brand of basketball and a group of guys who are going to play really hard and play for each other. I want them to empty their tanks and get after it.”
Wyrick faced some GMC opponents in scrimmages and in the summer while at Butler, but never played one in a real game.
“From what I saw of the GMC, my takeaway was that it’s a physical brand of basketball,” Wyrick said. “Typically the GMC has been that conference where the first team to score 45 wins. I’m hoping that’s not the style we play. I’m hoping to get up and down a little bit more. But I’ve got to feel out the league and see what works. There’s some really, really good coaches in this league. I’m excited to compete against them.”
In a perfect world where he could choose his athletes, Wyrick said he’d run “some dribble-drive stuff and pick up man-to-man full court. But that’s not possible with every team.”
“I’m dealing with a different type of athlete here,” he continued. “We weren’t run and gun and pressing all the time at Butler. Basically what we did there is we tried to figure out what you were really good at and tried to take that away from you. Defense is very important. You’re going to win the GMC by playing really good defense.”
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