The domino effect, the phenomenon of a chain reaction of small incidents causing similar events along the line, is as old as the game itself, which dates back to 13th century China. Stand them up just to watch them fall.
That also summarizes the aftermath of the football coaching moves inside the Mid-Southern Conference following the 2013 season. One departure set off a series of shifts that reverberated through the entire league.
Mike Donahue, the father of Silver Creek football, stepped down in November after overseeing the formation of the program and guiding the Dragons to a 7-25 record in three varsity seasons. Following that decision, tiles fell at Charlestown and Corydon as successful coaches made surprising moves to greener pastures.
First, Jason Hawkins left Charlestown in May. He went 60-20 in seven seasons with the Pirates, won four conference titles and claimed a Class 2-A sectional championship in 2012. He transformed the program from a doormat to a dangerous contender.
One month later, Darin Ward stepped into the vacancy at Charlestown. Ward spent two stints at Corydon and instantly made the Panthers a power both times. He took over in 2001, after Corydon had won one game in the three previous seasons and was mired in a 23-game losing streak. He went 20-11 in three years.
After serving as an assistant at Jasper, he returned to Corydon in 2009 and found the program struggling after a 1-9 season. Ward went 40-16 over the next five years, winning a regional title in 2011.
The final tile fell into place when Corydon scooped up former Perry Central coach Mike Spencer to fill its void. Spencer, off the sideline since 2011, has won 206 games during a 27-year career, including three Class A regional titles with the Commodores.
The Hawkins-Ward shuffling raised the most questions, mainly: Why? Both men had the same answer. They are educators first, coaches second, and they were dissatisfied in the teaching positions at their previous schools.
READ THE BLOG: Justin Sokeland covers Southern Indiana high school sports
“Most people think we coach football year-round and that’s where our money comes from,” Ward said. “I get asked why I took the job, and I’ve given a thousand politically correct answers. But when it’s all said and done, I’ve got a better job from 8-3, plus the two hours (in practice) after that. It’s a better job for me.”
Hawkins taught elementary school in the Charlestown system but wanted to move to the high school. When that was denied, he started looking. Donahue’s departure opened the door, and Silver Creek was both stunned and pleased to land a coach of Hawkins’ caliber. He is teaching physical education and health.
“I had to make the best decision for my family, not only now but in the long run,” Hawkins said. “That’s what I did. My profession is teaching, not coaching. There’s a lot of reasons that attracted me to come to Silver Creek. And I was ready for another challenge.”
Successful coaches are usually looking to move up to larger programs with strong traditions and greater challenges. Neither of the Hawkins-Ward switches fit that mold. They also did not create space with their moves when they remained in the league. That will create some awkward moments when they face their former schools.
Charlestown will visit Silver Creek on Sept. 5 and host Corydon on Oct. 3. The wounds are still fresh.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” Hawkins said. “I don’t want to play those Charlestown kids. It won’t be an exciting week when we play them. I still care about those kids and hope they do well. A lot of people I brought on as coaches are still coaching there, and I still talk to some of them.
“People were upset with me. There are a lot of good people that were my friends for years that still haven’t talked to me. But at the end of the day, I have to be happy with myself from 7-3:30, and it came to a point that I was not happy. So I had to make a decision.”
“Young people don’t know how to respond to that, and they feed off the adults,” said Ward, who teaches PE and strength training. “I think the awkwardness will be with the adults, not the kids. My decision was never about the kids. I always enjoyed my team and players.”
Ward, who left on good terms with his staff and team, bristled at the suggestion his move is lateral rather than upward.
“Everybody wants to see it as a lateral move, but it’s a better job,” he said. “From a football standpoint, which program has been historically better? There’s no denying that. So honestly, in my world and my opinion, it’s not a lateral move.
“I feel better now with the working relationships with my principal, assistant principal and athletic director. I’m in a better situation now.”
The three central figures in this football version of kabuki theater have work ahead. Hawkins is picking up in the midst of a construction project, a program that is now in Class 4-A after the district’s recent growth spurt. Ward must be careful to maintain Charlestown’s success while implementing his own style. Spencer’s longevity with the Panthers (after he was lured from retirement to head a team that includes his grandson) will be questioned.
“It’s definitely going to work out in the long run,” Hawkins said. “It’s a great school to work at with great kids. They’re smart kids and work hard. We’re farther along than I thought when I took the job. They’re doing everything I ask. Right now I couldn’t be any happier.”
“There’s no denying the success Jason had, and you appreciate that stuff,” Ward said. “People say the grass is greener on the other side. But I like the fact Charlestown is embracing the East End project (with the new bridge over the Ohio River) and wants growth, wants to make upgrades. I’ve always had bigger aspirations.”
Justin Sokeland can be reached at (502) 582-4059.