Hello? Is this thing on?
I’m checking in from self-imposed offseason hibernation to report on the departure of Manheim Township coach Mike Melnyk. The official word came from Mt. Lebanon and was reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review this morning — Melnyk is leaving Neffsville to take the helm at the WPIAL school.
He replaces Chris Haering, who left Mt. Lebanon to become the linebackers coach at Pitt. Mt. Lebanon engaged in a three-month search for Haering’s replacement before choosing Melnyk, the Tribune Review reports.
Melnyk spent the previous 13 seasons at Township. Word of his possible departure started circulating weeks ago, but he has declined public comment. According to the article we have on our main page this morning, several supporters — including students, parents and fellow coaches — spoke out in support of Melnyk at a school board meeting this month.
One reason behind Melnyk’s decision to leave could be the news that his coaching stipend was cut in half — to $4,421 — as part of a district-approved cost-cutting measure for the upcoming year. Supporters at the school board meeting said that is why Melnyk was looking for a better-paying job elsewhere.
Melnyk didn’t touch on that in his comments in today’s Tribune Review article. Instead, he said he was up for a new challenge at a traditional powerhouse.
“Certainly, the reputation of Western Pa. football goes without saying,” he said in the article. “I’ve always been a person that wanted to take on the great challenges. I really believe I’m going to be taking on the best teams every year. Everybody who’s a competitor wants to measure themselves against the best.
“I’m pleased and honored to be part of that tradition now.”
Melnyk will have some big shoes to fill. Haering went 111-71 in 17 seasons at Mt. Lebanon, leading the Blue Devils to 13 playoff appearances and a WPIAL Class AAAA title in 2000.
But Melnyk is undaunted by challenges. Before he came on board at Township in 1999, the Blue Streaks had one winning season in their previous 23. It took some time for Melnyk to right the ship — Township went 10-30 in his first four seasons, including one memorable 69-0 loss to McCaskey in 2001. But in his last nine years, the Streaks went 65-33, captured two Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 1 titles and made six appearances in the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs.
Several notable players came through the ranks at Township during Melnyk’s time there, including quarterback Pat Bostick, who went on to Pitt. The Streaks’ current QB, Brennan Scott, is expected to follow Bostick’s footsteps into the major-college ranks after his graduation next year and is already one of the state’s most prolific passers.
If one of the reasons for Melnyk’s departure can really be traced to the reduction of his coaching stipend, that’s really a shame. It means the Streaks’ program has been victimized by the harsh realities of today’s economic and political climate, as schools across the country are forced to tighten their belts and make some tough choices in the light of budget cutbacks.
But ultimately it doesn’t matter why Melnyk’s heading west; at the end of the school year, he’s gone. And his absence will leave a void at Township. Section 1 is only going to get tougher with the addition of Lancaster Catholic in the fall; the Crusaders join a section that already has perennial powerhouse Wilson, upward-trending Hempfield, always dangerous McCaskey and tough-as-nails Warwick. Whomever takes over the reins for Melnyk will have his hands full.
Melnyk’s L-L League peers didn’t appreciate his habit of calling the occasional trick play when the Streaks were comfortably ahead, but he seemed to be universally respected for his ability to build a program. Under his guidance, the Streaks went from one of the league’s laughingstocks to an annual section title and district playoff contender, one that could be counted on for at least seven or eight wins almost every season.
I always thought his most admirable quality was his ability to adapt. He was the first coach in the league to embrace the “Wildcat” offense, using it almost exclusively in 2007 when injuries to his starting and backup quarterbacks forced him to do some hasty improvisation. (At Township, the shotgun formation most NFL fans know by its “Wildcat” moniker is called the “Razorback.”)
Mt. Lebanon has landed itself a pretty good coach. They seem to understand that.
Here’s what athletic director John Grogan told the Tribune Review about his new coach:
“Mike, quite frankly, is the total package. From a football coach standpoint, he’s extremely good. He has the experience … and I think he’s a better person than he is as a coach.
“From a cultural standpoint, after 17 years with Chris, we really wanted someone who could come in and maintain the program. He’s a tremendous leader and will do some great things with the kids. It was important to us to ensure we got it right, that we got the right person, and I certainly believe that’s the case.”
Covering Section 1 will be a little less interesting with Melnyk gone. I wish him well at Mt. Lebanon.