Jason Mackey Column

Despite wait, Canon-McMillan makes quality hire

C-M had it all the way

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Seconds after the Canon-McMillan School Board unanimously approved the hiring of Ron Coder as head football coach last week, several board members approached Coder to tell him how happy they were to have him.


Before their executive session.


Before the guy even left the room.


Excited much?


Given what Coder represents, you almost couldn’t blame the members of the school board if they washed his car while he was inside or took him to Starbucks.


Canon-McMillan is happy to have Coder.


Thrilled, really.


And the district should feel plenty fortunate after things went down the way they did.


Think about it: Months ago this job was an abyss, a black hole, the result of no teaching job being attached to a gig at a Class AAAA school in dire need of a football makeover.


Nearly every area (some from outside) coach, administrator, fan or parent thought Canon-McMillan was limiting the type of applicant it could get.


It would be like someone asking you to clean a basketball court with a Swiffer. Or to cut grass with scissors.


Quality applicants were few to start. Once interviews began, finding someone who was qualified and didn’t have a problem with the lack of teaching job became a Venn diagram that didn’t exist.


The school even started the whole thing over again before finding Coder, a former NFL player and Penn State graduate who was more than qualified for the job – one he didn’t even apply until recently.


Coder was happily working as a regional manager for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association before company downsizing eliminated his position four weeks ago today.


Around that same time, a Canon-McMillan parent contacted him to find out whether he would be interested in the job.


“Out of the blue, he called me and said, ‘Are you at all open to being considered the head football coach at Canon-Mac?’ I’m thinking, ‘Boy, that is out of left field.’ ” Coder said. “I said, ‘Well, until a week ago I would have said no because I was working, and I couldn’t have done it. Now, I’m open.’ ”


The parent, of course, was only gauging interest - or at least that’s how it appeared.


It’s ironic, too, given how parents who were also “gauging interest” turned out to be one of the reasons former coach Tim Sohyda resigned.


Good luck with that, coach.


But here’s the beauty of what Canon-McMillan ended up getting: Do you really think a former NFL player, not to mention someone who idolized the late Joe Paterno – he gave a 64-word mini-sermon about The Penn State Way – is going to stand for that? Doubt it.


Another concern associated with the Canon-McMillan program, besides a 19-56 record the past eight years, has been the facilities, often called the worst in Class AAAA.


Coder played high school football in Japan. Think those were plush accommodations? There are ways to win football games that don’t include playing in a palace.


He also walked on at Penn State and eventually became a starter. That you-never-know-what-can-happen speech just might resonate.


About halfway through our interview – which Coder graciously had with me outside, while his wife Kathy, patient as ever, waited inside – the new coach was approached by a parent hoping to find out who was hired. He pointed to me.


Much as I might want to fantasize, it won’t happen. But his response drew a laugh and showed a personality that could win a few folks over.


His answers to the parent were polite but authoritative, giving his own biography, asking about the parent’s kid and, perhaps most important, insisting on meeting with all the parents to garner feedback but also to set boundaries.


Again, here’s betting those lines aren’t crossed.


You’d hope, anyway.


After all Canon-McMillan had been through with this hire, think school administrators were ecstatic to see a guy with an independent income – Coder will work part-time for his wife’s corporate leadership business – an NFL and NCAA Division I pedigree come along?


There’s no doubting that.



Jason Mackey can be reached at jmackey@observer-reporter.com


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