When Joel Marratta contemplated retirement from football coaching, he wanted the next Kenton Ridge head coach to inherit a stable program. When Jon Daniels got the chance to be a head coach again, he wanted stability.
Timing is everything.
Marratta, a 1988 KR graduate, began considering retirement two years ago, but the timing was off and Daniels was barely in the picture. Daniels was in his first year teaching at Kenton Ridge while working as quarterbacks coach at Wittenberg, his alma mater. The previous two years he was the head coach at Urbana High School. But after consecutive 2-8 seasons and thin rosters, he decided it was time to move on.
Marratta’s retirement thoughts began after the 2017 season, but the Northeastern School District levy in May of 2018 gave him pause. He wanted to see how that turned out. The levy passed, which meant no consolidation of KR and Northeastern high schools. Then he wanted to be sure the coaching staff was stable without heavy turnover.
“I’ve got a lot of time invested in that program,” Marratta said of his 17 years as head coach and a school-record 102 victories. “And I just wanted to make sure that it gets turned over in the right way and that I was going to leave it in a better situation.”
Marratta was 32 when he became KR’s head coach after two years as an assistant, and he decided after this past season to stop coaching and just be a teacher. Daniels is 34 and is the Cougars’ new head coach after two years as Marratta’s offensive coordinator.
“Jon’s a high-energy guy and very passionate about the game of football,” KR athletic director Kris Spriggs said. “He’s just a good fit for us.”
There were a couple other steps before coming to KR that got Daniels ready for the job.
Daniels played defense at Wittenberg and got his coaching start on defense at Springboro High School in 2013-14. After he left Urbana and went to KR to teach, his college coach Joe Fincham offered him a job and the perfect opportunity to learn more about offense under offensive coordinator Reed Florence.
Daniels is a 2004 Springfield South graduate and played one season at Wittenberg before joining the Army for six years. He returned to Wittenberg and played from 2010-12. His return was timed with Florence’s arrival from Southeastern High School. Florence eventually became the Tigers’ starting quarterback.
“I went to Wittenberg with my eyes open to learn their offensive system and how we could transition this down to the high-school level,” Daniels said. “The beautiful thing about working with Reed for a year and seeing how he adapted things to the different quarterbacks he had in there was you see how you can tweak it and play to your strengths.”
Marratta’s teams evolved into a spread attack in recent years with running quarterbacks Mitchell Schneider, Noah Schleinitz and Dylan Lemen. Daniels foresees similar spread schemes featuring one running back in an assortment of pro-style formations.
“I’m happy for him,” Marratta said. “I think he’s the right guy. He knows our kids. I’m going to say this because I can, now that I’m out of the game: The cupboard’s not bare.”
The Cougars were 5-5 last year and lost Lemen, a 1,000-yard rusher and passer, and talented wide receiver Calvin Dibert. Daniels, though, is high on next season’s seniors and juniors. And he said the numbers are good in talented younger classes.
“How that’s going to play out we don’t know,” Daniels said. “But we feel confident in the guys to get the thing going the way we want it to go.”
Daniels also knows the coaching staff. Only Marratta and one other assistant will be missing this fall. It’s a much better situation than when he arrived at Urbana to find only two returning assistants.
“I don’t think I was the type of coach they needed at Urbana at that time,” Daniels said. “They really needed a redirection, build it from the bottom up type deal. I tried to do that, but I just didn’t have all the answers.”
The experience of the past three years and the program stability have given Daniels a more confident feeling this time. He said he appreciates the relationships he has built at the school, especially with Marratta. The old coach and the new coach find something to talk about on the phone every other day, Daniels said.
“It’s an honor that I was chosen to walk in his shoes,” Daniels said. “He’s such a genuinely great person that genuinely cares about kids. I just hope I can live up to the kind of program he’s established there.”
Daniels also is looking forward to what he hopes will be a long-term relationship with KR. His desire to coach and coach for a long time stems from his high school experience.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat anything,” he said. “I lived in a single-parent house and we struggled to say the least. If it wasn’t for football coaches, there’s a whole lot of other ways my life could’ve went. So that’s my approach to this thing. I’m going to give back as much as I can. I plan on doing it for a long time.”
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