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Schmitz retires, leaving Northern with big shoes to fill

Former offensive coordinator Mike Schmitz retired officially last Thursday, Feb. 1, after five years at the position. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

Ohio Northern is looking for a new offensive coordinator after former coordinator Mike Schmitz announced his retirement last Thursday.

The university plans to hire a new offensive coordinator within the next two weeks, athletic director Tom Simmons and head football coach Dean Paul told the Northern Review on Monday. Paul said that he and the university will consider both internal and external hiring options.

Schmitz was a part of four winning seasons in his five years at Ohio Northern, highlighted by the 2015 season where Northern advanced to the second round of the NCAA Div. III Playoffs behind an offense that scored 38 points per game.

Under Schmitz’s guidance, the Polar Bear offense never averaged fewer than 30 points per game in a given year. Northern also averaged over 400 yards per game during Schmitz’s tenure. In the season before Schmitz was hired, ONU scored just 23 points per game.

“We appreciate the last five years that he served on our staff,” Paul said in a press release on Thursday. “He has made a lasting impact on ONU and will be missed.”

Paul said that Schmitz, 65, retired so that he could spend more time with his family. His wife is an attorney and partner in the Critchfield Law Firm in Wooster, and Paul said that she plans to retire in December. Schmitz’s daughter also recently moved back to Wooster with her son, which Paul believes also contributed to Schmitz’s decision to hang it up.

“I think that he has the energy to keep doing it,” Paul said. “But I think that his daughter had moved back to Wooster, he has a little five year-old grandson, so I think he’s like, ‘You know what? I don’t feel like recruiting right now. And I don’t want to do a bad job.’”

“It’d be one thing if they were right here -- if his wife was right here and his grandson was right here. But it’s almost two hours away, and I think just the family aspect of it was probably the biggest factor.”

Paul said that he and Schmitz had discussed his potential retirement months before he made the decision, which he informed Paul of “two or three weeks ago,” and that Paul told the team of his decision 10 days before his retirement.


Schmitz’s impact

While Schmitz led Northern to new offensive heights during his five years in Ada, what Paul believes set Schmitz apart was that his prior experience as a head coach allowed him to see the bigger picture. Schmitz had served as the head coach at the College of Wooster for 13 years, which followed 19 years of head coaching at the four different high schools in Northeast, OH, before coming to ONU.

It was less about offensive statistics to Schmitz, even as the offensive coordinator, and more about the wins and losses.

“He understood the climate of our conference, he understood the strengths we have and also some of the teams we’re trying to beat, and the big picture,” Paul said. “Whereas, some offensive coordinators -- not that they’re selfish -- but, ‘Hey man, how many yards did we get? How many points did we get?’ He’s been a head coach, he knows that at the end of the day it’s about, ‘Are we successful as a team?’”

Schmitz also recruited some of Ohio Northern’s most talented players over the last five years, including current offensive lineman Sam Shook (who Paul says will likely be a captain next year), three-year varsity quarterback Will Freed and linebacker Mark Niles (who led the team in sacks last year), among others. Schmitz had ample recruiting connections in the Northeast region of the state from his storied high school coaching career.

Along with his well-rounded perspective and recruiting prowess, Schmitz was also a student of the game, even at his final coaching destination. During the 2015 season, Schmitz and Paul were willing to implement newfound offensive strategies that would best utilize the team’s weapons. They instituted jet sweeps and different variations of screen plays to help free up some of the team’s talented playmakers, such as All-American Devon Price.

“With his experience, he understood the creative ways to get the ball to playmakers,” Paul said. “I think a coach with experience kind of knows different ways get the ball to the dudes out there in space, and let them make plays.”

Paul noted Schmitz’s willingness to learn and introduce new ideas to the ONU offense, while also staying within the model of the team’s spread attack.

“I think he continued to develop. Even though he was 60 years old, he was still learning,” Paul noted. “I think that’s always a good attribute that I’m looking for with assistant coaches, is somebody that just has a quest to continue to get better. He always had that.”


The road ahead

Regardless of who ONU hires to fill Schmitz’s shoes, Paul said Monday that Northern will stick to the spread offense, which has been a staple of the program for 10 years now. The Polar Bears averaged 434 yards per game last season, which ranked fourth in the conference.

Northern will also return the majority of their key playmakers from last season on the offensive side of the ball, including All-American running back Christiaan Williams, both starting quarterback Will Freed and backup quarterback Anthony McFadden, and primary receiver Chad Rex.

“We’re not looking to overhaul our offense,” Paul said. “Like, I’ve told our players, we had a pretty good season. We need to be more consistent to go from where we are to where we want to be -- a playoff, top-25 team, competing for a national championship. So, I feel like it’s not an overhaul, it’s a tweak of the spread system.”

Some of the ‘tweaks’ that Paul mentioned will be used in an effort to alleviate the team’s struggles in the red zone. Despite racking up an eye-opening number of yards last season and finishing second in the OAC in first downs per game, the Polar Bears sometimes struggled to finish drives, resulting in a scoring average of 30 points per game (which ranked sixth in the conference).

“We have to finish drives, so we’ll look at what the answers are to that,” Paul said. “Whoever the offensive coordinator is, that’s an area that I’d like to see us improve upon. And whether coach Schmitz was here or not, that would be something that we would be working to get better on.”

Paul would like to use more unbalanced formations to try to throw defenses off when in scoring range, such as using six linemen on certain plays to create a more forceful push toward the end zone. While Paul said that they have implemented ‘exotic’ formations in the past, they were not able to as much last year because of their inexperience at the tight end and h-back positions. With a year of experience out of the way, Northern will likely be able to execute these formations next year.

Paul would also like to manipulate the tempo of the offense in a way that can throw off the opposing defense and allow for more scoring opportunities.

But tinkering with occasional unbalanced formations in the red zone and shifting the tempo of the offense are only minor changes, as Paul said. With nearly all skill positions back next year on an already-potent offensive attack, whoever steps into the coordinator position will know that ‘tinkering’ is likely all that will be needed.

“We’ll allow someone to bring in some new ideas, but at the same time, we’re not changing our terminology, we’re not starting over,” Paul said. “It’s just tweaks of things, some things we could do a little better.”

With spring ball approaching, Paul said anxiously Monday that he hopes to bring in a new offensive coordinator as soon as possible.

“I want to get it done, I want to get somebody in here,” Paul said. “I’d say that in the next week or so, I’d like to have things settled.”

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