Cromwell steps down as Knights head coachWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Legendary football coach George Halas was once asked by a member of the media what he thought made a good coach. His response: “Complete dedication.”
For the past 34 years, 26 of which were at St. Francis de Sales High School, Dick Cromwell has been dedicated to improving the lives of young men, on and off the football field.
On Feb. 8, however, the 62-year-old announced it was time to step down as head football coach of his beloved Knights.
“There just comes a time to finalize things,” Cromwell said. “This is that time for me.”
Cromwell’s announcement comes on the heels of an 11-2 season, one that saw the Knights reach the regional finals of the state football tournament. When St. Francis lost to Maple Heights 34-21, fans knew they had witnessed the Knights 2009 season come to an end. But little did they know that they also witnessed the end of an iconic coaching career.
“As I have progressed in my life and gotten older, it just felt like it was time to give up the rigors of being a head football coach,” Cromwell said.
Cromwell has always had a passion for football. After playing high school football at Medina High School, he continued his playing days as a quarterback at Ohio Wesleyan University. He was a star player for the Battling Bishops during his college career, setting several passing records and winning league honors as a top quarterback.
But despite a tremendous playing career, playing football past the college level was never something Cromwell was interested in. He had always had a deeper interest to teach and coach at the high school level.
“Ever since I can remember, even back to my junior high days, this is what I always wanted to do,” Cromwell said. “I always told my parents that I wanted to be either a history or math teacher and that I wanted to coach either basketball or football. I never really wavered on that. It was always what I wanted to do.”
Cromwell went to work after college, serving as an assistant for a few coaches at the high school and college level. He said he learned much those first few years in the professional coaching ranks.
Cromwell’s college coach, Jack Fouts, and Dick Hoppy, the first coach Cromwell worked under as an assistant, both left a lasting impression on him.
“Coach Fouts was a big influence on how I handle kids,” he said. “I took a lot of my coaching philosophy and style from him.”
Cromwell said Coach Hoppy helped him learn more of the Xs and Os side of football.
“When I worked under Coach Hoppy at Kettering Fairmont West High School, he really opened my eyes to many things. We still use the same base defense package that I learned there,” he said. “He also made me learn how to coach defense, and that taught me a lot about toughness on the football field that I didn’t necessarily see as a quarterback. He made me work with the defensive ends, and I learned so much about toughness and how to make kids work hard from him.”
After a three-year stint as an assistant at Ohio Wesleyan, Cromwell was given his first head coaching post at Olmsted Falls high school.
“To get that job was due in large part to what many of the coaches I had been around had taught me,” he said. “That base and background helped prepare me to work hard and deepened my love of working with kids.”
Knight for life
When Cromwell first arrived on the Bancroft Street campus of St. Francis, he did not realize he had found the school that would serve as his home for the better part of his coaching career.
“At the time, I had some success at Olmsted Falls, which was a Division II school. The opportunity to move to a Division I school, and a school that had some success on the athletic field and the classroom was something that I couldn’t pass up.”
St. Francis felt that exact same way about their then-new head coach.
“We sought out Dick Cromwell when we were looking for a new football coach,” Father Ron Olszewski, then principal and now president of the school, said. “We were very impressed with his personality, and I still remember he said to us, ‘I’m not here to yell and scream, but to teach these kids about football.’ ”
In 1984, five years after arriving at St. Francis, Cromwell’s team brought home a state championship, beating North Canton Hoover 17-14. The success brought instant credibility to Cromwell and the Knights football program.
But with success comes new opportunities, and in 1985, Cromwell left St. Francis temporarily to take the same post at Findlay High School.
“I got to St. Francis and we had the success and you start looking at the financial side of things. I started to see a state teaching salary and getting back into a state retirement program, and I thought at the time that it was the direction I needed to go in,” he said.
The move did not work out the way that the head coach had intended.
“Things just didn’t quite pan out the way I wanted to there,” he said. “My son Brian was in Toledo still. Driving 45 minutes back and forth to see him play sports and participate in other activities began to wear on me.”
When the Knights job opened, Cromwell seized the opportunity.
“The St. Francis job came open, and it was a no-brainer to us,” he said.
The 1997 season was a special one for Cromwell and his family. The season was Cromwell’s 12th season as the head coach for the Knights, and the team was loaded with veteran talent.
Making the season even more special was the family connection for Cromwell. His son Brian, then a senior, would be the team’s starting quarterback and his daughter Jenna, also a senior, would be a cheerleader for the Knights. It was a unique experience that Cromwell still cherishes.
“I talked to many coaches who had that same opportunity. I heard some great stories and some horror stories, but it ended up being one of the best times of my life,” Brian Cromwell said. “I look back sometimes on that season and I still can’t believe how blessed I was to have the talent that was around me.”
The season was a memorable one for the Knights; Cromwell’s squad went 10-2. That season included a matchup against Canton McKinley, the team ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. St. Francis took the lead in the fourth quarter of that game, but a late McKinley touchdown cost the Knights the victory, 25-21.
Despite the heartbreak of his final high school game, Brian Cromwell said it was what his father said to the team after the game and not the final score that stands out to him.
“I remember how he put it all into perspective for us, and he told us how proud of the effort and toughness we showed in that game. That meant a lot to me and our team that season,” he said.
Brian Cromwell still treasures the bond he and his father shared during his time as a student at St. Francis.
“When I look back on all of it, it was not about the wins and losses or anything like that,” Brian said. “It was about getting to spend time bonding with my father and that’s what I take away more than anything from those four years. It was just a great experience.”
The elder Cromwell is thankful for the experience, too.
“To be able to see Brian play and coach him, then look over and see Jenna cheering, was great. It was a real joy to have them involved in the program and spend more time with them.”
Cromwell’s numbers speak for themselves: two state championships (1984, 2001), 11 City League titles, and an overall record of 251-119-2. For his outstanding career numbers, Cromwell was inducted into the Ohio High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2005.
While the accolades on the field are special to Cromwell, it is the personal relationships that will last.
“Not to discount the numbers, but this is all about educating our youth. It is important to see the whole person and not just the player,” he said. “Whether that means giving a kid an encouraging pat on the back in the cafeteria or chewing him out for doing something wrong in the classroom, it is about influencing young men and that legacy means just as much if not more to me.”
Cromwell said all the teams he has coached have a special place in his heart, regardless of the season’s outcome.
“You remember the 12-0 teams just as much as you remember the 5-5 teams,” he said. “Certainly some big wins and tough losses stand out, and the rivalry games against Central and St. John’s mean so much.”
Olszewski will remember Cromwell for his compassion and values during his time as head coach.
“Dick has always been a guy who has cared about all the players on the team, whether they were a star or a guy who rode the bench,” he said. “That’s something I have always admired about him. He is so compassionate about the kids and that means as much as the wins do.”
While Cromwell will continue to teach and serve as the school’s assistant athletic director, the school will have some major shoes to fill. Cromwell’s legacy will be the benchmark any new St. Francis coach will be judged by.
“The success is amazing,” said Brian Cromwell, who is now a football coach and teacher at Columbus DeSales High School. “The accomplishments and records are a testament to their hard work and dedication.”
Cromwell said that while walking away from the head coaching position was difficult, he is content.
“I have been through 49 years of two-a-day practices and winter conditionings. I have been through years of getting up at six in the morning and then working late into the night preparing practices for the next day. Those are the parts I won’t miss,” he said.
While Friday nights on the gridiron have been a major part of Cromwell’s life, he is ready to begin a new phase in his life.
“I am sure that I will still get nervous and anxious for the Knights when they take the field Friday nights in the fall,” he said. “There will be some parts that I am sure I will miss, but it is a decision I am at peace with, and I am looking forward to the next chapter.”