McLean was a chance worth taking for St. C.
In his 11th season at the helm of the St. Clairsville Red Devils’ football program, Brett McLean is one of the coaching veterans in the Ohio Valley.
What makes that so tough to fathom is the fact that he’s just 34 years old, too.
McLean took over the Red Devils’ program at the ripe old age of 24 and has done nothing but succeed since he arrived just before practice began in the summer of 2002.
Outside of a brief transition that comes with almost every coaching change, the Red Devils’ program has become one of the Ohio Valley’s best year in and year out, which is reflected by McLean’s strong 84-37 record.
However, no season in St. Clairsville’s illustrious football history has achieved what this current group of Red Devils has done with McLean at the helm.
Sitting at 14-0, the Red Devils will attempt to become the first school from Belmont County to win an Ohio State football championship Friday afternoon against Clarksville Clinton-Massie.
McLean was a standout player for Paul “Bud” Billiard at Brooke High School in the mid 90s and then went on to have a standout career at Mt. Union under Larry Keheres, helping the Purple Raiders to win three Division III NCAA national championships.
After his playing career, the thirst for football was still there, so McLean latched onto a coaching position at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Louisville.
So, what stop on his resume was the most valuable?
“Actually, I think I am a combination of things I learned at Brooke, Mt. Union and St. Thomas Aquinas,” McLean offered. “I took little bits and pieces from each place, put them with my own thoughts and philosophies and it’s been successful.”
The road to St. Clairsville and even back to Stark County wasn’t always the way McLean had envisioned because he openly admits he loved the Stark County area. However, his passion was always in the Ohio Valley.
Then-St. Clairsville Superintendent Bill Zanders found himself in a bind and in dire need of a coach because two-a-days were just a week so from getting under way.
“We didn’t have much time to work with, so my first thought was there weren’t going to be any current head coaches who wanted to move at that time.”
So, Zanders made a call to Billiard, whom he had known for a long time.
Billiard gave it some thought and told Zanders about a “young man who played at Brooke and was coaching at St. Thomas Aquinas near Canton.”
“Bud filled me on Brett, his background both as a person and as a player and it seemed like he was just a high quality individual,” Zanders said.
The conversation ended and Billiard got on the phone and called McLean, while Zanders gave it some thought and decided to call McLean, too a couple of days later.
“Honestly, when I first found out about the job being open, I thought that’s a big-time program,” McLean said. “I thought there’s no way they’re going to give a guy my age, with no coaching experience, a shot, but I just wanted the interview experience.”
McLean knew a lot about the Red Devils’ history and program because he’d seen them play almost each year when they played his alma mater Brooke.
One of the first games he ever attended at Brooke Memorial Stadium as a kid was a showdown between his beloved Bruins and St. Clairsville.
“I remember how much respect we had at Brooke for St. Clairsville,” McLean said. “I can’t even remember who won that game because we had a couple of back-and-forth games with each other. I remembered though, even back then, that St. Clairsville was a tough football school.”
Needing to act quickly, Zanders, who hired Dave Bruney at Bridgeport for his first head coaching job, and Dan Ifft at Dover for his first head coaching post, lined up an interview with McLean, himself, the principal and a board of education member.
“I came down and felt I did really well in the interview,” McLean said. “Still, I was thinking about how my age and experience factor might plays a role.”
While he was very good with his actual football knowledge, there was so much more than that about McLean that sold Zanders.
“I believed strongly in the intuitive skills I’ve had at selecting people for positions throughout my career, and Brett said all of the right things,” Zanders recalled. “He knew his football, but, more importantly, he was the kind of young man I wanted around our athletes. I was convinced he would build a program, stay for a long time and see the process through.”
McLean got the call from Zanders ,offering him the job and he admits a state of shock.
“I called home right away and I think my parents were actually more shocked than I was,” McLean joked. “I was confident, though. I had coached on a good staff and all the guys I coached with there are now head coaches somewhere else, so I was just looking forward to getting into a program and being able to call the shots.”
McLean and his family weren’t the only ones surprised. Zanders had some selling to do within the community.
“There were a lot of people scratching their heads a bit when we hired Brett,” Zanders said. “Some people thought it was too big of a chance to take, but when you find the right person, you don’t worry about too much else other than knowing you found the right person.”
Obviously, McLean was the right person because he’s taken St. Clairsville to now unmatched heights.
Under McLean, St. Clairsville has qualified for the playoffs six times, have two, 10-0 seasons, finished as regional runnerup, won or shared three Buckeye 8 titles and captured the OVAC 4A title this season.
Not bad for a guy who had not one second of head coaching experience.
“Obviously, that decision (to hire McLean) is one that I’ve become very proud of,” Zanders admitted. “He’s had a tremendous impact, not only on the football program, but also the school district and community.
While the Red Devils are on the cusp of something extremely special, McLean is hoping that the young kids who’ve been following this 14-0 season each week are starting to get a taste and feel for what it takes to build a program.
“I hope our young kids are in the stands just dying to be Red Devils one day,” McLean said. “That’s what made us good when I played. We looked up to the guys in front of us.”
Staskey can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org