By Preston Byers
Since former coach Bo Pelini darted to the bayou for a defensive coordinator position, Youngstown State University has been on the hunt for a head coach to lead its football program.
And once again, the university reached into the seemingly endless well of local talent to find its man.
As the conclusion to a search that just eclipsed National Signing Day, the Penguins hired a New Middletown native, Doug Phillips, who most recently served as the running backs coach at the University of Cincinnati.
Phillips, arrived at his introductory press conference in a red suit jacket with the university’s iconic block ‘Y’ logo pinned to his chest.
To say Phillips is excited to come home would be an understatement.
“There’s probably not a job in America I want more,” Phillips said. “I don’t know if there’s a job in America I would step away from what I had in Cincinnati. For me, this was the right place at the right time. [Cincinnati coach] Luke [Fickell] would always say, ‘Make sure you’re running to it and not running away from something.’”
Phillips’ coaching journey, which began at YSU nearly 30 years ago when he was a graduate assistant on then-head coach Jim Tressel’s staff, is a unique one. Unlike a more traditional route, which includes more internal promotions until the eventual ascension to head coach, Phillips took a few detours along the way.
“The journey has been the destination,” Phillips said at the press conference.
Despite only having two years of experience as a YSU graduate assistant, Phillips, a graduate of Springfield Local High School, was hired as Springfield’s head coach in 1997. In four years, he led the Tigers to back-to-back state playoff appearances in 1999 and 2000.
After leaving Springfield, he took a job at nearby Salem High School, where he guided the Quakers to consecutive winning records for the first time in 30 years.
Upon leaving Springfield, Phillips reunited with Tressel, who had since moved to Ohio State University. After one season as a defensive quality control coach with the Buckeyes, Phillips moved to Bowling Green State University, where he spent two seasons.
After Bowling Green, Phillips put coaching on the back burner. Instead, he worked as a high school administrator for the better part of a decade. For many, being out of coaching for so long may have hindered their chances to ever become a head coach. But not for Phillips.
With just four seasons of coaching since returning to the sidelines, Phillips was named the eighth head coach in YSU football history. And while his return to the Valley is not the end of his journey, Phillips used the moment to reflect upon his unorthodox career path.
At his introductory press conference, Phillips, a self-described emotionally mute man, became visibly emotional when spoke about how he would have liked for his parents, YSU supporters that “popped popcorn for home football games, basketball games” and who are both deceased, to see him now as the Penguins football coach.
Ron Strollo, YSU executive director of intercollegiate athletics, said Phillips was one of seven candidates to be interviewed. Phillips is estimated to make $250,000 a year on a four- or five-season deal.
“We’re very excited to have Doug Phillips as our football coach,” Strollo said in a press release. “Doug has been a great representative of the Mahoning Valley and is a very well-respected coach among his peers. His background is perfect to be the leader of our program.”
With the hiring of a new coach comes an adjustment period. Some players may decide to transfer, like defensive end Justus Reed, who entered the transfer portal after Pelini’s departure, but Phillips is eager to win over the players who stick around.
“I hope the players I’ve coached in my past would say I love my football players,” Phillips said. “I take care of them, and I want to see them succeed. I’ve got to earn that over the next six to eight months.”
“Grit U” has found a new leader, and he’s already embraced the blue-collar mentality that’s so important to the city of Youngstown.
“Now, we have to get to work,” Phillips said. “The Youngstown way is we have to go out and earn it. Nothing is given to us. We have to go take it. We have to own it.”