With a coaching career spanning four decades, Springfield’s Jim Dimitroff has flipped through thousands of pages in playbooks during jobs at five high schools and one university.
But until recently, Dimitroff had never flipped through the pages of a football book like the one he’d received from Springfield High School. A scrapbook filled with letters and best wishes to help Dimitroff celebrate his 40th season of coaching left him a little blindsided.
“That was pretty emotional,” Dimitroff said of reading about the influence he’s had on players. “You assume you have an impact on kids as you’re coaching them in high school. But to see the things they wrote as grown men with their own family, it was overwhelming.”
Letters came from as far away as California and Texas. One of Dimitroff’s former players came from nearly as far, flying in from Phoenix. Even Michigan State University coach Mark Dantonio, a good friend, sent his congratulations.
“That’s a milestone and a big deal, but you really can’t do that unless you have someone supporting you all the way. My wife Cindy has been that person,” said Dimitroff, who has been married 30 years.
Springfield surprised the assistant coach prior to the Wildcats’ season finale on Oct. 30 at Evans Stadium.
It’s the same stadium where Dimitroff’s love for football was reinforced. He attended games with his uncles in the 1960s, always sitting in the visitors’ side bleachers at the top right on the 50-yard line.
“That’s just the way we did it,” Dimitroff said. “We’d always race across their practice field and there’d always be some cones or something laying out. I’d do some agility drills through those cones. It sounds corny, but I look back on those days and it was fun as heck.”
The Catholic Central graduate’s own playing days were cut short a week before reporting to St. Joseph’s College in Indiana. Dimitroff broke his ankle playing basketball and never reported.
He did start helping the freshman team at Catholic Central for legendary coach Mickey Hannon, who presented Dimitroff with a trophy Oct. 30. Dimitroff moved up to varsity assistant at Catholic Central when current coach Steve DeWitt took over in 1978.
“The idea of playing for the man (Hannon) and then coaching with him, to have him present that trophy to me says it all,” Dimitroff said, adding the coach took on a larger role after the death of Dimitroff’s father his junior year. “I’ve had so much respect for him that he was my father figure. It was very special, very emotional.”
There are too many names for Dimitroff to thank, but Wittenberg coach Ron Murphy was another that deserved mention. Dimitroff said Murphy hired him as as assistant after a high school job fell through unexpectedly.
“I think that was a pivotal moment in my career,” Dimitroff said of joining the Tigers. “I learned a heck of a lot of football and got to deal with college kids. It was a great experience.”
His coaching highlights include being an assistant on Catholic Central’s state runner-up team in 1991, leading North to its first-ever league title with a Western Ohio League championship in 1992 and serving as offensive coordinator for Upper Arlington’s state championship team in 2000.