By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
When it comes to filling head coaching vacancies, the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds tend to promote from within the family.
In an expected move last week, NewCath Principal Carl Foster and Athletics Director Rob Detzel promoted longtime defensive coordinator Dan Wagner to head coach. Wagner takes over for Eddie Eviston. Eviston resigned before Christmas to take the offensive coordinator job at Georgetown College.
“After meeting with Dan, we knew we had the man we wanted for the job,” Detzel said. “Dan is a NewCath guy and his record as an assistant speaks for itself. Hiring Coach Wagner will make for a smooth transition for our football program, and we believe he will continue the great tradition that is Newport Central Catholic football. We look forward to many years of success with Coach Wagner as Head Coach of the NCC Thoroughbreds.”
Wagner, a 1978 NewCath graduate, has been Defensive Coordinator since 1999. The Thoroughbreds struggled to 4-8 in 1999 under legendary head coach Bob Schneider.
But things have changed dramatically since then. NewCath has reeled off 13 consecutive trips to at least the third round of the playoffs and finished with double-digit wins in 12 of those seasons with four state championships and four runner-up finishes.
“I don’t see that changing,” Wagner said. “We’ll just keep plugging along with what we’ve been doing. That’s the beauty of this change just like when Eddie took over. Everyone was still there and everyone knows what to expect. We set the bar high in 2000 and it’s been high ever since.”
The Thoroughbreds finished 11-4 last year beating Caldwell County, 30-26 for their second Class 2A state championship in three years under Eviston. Eviston took over for Schneider in 2010 and the Thoroughbreds went 35-8 during his tenure.
“Coach Eviston has taken the NCC program to the next level following the legendary Coach Schneider developing it into one of the premier programs in the state of Kentucky,” Wagner said. “I plan to continue that tradition started by Coach Schneider and most importantly continue to develop our student-athletes into great young men on and off the field like my predecessors have done over the years.”
Wagner, 52, began coaching in 1980 with the NewCath freshmen squad. Before coming back to NewCath in 1999, Wagner coached at Campbell County, Norwood (Oh.) and Indian Hill.
“I always wanted to coach at NCC,” Wagner said. “Even while coaching at other schools, I would always read the reports in the newspaper about NewCath first. My heart has always been here, and it is truly the only place I ever wanted to coach. I want to thank the NCC administration for believing in me and allowing me the opportunity to lead our football program for years to come. I am excited and can’t wait to start working with these kids in this new role.”
Wagner’s promotion comes as welcomed relief for the returning NewCath players. They won’t have to get used to new systems and philosophies like they might had an outsider come in.
“It was definitely a great choice,” said Mac Franzen, NewCath junior. “He knows how the program runs so I think not much is going to change. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it.”
Opponents averaged just 16.5 points against the Thoroughbreds last year. Class 2A, District 6 opponents scored just 32 points against them in five games. That included NewCath’s 52-0 shutout of rival Covington Holy Cross in the second round of the playoffs.
“He’s really prepared us well in practice,” said Jake Haas, NewCath senior. “He always has us ready by game day. He knew how to get us riled up in practice. I can’t say enough about him. I hope they continue to win in the future.”
The Thoroughbred coaching staff consisted of NewCath graduates except assistant Billy Lyon. Lyon graduated from Lloyd Memorial in 1990. Wagner said pretty much every one of the assistants will also return.
NewCath hopes to battle for another state crown this year. But the staff needs players to step into the roles left by the graduating players. The Thoroughbreds will graduate 15 seniors including quarterback Josh Cain and leading rusher Dylan Hayes as well as much of the offensive and defensive lines, secondary and a couple linebackers.
That will involve some personnel decisions. Franzen led the Thoroughbreds with 59 receptions for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns last year. But he could move to quarterback this year.
“I’m always in it for the team no matter if that’s playing quarterback or wide receiver,” Franzen said. “Whatever will get us the win, I’ll be fine with that.”
Rising sophomore Jacob Smith will be the leading returning rusher with 267 yards on 47 carries and five touchdowns for an average of about 5.7 a carry. The Thoroughbreds also return their leading tackler in rising senior linebacker Jack Sutkamp with 110 stops.
One big key for the coaching staff is to keep solid chemistry in the locker room. The Thoroughbreds did battle through some adversity last year.
“To be honest, there hasn’t been much (dissension) happen in the locker rooms. When it does, we handle it,” Wagner said. “I’m a black and white guy. It’s either right or wrong. Another thing with the kids on this team is I know their parents really well not just in passing. There’s that family feel there.”
NewCath will continue to run the 4-4 defense and run a similar base spread offense with some tweaks depending on personnel. The Thoroughbreds will also run their tough offseason conditioning programs led by assistant coach Dave Schneider. They hope to be deeper this year.
The Thoroughbreds will also face a similar tough schedule against the likes of 6A opponents Campbell County, Simon Kenton and Dixie Heights. NewCath started last year 2-4 before reeling off nine straight wins.
“When we play big schools five games in a row that have 70-80 kids, you get beat up pretty good, but it does make us better,” Wagner said. “So we’ll keep doing it.”
Covington Holmes and Cincinnati McNicholas decided not to continue the series with NewCath. The Thoroughbreds have filled one of the openings with defending Class 5A runner-up Cooper.