Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
Video by Kris Kantor
As June turned into July, all was quiet at First Federal Lakewood Stadium.
But it was anything but quiet inside the world of new Lakewood head football coach Mike Ribar.
The former Lakewood quarterback, who led the Rangers to their second of back-to-back Lake Erie League championships 30 years ago, had come full circle. He was now the man in charge of bringing some of that luster back to a program that had fallen on hard times.
"I still don't think it's hit me yet, to be honest with you," Ribar said back on that sunny late-June day.
"Taking over the baseball program four years ago was huge for me," said Ribar, who was just one month removed from leading the Rangers to a share of the West Shore conference baseball crown. "I was a baseball player here.
"But in high school, it was football that was one of the things that brought me my friends. Those were the guys I played football with. They're still my friends today. So when you talk about coming full circle and gathering together just who I am and that kind of stuff, it really puts you where you are.
"This is who I am. I like coaching. I enjoy it," he said.
Ribar inherits a team that struggled last year as Lakewood finished 1-9. He said he's hoping to turn the Rangers around in a hurry, just as he did with the baseball program. He also knows it won't be quite the same task, but is driven to bring those gridiron glory days back to his alma mater.
"Getting the football job along with the baseball job, it's always something I thought about growing up," Ribar said. "I don't know if I ever imagined it like this exactly, but I always wanted to come back and coach here.
"Now I have the football job, and it's a different monster than baseball. It's a bigger monster, a way bigger monster. There are a lot more people involved, a lot more work involved. Hopefully on Friday nights, we can put people in the stands and get the community involved," he said.
After an opening night game at Byers Field against Parma, Ribar and the Rangers will come back for their home opener against North Olmsted. On that night, they'll celebrate the championship team of 30 years ago.
"Thirty years ago, that's the same date as when we were playing here," he said. "We're trying to bring a lot of the guys back, along with the coaches. I want to bring in more of the guys I played with, guys who played here.
"It was the same thing we did with baseball. Our baseball staff has eight guys on it, and seven of them are former Lakewood players. So right now, yeah, I'm very happy where I'm at," he added.
There was a time, however, when Ribar wasn't sure the football job would be right for him.
"I did have some doubt. I wasn't sure if it was possibly too much," admitted Ribar, who will remain the school's head baseball coach. "I mean, I have three daughters, and all of them are at the high school this year. They all play sports, and I miss a lot of their games because of what I do.
"I've seen my one daughter play softball maybe four or five times in two years because we're pretty much on the same schedule. It's kind of tough, because I want to be there for all of them. We have a very good relationship, and I enjoy watching them play.
"So yeah, I really didn't even know if I wanted the job, even when I applied. Part of the idea was I wanted to make sure we got a good coach in here to run a good program. That was the whole idea."
And as it turned out, Ribar was named the new head coach on April 3.
"That's the way it worked out, and here I am," he said. "We're going to do the best job we possibly can. We've got some work ahead of us, but there's talent here. There are kids with capabilities. We want to make sure we don't let these kids down.
"I'm a Lakewood Ranger, and that's why I applied for the job. I want to make sure football here is headed in a good direction," he added.
Ribar quickly put together his staff, which includes varsity coaches Kieran Nall, Kenny Tahsin, Steve Thomas, Dan Waitkus, Albert Wilhelmy and Marco Sullo. He also put out his program's new mantra:
The Ranger Way.
"We put a slogan together for this year," Ribar said. "I don't know where exactly it came from, but we came up with 'The Ranger Way.' That really goes back to 30 years ago, and how we were taught to play football by our coaches, who we respect tremendously to this day.
"That's something that I want to see out of our guys. I want them in 10, 20 years to say these coaches were good guys. They taught us a lot about life and how to be young men, not just football players. That's how it was when we played for Dick Kerschbaum and guys like Ken Ciolek, Ted Johns, Daryl Sadowski, Tom Swank and Joe Vanuch.
"They were our coaches, and we established relationships with them after we were done here. Three of them were the first guys to congratulate me when I got the job," he said.
There was one call that stood out, he said.
"One of the first phone calls I got was from Kerschbaum, who was my head coach," he said. "I was the quarterback, so you both had to be on the same page. That phone call from him really sent chills up my spine and made me realize that I had come around full circle.
"I mean, here's my head coach coach calling me 30 years later saying 'I knew this would be something you'd be good at.' That made me feel really special, hearing that from him," he said.
Ribar went on to say he wanted to bring back some key elements that made that team successful.
"That's something we're trying to bring back here," he said. "Thirty years ago? I'd love for these guys to resemble what we were like 30 years ago, how we were as friends and how we were as teammates.
"The Ranger Way is how we're going to do it. That's what we're going to implement here, and yes, that has a little bit of a double meaning to it. We put a little military aspect to it with the Army Rangers and what those guys go through. How they're disciplined affects how they get their job done.
"That's what we're trying to get our kids to understand. I remember the first day I was a freshman, and Coach Kerschbaum was sitting in front of us. He said there are no more 'yeps' or 'yeahs.' It's 'yes sir' or 'no sir' when you answer questions. And that's not just to coaches, but to your teachers and other adults. You respect who you're supposed to respect.
"I carried that my whole life, even when I went on to college to play baseball. The 'yes sir' thing was automatic. It became such a habit, you just did it," he said.
Ribar is hoping winning becomes a habit as well, just as it did back during his playing days.
"We won two LEL championships, and back then the LEL was one of the toughest leagues around," recalled Ribar, who was the league's MVP in 1984.
"We were 17-3 my junior and senior years, and I quarterbacked the team my senior year. We were 8-2, 9-1 the year before. In the playoff world now, we would have made it in both years. Our junior year, we would have hosted a game.
"There have been some good teams here that have made the playoffs since then. But in all reality when you look back, our team might of had the best two or three years of football at Lakewood High.
"Of course I'm prejudiced, but we had some pretty good football players here," he added.
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Click on the cameras below for Larry's photos and Kris' video: