EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of profiles on the 2019 class of the Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony and announcement of the winner of the 2019 Wilmington News Journal Clinton County Scholar-Athlete Award is 6 p.m. June 26 at the Expo Center on the Clinton County Fairgrounds. Reservations and payments can be made at the News Journal office. Cost is $25 per reservation. UP NEXT: Larry Miller.
Let this sink in for a moment.
Dan McSurley and the Clinton-Massie football team has more wins (63) in the past 73 games, than the 62 the Falcons had in all of the 22 seasons and 219 games before McSurley’s arrival on Lebanon Road in 1996.
Clinton-Massie’s stature as a state powerhouse has been cemented under McSurley, who has guided Massie to a 218-59 record in his 23 seasons.
The Falcons are 188-28 since 2002 and won state championships in 2012 and 2013.
But some times you have to hit rock bottom before you can rise like a Phoenix. For McSurley, rock bottom wasn’t a 2-8 season in 2001 (his last losing campaign at CM) or the times he was “fired” as head coach.
Rock bottom for McSurley and the Falcons came in 2007 at Welcome Stadium in the Division IV Region 16 championship football game.
The Coldwater Cavaliers served up a big ol’ can of the beatdowns on the Falcons to the tune of 63-14. It was 49-0 at halftime, McSurley recalled.
“That’s the most embarrassed I’ve been as a coach,” he said.
Not that McSurley wanted to be embarrassed in that fashion, but as things turned out it proved necessary.
“Until my coaches saw that, witnessed that first hand, they had no idea what level you had to play at,” he said. “OK, so this is big-time football.
“Then I think our program took it to another level.”
McSurley grew up with West Jefferson football in central Ohio. The Rough Riders won state titles in 1962 and 1976 and were always a powerhouse in the middle of the state.
McSurley played football for two legends — Gene Keel and John Sines — at West Jeff. He also wrestled and was a member of the track and field team. He went on to play football for four years at Capital University. He also wrestled for two seasons for the Crusaders.
At Capital he played football for another coaching legend — Gene Slaughter, who coached under Woody Hayes at Ohio State University.
Following Capital, McSurley landed his first coach/teaching gig at St. Paris Graham where he came into contact with wrestling coach Gary Wise.
“He was the one guy who kinda showed me the ropes of coaching and the relationship with the kids,” said McSurley.
After leaving Graham — not on his own terms, he added — McSurley found his way to Clinton-Massie and eventually coached five state champions — two in football and three wrestling individual titles.
Massie didn’t have wrestling when McSurley arrived and he admits it was a selfish thought — “I couldn’t see myself NOT coaching my sons in wrestling” — that sparked his desire to begin the program with Bob Thobaben.
Despite having great success, McSurley said the lengthy playoff runs of the football team caused him to give up his post as Massie’s wrestling coach.
“I felt like it wasn’t fair to the kids who weren’t football players that I wasn’t taking the time to develop them,” he said. “I wasn’t giving the sport what it needed. It was time to step away.”
When will it be time to step away from football? Despite numerous health issues in recent years, McSurley said he doesn’t see an end in sight.
“Every year, people ask ‘Will this be it?’,” he said. “But the kids keep coming. As long as I feel like I can influence these kids and help them realize their goals … I think I’ll know it when the kids don’t respond to me anymore.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports