Madison coach Steve Poff hugs Noah Lehman after their 24-16 loss to Wheelersburg in the Division V, Region 20 final on Nov. 17, 2018, at Hilliard Darby High School in Hilliard. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Q&A with resigning Madison football coach: ‘It’s the best time ever to be a Mohawk’

MADISON TWP. — Steve Poff called the decision “grueling.” But he believes it was the right thing to do.

The 44-year-old Poff, who led Madison High School’s football program to unprecedented success over the past five seasons, recently stepped down as head coach.

“It’s the best shape Madison’s program has been in in a long time, and I don’t take credit for that,” said Poff, a 1992 Madison graduate. “It’s a reflection of the community and the players and the coaches and all the people that volunteer. The administration’s been great … it looks like the FieldTurf is going to go in this year … our equipment is in great shape. I think it’ll be a good job for somebody.”

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The Mohawks were 42-15 in the Poff era, winning four Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division championships and going 27-3 in league play.

Madison had never captured a Buckeye title before Poff took over. The Mohawks had also never been to the postseason, but they advanced to the Division V state semifinals last year and the regional finals in 2018.

Wheelersburg knocked Madison out of the playoffs both times, and the 24-16 defeat at Hilliard Darby last November was particularly painful.

The school district contemplated legal action because it felt an individual wearing a Wheelersburg pass on the Madison sideline was relaying Mohawk information to WHS during the game. Madison officials believed what they heard and saw on the sideline was evidence of wrongdoing, but their claim couldn’t be proven, and Wheelersburg went on to lose to Johnstown-Monroe 32-14 in a state semifinal.

Madison athletic director Matt Morrison is accepting applications to replace Poff, and the goal is to have a new coach in place by the end of January. Morrison said teaching positions/employment opportunities within the district are possible, but not guaranteed, at this time.

“I purposely did not put a date on this,” he said. “Once we feel we might have the right couple guys, we’ll proceed and move forward because we know this is something we need to act upon pretty quickly.”

In regard to Poff, Morrison said he’ll be “greatly missed.”

“The next guy coming in has some big shoes to fill, and I’m not talking about wins and losses,” Morrison said. “They’ve got to invest in our community. They’ve got to invest in our kids.”

Poff, who’s worked at AK Steel for 24 years, has three children between the ages of 19 and 23. His two daughters are in college in South Carolina and Minnesota.

He sat down for an extended interview with Cox Media this week and talked about his reasons for resigning and what might be in his future. Most of that conversation follows.

Question: Why did you decide to step down at this time?

Answer: “I feel like there’s a right way to do things, and the way I want to do it doesn’t necessarily leave me time to be as good of a father as I want to be. My vacations are all scheduled around football season because I work a regular job. I’m on a steel-mill schedule, and football is an 11-month-a-year job.

“I have other things I want to do besides be the head coach. I’m a Madison guy. Those are my kids, and I love every one of them. I want to see them be successful. I don’t think me being the head coach turned any of that around. I think changes in the administration turned that around and a winning attitude turned that around and my assistant coaches turned that round. Very, very little of that success has anything to do with me. I don’t think it requires me to continue that success.”

Q: How much if any of this is the mental strain from the way the 2018 season ended?

A: “None. It’s really just about my family and where we’re at. I spent a lot of time talking to my family about it. We knew there were going to be repercussions and rumors and trolls. All they want is to stir up trouble, and a lot of that’s Wheelersburg people on social media. I wouldn’t expect anything less from them. That’s who they are.

“I can promise you, Wheelersburg and how they run things and what they’re willing to do doesn’t have anything to do with this decision. I just feel like there’s a hundred other ways to contribute to Madison football without being the head coach. My dream was never to be the head coach. I just wanted to coach football and win a few games and have fun with the kids, and we’ve been able to do that. The Wheelersburg loss isn’t the end of the world. We’re going to move on. Somebody else’s actions don’t change who you are and what you do.”

Q: What are some of the ways you may contribute to the program in the future?

A: “In whatever way I’m needed. I truly mean that. If that would mean being an assistant to the new head coach, I’d be more than willing to stay on staff. If the new coach thought it would be better for me not to be on staff, that’s OK too. There’s pee-wee teams that need help. There’s junior high teams that need help. Somebody’s got to run the chains. There’s very few jobs I won’t do. I’m here to support Madison football in any way I can. Right now, I just can’t be the head coach.”

Q: Could you see yourself being the head coach again down the road?

A: “If the situation changes, sure. We’ll see. You’ve got to get to that point.”

Q: Can you walk away from football completely?

A: “If nobody wants my help, I’ll have to. This is my home. This is where I want to be. The only situation I could see myself coaching anywhere else is if my grandkids are playing somewhere else. That would be the only scenario where I would ever coach in another school.”

Q: How difficult was the decision to resign?

A: “Oh, I’d say grueling. You reposition your whole life around football and trying to make a difference amongst the criticism and all the things that people don’t like about you. I think it’s really hard to coach football in the community you live in, even if you love it. People are going to say whatever they want, that I’m leaving because the talent’s leaving. Obviously this senior class is a very special group, but I think there’s a myth that we’re not going to be very good. There’s a ton of talent coming. There’s some kids that nobody’s heard of yet, but they will.

“Are there days I’m going to regret it? Absolutely. Do I still sit and think, ‘Man, did I do the right thing?’ Yeah, I still do. But in my opinion, it’s like any other big decision you make in your life. You make it and then move forward.”

Q: How would you evaluate your head coaching tenure at Madison?

A: “First of all, it’s not my tenure. I feel like a very small part of a really giant thing. We’ve been able to get some momentum and really make strides, and not just in football. It’s the whole school. In my opinion, it’s the best time ever to be a Mohawk. Athletically, all the teams are doing well, the test scores are coming up … every person that’s got an interest in Madison has got something to be proud of right now. And none of that has anything to do with me. I told kids what time to be at practice. Everything else was pretty much handled by somebody else.”

Q: Can you remember how you felt about the program’s potential when you became head coach in 2014?

A: “I always felt we could be special, but there was a lot to learn. We made a lot of mistakes early. We were 0-5 my first year and should’ve won some of those games and couldn’t figure out a way to win. By the end of the season, that team was probably playing the best football I’ve ever seen Madison play, even compared to the teams I’ve coached the last couple years.

“I knew we were going to keep getting better and better. There’s always bumps in the road and you get snuck up on sometimes, but that’s all part of the learning process. Players have to go through it, coaches have to go through it, and parents and the community have to accept that it ain’t going to go your way all the time.

“Whoever takes this thing over will have things to get through and that’s fine, we’ll get through them. I’ll help them in any way I can or stay the hell out of the way. If the job is to keep my mouth shut and watch games from the stands, I’ll do that too. I just want to see the Mohawks do well. I want to see kids have a great experience and love football and want to come back here and raise their kids one day.”

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