Fairland coach is leaving
PROCTORVILLE, Ohio -- Fairland High School is looking for a new football coach.
Cullen Homolka, who led the Dragons to the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference championship and a berth in the Ohio Division 5 playoffs, is returning to the college ranks after a one-year absence.
Homolka accepted the position of director of player personnel at N.C. State in Raleigh, N.C. He'll be reunited with Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren, who was head coach at Northern Illinois in 2012 when Homolka was a graduate assistant and worked with the defensive line.
Homolka, a former graduate assistant at Marshall University, said he talked to his wife Kristin about the job and she backed him returning to the college game.
"It's been a true honor to coach at Fairland," Homolka said. "My intention was to stay and build a successful program that the community would be proud of. I never looked to leave, but when a dream job at an ACC school like NC State comes, you cannot pass it up. I truly loved my time here."
Homolka got the Fairland job in June. Before coming to southeast Ohio, Homolka basically worked as a graduate assistant in college for eight years.
"I always believed I could bring a successful way of thinking to the program and I think we started to do that," he said.
Homolka devised an off-season program that involved weight training and conditioning. The Dragons responded to the challenge as they went 7-3 overall and 5-0 in the OVC. They won the league title outright for the first time since 1933.
In the first round of the playoffs, Fairland had a rematch with Wheelersburg and the Pirates won again, this time 40-21. For his work, Homolka shared the Southeast District coach of the year award with Wheelersburg's Rob Woodward.
"This experience taught me that if you believe in something then fight for it," Homolka said. "As a GA (graduate assistant) or assistant coach, you may never have to do that. The kids did everything I asked and worked hard to find their own success on the field and in the classroom.
"I heard Coach Earle Bruce (former Ohio State coach) say all the best coaches worked at the high school level or younger first. I can say he was right. The size and athletic ability changes so much from age to age in high school. Trying to teach great techniques takes on a different type of coaching. Size and ability must be understood before you can tell a kid to do certain things on a football field without getting hurt.
"This taught me to focus on the minor things every day and never to deviate."
On offense, Fairland featured one of the highest-scoring teams in the area. Assistant coach Brent Wilcoxon served as offensive coordinator. The Dragons racked up 451 points (regular season) with a single-game high of 74 against South Point. The Dragons reached the 50s twice and 40s three times.
"A goal was always to be simple and try not to complicate the game plan, which I will admit took me a few games to figure out. The Athens game (55-46 loss) will always haunt me. I will always take the blame for that loss."
Quarterback Chance Short ran the spread offense and had valuable targets in wide receivers Kyle Sowards and Tyler Campbell and running back Evan Maddox. All made first team on the All-Southeast District squad.
Homolka ran the defense which had a solid final five weeks after a mid-season slide.
"What we did is more than I imagined," Homolka said. "We set goals. The ultimate was to win the state championship. The kids committed to the program and really came through. They laid the foundation for a solid future."
Homolka's wife is the former Kristin Ritter. They have three children -- Trey, Abigail and Ritter James, who was born last month.
Doeren's first N.C. State team went 3-9 (0-8 Atlantic Coast Conference). He took the job after two successful seasons at Northern Illinois. The Huskies won 11 games and the Mid-American Conference championship in 2011 and followed up with 12 wins, another league title and a trip to the Orange Bowl -- the first BCS berth ever for a MAC school. They lost to Florida State.
"I like college football," said Homolka, 31, who played college football at Kansas. "They believe in what Dave's doing. He'll be more effective next year. He'll get it going. I'm happy to be part of it."
Even though the tenure was one season, departing Proctorville won't be easy, Homolka said. Away from the field, he was there to help players and students. And then there was the community support.
"A high school student has a thousand things going on and very little time in a day to do it. Sometimes their problems would break my heart, but I always wanted to try and help," Homolka said. "I want to thank the Fairland community for their never-ending support because without it nothing we did as a coaching staff would've happened.
"This past season reminded me why I became a coach, which I lost being a graduate assistant for so many seasons. What we accomplished will continue because the kids at Fairland will not give up, but just fight harder to be ever better than they were last season.
"This program will always be close to my heart and this past season will always remind me of what can be accomplished. Like I told them before we played Wheelersburg (playoff game), 'We became a team or a family in seven months and I will always have their back.'"