By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
For Jason McElhaney, West Middlesex has been his whole life. However McElhaney has made what he termed “a life decision.”
McElhaney, Middlesex’s head football coach for the past 6 seasons, recently tendered his resignation.
“I talked to my team and told them I didn’t expect them to understand,” McElhaney related. “This is hard for me. I took a long time talking this over with my wife. It’s a difficult decision.
“I’d love to stay.”
McElhaney, an 11th- and 12th-grade social studies teacher, will remain on the WMHS faculty.
While speaking by telephone Monday afternoon, McElhaney was making the daily 100-mile commute to Mars he has driven since last February. His wife, Starla, is employed in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, and Mars served as somewhat of a midway mark. But McElhaney admitted,
“It was hard for me to do everything I needed to do as a head coach with that kind of commute.”
Under McElhaney, the Big Reds recorded back-to-back District 10 Class A title tilt appearances. This past season Middlesex manufactured a 10-3 ledger — the program’s best since the single-season Big Reds’ record 15-1 campaign of 2006 that ended at Hershey in the PIAA championship game.
That ’06 setback on the statewide stage to Southern Columbia served as Brian Hoffman’s swan song. McElhaney, one of Hoffman’s assistants for 3 years, was then promoted. Middlesex mustered a middling 19-21 mark during McElhaney’s first 4 years at the helm.
But the Big Reds blossomed during the past 2 seasons, and 2011 ended with a 7-5 ledger. To McElhaney’s mind, a turning point for the program occurred in Week 8 of that season, a 52-15 blowout at Linesville (now Conneaut Area).
“We talked about it as staff. That was our favorite win ... our first really, really big win at that time,” McElhaney reminisced. “We had been in a rut, and that helped get us out of it.”
That was part of a season-ending 5-game West Middlesex win skein in which the Big Reds roared into the postseason before bowing to Sharpsville in the D-10 title tilt. One of those triumphs was McElhaney’s 1st postseason success as a head coach (Youngsville, 47-0), which he cited as another highlight.
“They (each season) all have their moments,” McElhaney mused, noting this past season’s Region 1-A crown, before summarizing his tenure thusly:
“I enjoyed it. It was a big-time learning experience for me. I was 25 when I got the job and you think you’re ready, but you’re not. But over the years, me maturing and learning how to be head coach and turn the program back in the right direction. It was kind’ve a challenge, but that’s why we coach.
“My administration has been extremely supportive — I couldn’t ask for better,” McElhaney continued. “They gave me the opportunity to coach. And I’ve had some really good players and good teams, and to have had this opportunity, I’m very thankful for it.”
McElhaney played for and graduated from West Middlesex High, then matriculated at Mount Union (College) University, where he was part of a trio of NCAA Division III championship teams (2000-01-02). After graduating from Mount Union in the spring of ’04 with a bachelor’s degree in history/secondary education, he was hired at his alma mater.
“More or less, given the respsonsibility of being a head coach, I didn’t feel like I was being fair to the school,” he noted. “I couldn’t build the program the way I wanted. With the (commuting) distance it was a grind. So, more or less, I’m kind’ve stepping back, maybe’ll take a lesser role somewhere else where I don’t have to carry all the head-coaching responsibility with the commute I have to make.”
“Eventually, I’d like to pursue a teaching job in my new area, but I wanted to do right by West Middlesex and give them the time,” McElhaney emphasized. “I told my team it’s tough, there are no guarantees with teaching jobs, the way things are (economically). But teaching puts food on the table, so as long as I have to make this commute I’ll teach at West Middlesex and maybe coach somewhere else if someone’ll have me.”
Middlesex’s gridiron success during the past decade is attributable, in part, to what McElhaney said was a “coaching tree.” However he emphasized that he would not consider remaining on Middlesex’s staff as an assistant as it would creat an “awkward and unfair” situation for his successor.
“It’s a pretty solid job. Good kids and good players, so I think there should be some good (coaching) candidates,” McElhaney said. “The way the job has been passed down, from coach (Rick) Resatar, who had coach Hoffman on his staff ... to Brian taking over and having me on his staff ... then I took over.
“That ‘tree’ of coaches, if you will, has helped the program a little bit.”
The daily drive from West Middlesex to Mars — “door to door,” as McElhaney charaterized it — is 100 miles. But no matter where he teaches and coaches, you won’t be able to take West Middlesex out of the man.
“It’s all I’ve ever known,” McElhaney admitted. “I grew up there, played there, served as an assistant coach, then head coach. This is not an easy decision, by any means. It’s been a very difficult decision.”