When most head coaches step down, they step away. But Neal Kasner only had to step back.
For that, first-year Greeneview football coach Ryan Haines is thankful.
“We’ve got arguably the best coach in the area in Neal Kasner,” Haines said of his offensive coordinator. “He’s a far better coach than I am.”
And Kasner couldn’t be more pleased that the program he built is under Haines’ energetic direction.
“Marvelously,” was Kasner’s response to how he thinks Haines has led the team in his first season. “I didn’t know when, but I knew Ryan needed his own program.”
The when turned out be now when Kasner had the opportunity to start the final steps of his education career in administration. He took the job of assistant principal at the high school, and policy dictated he give up coaching.
But the Rams were three days into their 10-day summer camp. So Haines and Kasner made a special request for Kasner to be an assistant coach for one year.
“I won’t bat an eye at the end and say, ‘See how good that worked,’ ” Kasner said. “I promised I wasn’t going to do that. Selfishly, I was able to steal an extra year and be a part of the team.”
And what a year it continues to be. The Rams are 10-0 for the second time and in the playoffs for the fourth straight year. They are the No. 6 seed in Division V, Region 20 and face a familiar foe at 7:30 p.m. Friday at third-seeded Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. The Rams are 1-2 against the Eagles the past three seasons, including a playoff loss in 2014.
Kasner started the winning culture at Greeneview, guiding the Rams to their first playoff appearance and victory in 2014. Five years ago Haines left college coaching at Wilmington to return to his alma mater and coach defensive backs. The past three years he was the defensive coordinator.
“Sometimes there’s head-coach material but they still need some more time,” Kasner said. “But he was ready.”
Haines’ first coaching experience was as a student assistant at Ohio State under Jim Tressel and defensive backs coach Taver Johnson. Kasner has seen Haines incorporate some of the team- and character-building strategies he learned from Tressel, putting his own twist on it.
“There’s a passion that he has and that passion is for the team and the assistant coaches and it’s for the game of football, all the good things about football,” Kasner said. “You don’t read about them in the paper anymore, you don’t get to see it on Sunday anymore. But there’s so many great things about the game of football, and he just has a passion for all of it.”
Haines gets to exercise that passion on the sideline instead of the coaches’ booth, and he loves it. Yes, he said, being head coach is more difficult because there’s always something new to deal with. But he said he has great family support and a great mentor.
Since the coaching change, Haines said he has sat in the coaches’ office and talked for hours with Kasner and still more hours on the phone.
“He’s the second most influential man in my life behind my father,” Haines said. “My father raised me to be the person I am, but Neal Kasner’s made me the coach that I am. And I mean that wholeheartedly. I can’t replace him.”
One of the biggest challenges for Haines was the way the coach-player relationship changes when a coach goes from assistant to head coach.
“It’s been tough, I’ll be honest with you,” Haines said. “And I’ll keep trying to evolve that next year.”
Senior running back and linebacker Griffin Mangan hasn’t seen the program’s identity change.
“He’s done a good job taking over,” Mangan said. “I think he’s ready to take over all of this. And he’s got a team behind him next year wanting to win, too.”
Winning and going to the playoffs is the way of Greeneview football these days. After years of mediocrity, the past four seasons have yielded a 37-9 record. The Rams acted like a team used to winning Friday night at Madison-Plains.
“They come in after winning the league title 35-0 and take their pads off like another day at the office,” Kasner said. “That’s a sign of their leadership, and not me.
“That’s the head coach.”