Tackling another challenge

MARTINS FERRY — A police chief’s job is one that is challenging and thankless.

John McFarland handles it quite well.

A football coach’s life can be just as thankless and challenging.

John McFarland handles those duties also quite well.

McFarland is not your typical police chief. He directs a 22-person police force with passion, caring and toughness. He coaches football the same way.

McFarland was approached this spring by Martins Ferry High head football coaching legend Dave Bruney if he would be interested in helping with the Purple Riders’ program.

Mac does possess a glowing grid resume, as he was an all-Ohio two-way tackle for Bruney. His prep exploits earned him a Division I scholarship to Toledo following his graduation in 1992.

Despite the taxing duties that a police chief must face on a daily basis, Mac jumped at the chance to help guide the junior high Purple squads.

It was a decision neither Bruney or McFarland regrets.

“When Dave called, I jumped at the chance. I love working with kids,” Mac said. “I sat down with Mayor (Paul) Riethmiller and Safety Director (Bill) Suto and told them about the coaching offer. They both gave me their blessings.

“Schedule wise it was tough in the summer until school started,” he continued. “I had to my switch shifts until later in the day. I always got my eight hours in and it was a nice change of pace working with different people.”

Bruney had no doubts his former all-star tackle would be a great fit.

“Mac comes from great football family and is a very-minded community person, who cares about people,” Bruney said. “He has a great personality and the kids relate to him very well. We are fortunate to have him.

“Mac was a very fine football player for us,” Bruney continued. “He played in the Ohio North-South Game. He kicked a field goal and extra point in that game. (South won 10-0). Ty (Fleming) was an assistant coach in that game and he called me and said, ‘Mac is killing guys going to Pitt and Notre Dame. He is the best player here.'”

Mac’s stay at Toledo was an abbreviated one. He left the Rockets after one season, although he entered big into their football plans. Rather, he was simply homesick.

Upon his return and having a “heart to heart talk” with his dad, Mac opted to attend the Police Academy. He subsequently cut his law enforcement teeth with the Tiltonsville force before landing a position with his hometown department in 1994.

Mac was appointed police chief in April of of 2010. His ascension to the top post was a rocky trek, not by his own doing. His two predecessors both lost their chief’s duties in disgrace, with one still being incarcerated.

“When I took over, I had no one to show me the ropes. I had to start from scratch. But I enjoy police work and I like to help people. In this line of work you can help a lot of people,” Mac said. “Working in my hometown, I have had to arrest some friends which is tough. But it has been an enjoyable experience.”

His willingness to help people as well as his easy-going demeanor were great fits for coaching.

“We had 50 some players. Now I have 50 new friends,” Mac said. “We pushed them hard, but it was fun to watch them improve.”

The eighth grade squad went 5-2 while the seventh graders compiled a 1-1-1 mark.

“I am really happy how it turned out,” Mac said. “It taught me a lot, as I learned from our players. I look forward to doing it again next year.”

Mac, who was one of five junior high coaches, did make an impression on his young gridders.

“Coach Mac was tough on us, but he made us better,” said Dom Wallace, whose dad was an NFL gridder. “He is a great coach and it was neat having a police chief as one of our coaches.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Wallace’s teammate Malik Hill.

“We heard that Coach Mac was a great player for Ferry, but he is also a great coach. He pushed us hard,” Hill noted. “Coach Mac taught us that the police are our friends.”

While football coaching is a new foray for Mac, has been helping with the Purple Riders’ Pee-Wee wrestling for years, assisting the late Bubba Coleman.

The time constraints created by combining police and football work posed on the family setting, was made easier by Mac’s two young sons serving as managers. He said they pushed hard for him to become football coach.

Mac’s deftly handling of the dual roles has earned praise from Mayor Riethmiller.

“To be an efficient police chief you need to be visible in the community in which you serve. I have always asked our administrated leaders to be active in our community and get to know our residents on a personal level,” Riethmiller said. “John McFarland is a chief who excels using his time management skills to complete all necessary paperwork duties while still being visible in the city in a cruiser or on the streets. This year the chief has taken that one step further by finding time to become a football coach in the Ferry system.

“Chief McFarland is a leader by example in our police department and now the young people in our community have another opportunity to meet and build a relationship with our chief,” the mayor continued. “What better way to get to know the families and children of our community than by becoming a football coach while maintaining the title of police chief. We believe that by becoming a football coach in our community, our police chief has a hands-on opportunity in a sports environment, to instill character, discipline and respect for authority, in the lives of the children of the city in which he serves.”

McFarland and his wife Tiffany, a first grade teacher with Martins Ferry schools, have three sons: Mike (18), Richie (11) and John (8).

Kapral may be reached at bkapral@timesleaderonline.com