New Ravenna football coach Joe Callihan savoring a 'wild ride'

·5 min read
Ravenna football coach Joe Callihan
Ravenna football coach Joe Callihan

Joe Callihan's coaching career started with a simple realization.

"I just got a little stir-crazy sitting behind a desk all day and knew I missed playing football, obviously, but more so I think I missed that locker-room environment, where you're around a bunch of like-minded individuals, all pursuing a common goal," Callihan said. "I had to do some soul-searching."

That soul-searching led the Mogadore and John Carroll offensive lineman from the corporate world back to the gridiron, where he is Ravenna's new head coach.

"I'm super excited for the opportunity," Callihan said. "Jim [Lunardi] has been there the last 20 years and they've experienced a ton of success under him, with him being the most winning coach in program history, and even before that, they had the likes of Joe Leigh and [John] Keegan and all of those guys that have obviously built the program up to what it is today. So I feel again incredibly lucky to be able to step in as the next leader of the program and build upon all the success that those guys have had."

As Callihan put it, his return to the gridiron has been a "wild ride," beginning at the University of Akron, where he pursued his master's in special education and also helped with the football team. That included reuniting with his head coach at John Carroll, Tom Arth, and helping the Zips' player personnel department, including setting up recruiting visits and advanced scouting.

He then got his first teaching job at Ravenna, where he also became an assistant coach with the football team. Head coach Jim Lunardi tasked Callihan with running special teams, something Lunardi commonly has his young coaches start with.

What Lunardi noticed was how quick of a learner Callihan was, which allowed the head coach to transfer full control of special teams to his new assistant after just a few games.

"He was able to absorb things at a fast rate when it came to X's and O's," said Lunardi, also the Ravens' athletic director, though he wasn't involved in the hiring process for Callihan. "We had a very veteran staff that had come back and joined me in my last year of coaching and he was able to absorb a lot of things from those coaches and then he's able to process them in a quick manner."

Callihan also had to be a quick learner this spring, given that he not only took over the football team but also stepped in as the girls track and field coach.

While Callihan never ran track and field in high school, he barreled into his new job with enthusiasm, helping spike the numbers in the program.

"Taking on the track opportunity was a great opportunity for me to learn and get to interact with some kids that I probably wouldn't have if I didn't take on the track opportunity," Callihan said. "There's a lot of great kids that I got to meet and build great relationships with over this past couple of months of being a track coach, which is a great opportunity and a great thing because ultimately I think everybody kind of gets into coaching and education for those relationships."

That focus on relationships will be key to what Callihan does in the fall as well.

As Callihan reflected on the successful programs he played in, whether it was Portage Trail Conference power Mogadore or John Carroll, he focused on relationships, noting how Wildcats line coach Cat Murphy worked him hard yet was always the first to give him a hug, and even attend one of his games with the Blue Streaks.

"You got to be able to lift everybody up," Callihan said. "I think that's one thing that looking back at all of the coaches that I've played for and been around, all of the great ones, in my opinion, can definitely lift up the team. Whether that's going over, giving them a hug when they need it, or maybe that's sometimes a stirring conversation to kind of get them going a little bit."

That focus on relationship also extends beyond the football field, where Callihan noted the motivation he gets from his wife as well as his parents.

"They've taught me a lot of skills, a lot of hard work, dedication and humility," Callihan said. "From that standpoint, they've been the best parents that I possibly could ask for. They've helped me go to John Carroll. They were the first ones that were, 'Hey, let us know what you need now that you're the head coach at Ravenna. Where do we fit in? How do we need to help? What do we need to do to help the program be successful?'"

Beyond a focus on relationships and a push to boost Ravenna's roster numbers, just as he managed to do with the track team in the spring, Callihan said he plans to focus on the run, no surprise coming from a lineman.

"If you look back at this past year's state champs, all of those teams are running and running the ball effectively, especially when the weather starts preparing to get cold," Callihan said. "So I think if we want to be able to compete at that level, at some point, we have to be very, very effective when we run the football."

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Mogadore, John Carroll grad Joe Callihan takes over Ravenna football