MSAC changing of the guard
CHARLESTON, W.VA. -- It hasn't been lost on John Messinger that he's now part of the majority in the Mountain State Athletic Conference.
The majority of ex-coaches.
By stepping down this week as the football coach at South Charleston - a position that netted him and the school a pair of Class AAA championships in his seven years - he becomes the ninth league coach to resign since the 2010 season.
That's a lot of turnover, even in a conference that had 16 teams until this year. Messinger's decision makes it two down since the regular season ended earlier this month, since Ralph Hensley stepped away at Riverside.
"If you look around,'' Messinger said, "the guard is changing. Look at how many have gone in just the last couple years. In a few more years, it's going to be all new faces.
"I remember when they asked me to do this job and I went to my first MSAC meeting [in 2006]. I was in total awe of the coaches in that room. Now [Ted] Spadaro's gone, [Chip] McMillian's gone, [Derek] Christian's gone. I don't feel obligated to leave because I've gotten old. Like I said, I'm not dying. It's not like I'm putting together some huge bucket list. There's just some things I'd like to do.''
One of the things Messinger wants to do is follow the athletic career of his daughter, Ella, who just finished her sophomore season in volleyball at Glenville State. He'd also like to get back into competitive powerlifting, a sport in which he's won 28 state championships and five national championships.
"A couple things really had a profound effect on me,'' Messinger said. "My daughter's had about 60 matches in volleyball and track in college and I've seen her play about five. And for 35 years, every other weekend I went to a weightlifting meet somewhere. I've still got some old guys working with me and I'd like to go do that again.
"Between that and the past summer when I lost my mother and my aunt died . . . well, I told the kids and I told [SC Principal] Mike Arbogast that when next season starts, I'll be 60 years old and I want to spend more time with my family.''
Messinger has certainly left his mark on the program. In his seven seasons, the Black Eagles won 62 of 83 games, made the playoffs four times and captured state titles back-to-back in 2008-09 while compiling a school-record 19-game winning streak.
Of course, SC was denied a shot at playing for a third straight title in 2010 because it had to forfeit a playoff semifinal victory against Brooke for using ineligible players. That stemmed from a fight at the end of a quarterfinal win against Hurricane the previous week in which several players were ejected.
"Obviously, that took a lot of wind out of my sails,'' Messinger said. "We did some good things, some things we wanted to do, had some success and were able to win a couple championships, and no doubt there could have been another.''
Messinger steps aside having missed the postseason in each of his last two years. The Black Eagles went 5-5 in 2011 and finished tied for 20th in the Class AAA ratings (four spots out of the final berth) and 6-4 and tied for 17th this year.
"Everybody thought that next year [in 2011] was a disappointing year when we went 5-5, but with that bunch of kids, that was a victory for us,'' Messinger said. "We could have been 2-8 or 3-7. But honest to goodness, that 7-6 loss at Ripley this year will haunt me more than that [61-0] whooping we took from GW the year before.
"It was a great opportunity to coach here, and I thought we had enough success that we made some people happy over the years. With our community and our school, I really feel like those things are not a reflection of just me, but of our staff and our kids. This team has accomplished more with less than a lot of teams. There's not a lot of money left in our community, and every week it was getting tougher to find people to do things.''
As Messinger looks back at his time at SC, he can feel comfort in knowing he's leaving the program in pretty good shape.
"When Mr. [Bill] Walton was principal and hired me,'' Messinger said, "his main concerns were the discipline of the kids, keeping them in school and keeping them honest. He said winning games was not a priority. I told him we'll win games and do all those other things. To me, it's all about the kids - discipline and hard work, being a good son, being a good student and being a good citizen. Do that and the football part will be easy.
"I'm sure they'll have a lot of people apply for that job and I think we'll find the best man and the program will still thrive. And I'll be around. I'm not going anywhere. If the next [staff] has something on their mind and needs help and I'm not interfering, I'll be glad to help. I could always count on Vernon Redman [his predecessor] giving me good advice or to pick me up when I needed it over the years. Now I'd like to be that guy who comes up with a half-decent answer to help them along.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.