"In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards."
- Mark Twain
Rick Rios never had a chance with the Warren G. Harding football team. Hired late and saddled with a largely make-shift coaching staff and the weight of unreasonable expectations, he was destined to fail.
So it was hardly a surprise when the Warren City School District fired Rios on Monday, just three days after the close of a 2-8 season.
One and done. Rios' tenure was the shortest for a Harding football coach since Bob Wolfe had back-to-back seasons of 5-4-1 in 1980 and '81.
Every other Harding coach since then got at least three seasons to try to lay a foundation before they either were sent packing or left on their own terms. Then Rios came to Warren and learned first-hand about working for a school with several thousand coaches in the stands on Friday night and others in the hallways during the day.
Shortly after Rios was introduced, a column appeared in this space urging people to let him do his job with minimal interference and unreasonable expectations. The message was meant for fans, board members and administrators alike.
But this is Warren. I should have known that wasn't going to happen. Had Rios known what was in store for him, maybe he wouldn't have moved his family here from Toledo.
There is a potential upside. On the same day Rios was fired, Brad Yeager resigned as the coach of the Niles Red Dragons. Maybe Rios can take the Niles job. The last seven months should have left him well-prepared to deal with a dysfunctional situation.
Harding is now searching for its third coach in three seasons. And people wonder why this program isn't what it once was?
A lack of stability on the sideline isn't the only reason a football team fails to win consistently or enough to satisfy fans or board members. Talent, desire, depth, injuries and luck - good and bad - also can play significant roles.
But there is a lot to be said for hiring a coach and getting out of his way. It has worked in a lot of places.
Howland, which has beaten Harding each of the last two years, recognized that its football program wasn't much to speak of in the mid-1990s and eventually hired Dick Angle. Fourteen years later, the former Ursuline coach is 100-52 with the Tigers and has led eight Howland teams - including this year's squad - to the playoffs. Dan Williams just finished his 12th season at McDonald and the Blue Devils are a perennial playoff team.
Harding has made the playoffs five times in the last 14 seasons and four of those came under Thom McDaniels, who coached the Raiders from 2000-06. D.J. Dota -McDaniels' replacement - got four years and led Harding to the playoffs in 2010, only to get fired.
At the time, Warren's board of education pointed to higher expectations for the program and the need to try something new and "bring the program to the next level."
So how is that working out? And more importantly, how will it work out in 2012, after another round of interviews and another hiring?
Who in their right mind would want this job after watching what happened to Dota and Rios? The smart money says it has to be someone who already knows how to navigate the pitfalls and potholes of coaching in Warren.
One name that surfaced quickly on Monday was Steve Arnold, the Raiders' boys basketball coach. Arnold connects with the kids in the basketball program and his teams have been very successful, but could he duplicate that on the much larger scale football represents?
Would he be allowed to run the football program the way he wants to run it? McDaniels wasn't. Dota wasn't. Rios wasn't. But maybe things would be different for Arnold.
Tribune Chronicle sportswriter Mike McLain contacted him on Monday night, but he had little to say about being mentioned as a football coaching candidate.
"I have no comment on that," Arnold said. "Right now, I'm the head basketball coach at Harding."
And yesterday, Rios was the Raiders' football coach. Things can change quickly around here. As Bill Bohren once said about Niles, "They can name a street after you one day and run you out of town on it the next."
Niles isn't that far from Warren, literally and figuratively. Just ask Rios.
Maybe he wasn't the right hire for Harding, but we'll never really know for sure. It took almost as long to hire him as it did for the Raiders to play his only season here. And then he was unceremoniously fired. And let's be clear about one thing - this was a firing. Sending Rios and Dota packing and calling the moves "non-renewals" is a joke. I wonder what Mark Twain would've thought about school boards turning phrases like that.
It makes no sense to fire Rios after one season. At best, this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Raiders no matter who got the job. With a few breaks and good health, I thought 5-5 was possible.
Few starters were returning and the offseason program wasn't as polished as it should have been because of the board's inability to get things done. Dota wasn't fired until January because not everyone in the district - imagine that - agreed with the board that he needed to go. Arm-twisting and cajoling can take time.
Then a protracted interview process led nowhere until Rios was hired on March 21. The weeks and months between November and April matter.
Rios' late arrival also left him unable to make a lot of additions to his staff. Compounding matters, some of Dota's assistants went with him to West Branch and others went elsewhere or sat out the season. By my estimations, only assistants Marc Bjelac, Grover Diggs and Maurice Taylor returned from 2010.
Once the season started, a slew of injuries struck. Rios never had the same group of starters in back-to-back games all season. The offense suffered as a result and the Raiders never scored more than two touchdowns in a game until the season finale.
There are those who will point to Howland's 16-15 victory over Harding in Week 3 at Mollenkopf Stadium as the night Rios lost his job. Conventional wisdom had Dota effectively getting himself fired when the Tigers beat the Raiders in Week 3 of 2010 at Richard Lombardo Stadium.
If beating Howland is now the standard for Harding football coaches, what happens next season if the Raiders can't pull it off again?
Will it again be time to try something new? Four coaches in four years?
Well, at least then the district will be consistent even if it doesn't allow its football program the same chance.