Rose’s impact still being felt more than two decades later

BELLAIRE — “Today’s the worst we’ll ever be.”

That mantra was the driving force in the success the late Mike Rose enjoyed in his three-year stint (1997-99) as head football coach at the former St. John Central in Bellaire.

Rose, in his short time at the school, guided the Fighting Irish grid program to unparalleled heights.

Despite not taking over as head coach until Aug. 1 in 1997, he led the Green gridders to an 8-2 record that fall. He followed that with another 8-2 campaign, with the Irish just missing out on state playoff berths both seasons. The best, however, was yet to come.

In 1999, Rose guided the Fighting Irish to a 9-2 mark, securing a berth in the OHSAA playoffs. It remains the only time St. John Central ever made the grid postseason.

Rose left St. John’s after that golden season to fulfill his teaching obligations to the Martins Ferry City School District, where he also served as an assistant football coach.

But the slogan that got it all started continues to make an impact more than 20 years after Rose hung up his Fighting Irish coaching whistle.

“Today’s the worst we’ll ever be” has made its presence felt at the collegiate level. Gannon University enjoyed a successful season this fall on the NCAA D-II level. The Golden Knights have adopted the motivational saying, resulting in bountiful results.

Gannon went an impressive 8-3 this year, just missing out on a postseason berth. Those eight victories are second most in school annals for a single season. The Knights went 5-6 a year prior.

Erik Raeburn just completed his third season at the Gannon grid helm. He has the program trending upward.

Playing a key part in this year’s Knight success was the addition of Bryan Nardo as the team’s defense coordinator. He came to the Erie-based institution from a stint as linebackers coach at Youngstown State.

Nardo, a Shadyside native and St. John graduate, never got the opportunity to play for Rose. His older brother, Matt, though, played for Rose on the 9-2 playoff squad.

“Coach Rose would say to us after practice that, ‘Today is the worst we will ever be,’ and as a young kid you didn’t realize at first what he was teaching you. He was telling us that we will be better tomorrow and to never be satisfied,” Matt Nardo, current head football coach at Bluffton College in Ohio, recalled. “Some 20 years later, I still use that expression with my players and probably always will. After every game, we went to the steps in front of St. John’s as a team, and (Rose) would remind us that no matter what, this is where it always comes back to.

“Moments like that are what made playing at St. John’s special. We were taught to keep our priorities aligned and Coach Rose never let us forget that. Coach loved his players and he loved St. John’s, and we loved him, too.”

With that as a backdrop from his older brother, Bryan Nardo was well steeped in Rose’s passionate coaching style.

“Within the first week that I was hired at Gannon, I printed out a sign to hang above the door in my office with Coach Rose’s saying on it,” Bryan Nardo said. “Coach Raeburn saw the sign leaving my office one day and stopped to read it. He just kind of smiled and said, ‘That’s a really good message.’

“I talked about it a lot during spring ball, but I really think it took hold during the summer and into fall camp. We preached it defensively on a daily basis, and Coach Raeburn brought it up during one of our evening team meetings. From that point on it really took hold within the program. I’m not going to … say I said it every day, but I know I spoke about it multiple times throughout the week. But then again, other coaches at different positions were constantly saying it as well.”

Raeburn said Nardo fits in well at Gannon.

“Going into the season we thought we would be better, but sometimes that doesn’t translate into wins. I am not sure many people thought we could win eight games,” Raeburn said. “Bryan was a great hire, not just schematically but also with his philosophy. I loved the way he coached the players. He cares about his players and he is upbeat. The players came to practice and meetings in great frames of mind. I credit him for that.”

Raeburn believes the Rose mantra did play a key role in the Knights’ successful season.

“… When I saw, ‘Today’s the worst we’ll ever be,’ it really resonated with me. I shared it with the players and they bought into it,” Raeburn said. “The players believed it and they did their best to live it out. I felt it made a big difference for us. There were no highs nor lows. We were very consistent attitude-wise, win or lose.”

Even though they played for Rose more than two decades ago, many of his former players still hold him in the highest regard. Rose died Sept. 19, 2019 at age 56.

– Kenny Howell (two-time All-Ohio gridder for Rose at SJC) — “I was fortunate to call him my coach from Jr. Irish through my senior year. My teammates and I thought the world of Coach Rose, and we would’ve moved mountains for him if that’s what was asked of us. He coached with an infectious passion for life and the game of football. He made men out of his players, both on and off the playing field. The lessons learned from Coach Rose have followed me into my adulthood to be shared with my children. Coach Rose can be described in two words: passion and heart. I am proud to be able to call him Coach and am grateful for the experience of playing for him. He is the epitome of Irish Pride.”

– Rocky Swift (three-year offensive line starter, 1997-99) — “Coach Rose can be defined by one word — motivator. From seventh grade through my senior year he was my class’ coach except for our freshman year. He is all we knew as a football coach, and there isn’t anyone of us that isn’t a better man from his leadership.”

– Mike Kolvek (1998 St. John graduate) — “My senior year, on Aug. 1, 1997, our head football coach left for Indian Creek one day before doubles were about to start. We thought our season was over as this was going to be our third head coach in four seasons. Our hopes for a good season were crushed. Coach Rose came in with such great positivity and energy. He did a 180 on our attitudes and thoughts on the upcoming season. We started out 8-0. They only took four teams for the playoffs back then and we missed out by like .001 of a point. Coach Rose was the most positively intense coach I ever had. I try to bring as much passion as he had to the teams I coach today. I loved the man!”

While Rose’s mantra was a game-changer for Gannon football this fall, it still helps to shape the life of Bryan Nardo.

“I think they really embraced (Coach Rose’s mantra). It was great to see a lot of players begin to say it on their own or put it out on social media throughout the course of the season. Our senior defensive tackle (Malik Bridgeman) made sure to yell it in the locker room after we beat Cal (Pa.) on the road,” Nardo said. “This was the first time in school history that Gannon beat (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and Cal in the same season, and that was the message our senior captain shared after the win.

“It has impacted me through every kind of situation that can show up in life. If I have success, then ‘Today’s the worst we’ll ever be’ helps me to stay driven and work hard. If I fail, ‘Today’s the worst we’ll ever be’ forces me to not sit around and feel sorry for myself, but to get back to work and get better. I’ve been praised for a win, I’ve been criticized for a loss, I’ve been promoted and I’ve been fired. But none of that matters if ‘Today’s the worst we’ll ever be.'”


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