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Back home again

New football coach returns to the Valley

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes — Doug Phillips was introduced as the new football coach at Youngstown State on Saturday.

YOUNGSTOWN — Doug Phillips entered the room wearing a red suit jacket, matching the block Y in the background.

The 51-year-old New Middletown native wasn’t going to smack the podium in front of him, proclaiming how great the Youngstown State University football team that he inherits is going to be this fall.

Instead, the new YSU football coach began thanking the coaches who molded him throughout his journey, most recently Iowa State coach Matt Campbell and Cincinnati mentor Luke Fickell. Phillips was the running backs coach for the Bearcats.

Phillips, a former high school coach at Springfield and Salem from 1997-2005, recently was the director of player personnel at Iowa State (2016) and special teams coordinator, tight ends and running backs coach at Cincinnati (2017-19).

Phillips takes over for Bo Pelini, who resigned on Jan. 27 after five years with the Penguins to become the defensive coordinator at Louisiana State University.

There were about a dozen family and friends nearby as Phillips spoke during Saturday morning’s news conference.

“To me, it’s about serving those guys. I’ve been unselfish and try to serve others,” Phillips said of Fickell and Campbell. “There’s probably not a job in America I want more. I don’t know if there’s a job in America I would step away from what I had in Cincinnati. For me, this was the right place at the right time. Luke would always say make sure you’re running to it and not running away from something.

“I was able to come home where it started and see familiar faces. I couldn’t be happier.”

YSU Director of Athletics Ron Strollo said Phillips was one of seven candidates to be interviewed off campus and was in the selection process from the beginning. Strollo said Phillips’ contract is not finalized, but he’ll make $250,000 a year on a deal which will span four or five seasons.

Phillips began his college coaching career in 1991 with the Penguins under current YSU President Jim Tressel, coaching tight ends, running backs and defensive backs. The two joined forces again in 2006 as Phillips was Ohio State’s defensive quality control coach and worked with the team’s linebackers. From there, he traveled north to Bowling Green State University in 2007 as the defensive ends coach and Falcons’ recruiting coordinator.

Phillips, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Toledo and his master’s at YSU, became a high school administrator in 2008 and spent eight years in that role. He served as the superintendent at West Branch and was a principal for the Dickson County School District in Tennessee and at Dalton Local Schools in Ohio.

For YSU, Tressel was involved in the process, but the search committee was Strollo, YSU Board of Trustees members Dave Deibel and Michael Peterson, along with Penguin Club Trustee Joe Kerola. They saw the work Phillips did at Iowa State and Cincinnati, how he was part of those rebuilding projects.

“You wanted somebody who was going to connect with the kids and be a great leader, be a great recruiter, be a great communicator and be present in their lives,” Strollo said. “At this level, you need someone who knows how to build a program. With Doug’s history at Iowa State and Cincinnati, he’s been part of building two programs.”

Strollo emphasized the committee was not solely looking for a coach with local ties, but it did help.

“I’m sure that’s kind of the perception that we’re looking for that,” he said. “We aren’t. We reached out on anyone that came across our table and could identify. When all things are equal, there’s a great advantage to have someone who has a local connection to high school coaches, has connection to the state of Ohio. There might be some candidates that we talk to that have similar resumes, but if their resumes were from California or Texas, it didn’t make sense to us.

“We had great candidates and they made it a tough decision.”

Phillips wants to make sure he gives his players the best resources and coaches.

“We’ve got to do a great job developing those players,” he said. “We’ve got to be different than the teams we play. It’s about trust and communication. That’s got to be built over time. I don’t want it right now. I’ve got to go earn it with those guys and how do I earn it, I have to build relationships with them. I have to sit down. I have to know what’s on their mind.

“I hope the players I’ve coached in my past would say I love my football players. I take care of them, and I want to see them succeed. I’ve got to earn that over the next six to eight months.”

Accountability and trust, that’s how Phillips envisioning this happening for a YSU team that was 6-6 last season and 2-6 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“How are you able to do this? I tell them, build relationships,” he said. “How do you do that? I believe as a good listener. I believe I worked hard. I believe they had trust in me. That would be the most the most important thing to see, that support. It’s special for me to be here standing at the podium. I’m excited to get started and talk to the players.

“Now, we have to get to work. The Youngstown way is we have to go out and earn it. Nothing is given to us. We have to go take it. We have to own it.”

Phillips said it’s easy for players to jump into the NCAA transfer portal and for other schools to pick off players from there. The new YSU coach said it’s about communication with your players. That’s what he intends to do here.

“You’d better know where they’re headed,” Phillips said. “That is an easy way. When you look what all those guys have done to build a program.

“You’ve got to do it your way. Your way is who you are. I’m not going to change who I am. It was fun talking to them. Sometimes you’re going to make them laugh. Sometimes I’m going to work them hard. Ultimately, it comes down to winning football games, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The season begins Sept. 5 at Akron.

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