Chuck Williamson ready for challenge to turn around Marion Harding football
MARION — Chuck Williamson specializes in turning around high school football programs, and the veteran coach is ready to do it again.
Williamson was hired at Monday night's school board meeting as the next Marion Harding head football coach.
"It was a challenge, a new challenge," Williamson said of taking over a program where he will be the fourth head coach in as many years for a team that went 1-9 last season.
Williamson comes to Harding after seven seasons at Washington Court House.
"When I got here, they were 2-8 with 30-some on the roster," he said. "We’ve been in the playoffs the last three years and made round two this past year. We had the roster up to 65-plus."
In his time with the Blue Lions, they went 42-27 and beat their biggest rival Miami Trace six times in that span.
Washington Court House was his first head coaching experience, but before landing there, he was the associate head coach and had a big hand in the way the program was run at Central Crossing in Grove City.
Not only had the school never been to the playoffs, but it suffered through levy troubles that forced sports to be canceled for a season. Nevertheless, the program elevated quickly with Williamson's help.
"We turned it around and in the last two years we made the playoffs and that was the first time they’d ever been to the playoffs," he said. "We played St. X the first year in the playoffs and Hilliard Davidson in the second one, and then I was hired by Washington Court House (in 2016)."
It's that kind of track record that intrigued the 10-member search committee of school officials and community members that vetted the 25 applicants, according to Marion Harding Athletic Director Sean Kearns.
"It was a very tedious process for us, but obviously in the end we felt Coach Williamson was our guy," Kearns said.
From the pool of coaches, seven were interviewed and then the top three were brought back for a second round of interviews.
"He’s got a track record of being places and building programs that are a little down and bringing them around. He did that at Court House. He did that also at Central Crossing. That was something we were impressed with," Kearns said. "His references were impeccable. Everyone we talked to along his journey had nothing but great things to say. The interview process was impressive and not just his knowledge of the game, but his approach and his plan were equally impressive to the resume and the history that he’d done previously."
Williamson, 61, was a team captain and an All-Ohioan while in high school at Westland. He went to Ohio University on a football scholarship where he was recruited as a quarterback but converted to free safety.
After college, he joined the family restaurant business and then worked more than 10 years with the Ohio Department of Youth Services, working for a time in Marion. In 1998, he started coaching football as an assistant at Westland before moving over to Central Crossing where he continued in various assistant coaching capacities in the football program.
Gary Barber, the former Marion City Schools superintendent, is the father-in-law to Williamson's son and the two are close, he said.
"He always said Marion Harding is a sleeping giant," Williamson said of his many conversations with Barber. "If they get the right person in there, you guys can really do something. As a football coach, you always like challenges, and I thought if the opportunity ever came at Marion Harding, I’d take it.
"Thanks to Mr. Kearns, it became available and I accepted it and I’m here to get going."
Williamson will commute from his home in Grove City, and he will begin in Marion on March 1.
"He’s going to help out in several areas as I understand it," Kearns said of his duties other that football coach. "He’s going to help out with some of our blended learning students (in the morning). He’s going to assist in the afternoon with our large class sizes in the advanced physical training that Coach (Don) Worstell does. It’s basically weight room, but it’s more than that. We’ve got some really large groups in there, and he’s going to help with that for the last part of the day. Immediately, he’ll be the after school spring weight room coordinator as well."
In 2021, Marion Harding earned its way into the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The seven wins that season were the most since that playoff team. It was the school's first winning season since 2017 and its second since 2004. However, the Presidents were decimated by graduation, losing more than 20 senior contributors, and followed it up with a 1-9 record.
The resignation of head coach Demetrius Ross a little over a week from the start of the regular season didn't help the cause for Harding's uber young and inexperienced squad. Former defensive coordinator Dan Arndt took over as the interim head coach for 2022.
"I’ve watched them on tape. I’ve watched a lot of games," Williamson said of the Prexies. "What I see talent-wise is there. It just needs corralled in a little bit with a little more discipline. I think we’ll get some guys walking the hallway and get them back out."
The new coach promises to play a fun brand of football.
"Offensively, we’re a spread team. We like to go fast. We get out and go," he said. "We run a lot of run-pass options. The quarterback is very key to our offense. They know what to do. They have to know the certain keys that they’re reading. It’s very important that that guy knows what he’s doing. I run the offense. Defensively we’re a four-man front. We’ll play cover 2, cover 3, cover 4, cover 5, cover 6 behind it."
There will be some familiar faces on his staff as Williamson plans to retain assistant coaches and Prexy legends L.J. Scott and Lem Reynolds and bring in former Harding standout lineman Thaddeaus Carter and former Pleasant defensive coordinator Kyle Curren. That can help with some of the continuity that has lacked over the last four seasons at Harding.
Williamson's pitch to the holdovers and newcomers to the team is simple.
"If you want to be part of something special, we’re going to build a special program," he said. "It’s not the first time I’ve done it. I’ve done it a couple times, and we’re going to be good and you can be part of that. It’s something to be excited about, and I think the kids will be excited by the style we play on both sides of the ball."
Kearns said the committee liked the fact that Williamson is a veteran football coach and someone who can lend stability to a program that has seen a revolving door of coaches in recent years.
"His energy was infectious with what he exuded in the interview process and with everyone we spoke to about him. I would say his experience was a plus to us," Kearns said.
Williamson wants to see Harding's football transformation all the way through. He said he's in it for the long haul.
"I don’t like change. It was tough for me to leave (Washington Court House)," he said. "I’ll finish my career out here. I told Sean I’ll finish my career out here. The plan is to become an elite program again. I think you can do that.
"Washington Court House isn’t the biggest school in the world, but our tight end is going to Kentucky. Bowling Green was in (Monday) and offered our other tight end a full scholarship and Colorado has offered him. The kids who want to get to the next level, we can help them do that."
Williamson is ready for the challenge.
This article originally appeared on Marion Star: Chuck Williamson ready for challenge to turn around Harding football