Jesse Robinson has always wanted to be a football coach.
On Wednesday, that dream finally came true as Robinson was named the varsity head coach at Oberlin High School.
Yes, coaches always say they’ve wanted to be coaches their entire lives, but when Robinson says it, he really means it.
“When I met my wife on our first date, and I thought things might get be kind of serious between us, I let her know that I’m a football coach,” Robinson said. “I told her I planned on doing this for a long time and it’s part of my life. I said, ‘If you want to be with me, you’re going to have to adjust and be a coach’s wife.’ It’s something I take very seriously.”
Robinson grew up in Stark County and attended Massillon Washington High School; yes, that Massillon, the one where Paul Brown once coached. Naturally, he played football.
“I went to school at Massillon, played for the Tigers, was a three-year starter and lettermen, and I was a captain my senior year, in 2001,” Robinson said. “Football was always a big deal for me. My father played for the Tigers. I grew up in that tradition and the expectations of success. I was taught, as a grownup, to not just love Massillon, but to love football. It’s kind of how I base everything. I went to school to be a teacher and a coach.”
Robinson attended Walsh University. After graduating from college, he became a wide receiver coach at GlenOak High School. He then moved on to be an assistant coach at Canton McKinley, where he served as co-offensive coordinator. He spent the last two years at Valley Forge, and was the co-defensive coordinator for the Patriots last season.
He may have to the coaching background, but that’s not what drew Oberlin to hiring him.
“It was his passion; his background speaks for itself,” Oberlin athletic director John Carter said. “He was passionate about football and changing young men’s lives; I think that was the one thing that what we really, really like. Yes, he’s coming in as a football coach, but I think he can come in as a live changer.”
Carter received 16 applications for the vacant Phoenix football coaching job. He and another administrator whittled those applications down to six, which were invited in for a meet-and-greet.
“We were a little unorthodox doing it because we were looking for a special individual,” Carter said. “We took the time to meet with the individuals, kind of off-script to get to know them and see what they’re about.
“From those six meet-and-greets, we narrowed it down to three candidates that we brought inside to meet with the committee.”
The five-person hiring committee was made up of a current coach, an assistant principal, a cheerleading coach who is also a teacher, a booster club rep, and a community member, according to Carter.
“At the end of the day, I didn’t have the final say in who we hired as our coach. It was the committee’s choice,” Carter said. “My job was to find the two or three candidates and bring them to the committee. Whichever of those three candidates the committee would have chosen that night, I would have been OK with.”
In addition to Robinson, the committee interviewed on internal candidate and another external one.
Carter and the committee took their time in making the selection.
“It was a pretty involved process. Given that there were so many other jobs available, we didn’t rush the process,” Carter said. “The last thing we wanted was to go after a candidate, and then have that candidate be a finalist for a job at a bigger school. We really took our time with the process, because my goal is I want a coach to be here for more than one year. I want someone that’s going to put in the grind, three to five years.
“Jesse nailed that profile of what we were looking for.”
When asked what he will say to his team, which — when it comes to his junior and senior class — will have their third coach in three years, Robinson doesn’t pull any punches.
“First thing is you have to put it out front that you’re going to be here a while,” Robinson said. “That’s not something I have to really say to the seniors, because they only have one year with you, and then they’re moving on. It’s more so something for the ninth, 10th, and even 11th graders. I’ll let them know that I plan to be here a while. I’m not going to just be here one or two years; I’m talking about four, five, or six years. I’m trying to build a program here.”
When he says build a program, Robinson doesn’t just mean at the high school level.
“If you look at a lot of successful programs in the area, they have that feeder program. In Canton, they do it that way. In Massillon, they’ve done it for years,” he said. “I think the really successful high school programs, especially in small towns, have that feeder program where you start off playing youth football, move on to middle school, and then in middle school and high school you have some continuity — using the same language, running the same concept of plays — so when you get to high school you already know the system, language, and what is expected of you.”
When asked what kind of offensive and defensive schemes he wants to run with the Phoenix, Robinson’s answer blew away Carter and the committee.
“One of the things that stood out with his answer was that he didn’t pigeonhole himself into running a spread or a 5-3. He didn’t go into that,” Carter said. “He went into having to learn the personnel first. I think that was a big thing that stood out with everyone: his ability and willingness to learn before he reacts.”
That’s not to say that Robinson doesn’t have some ideas of what he’d like to run, though.
“In a perfect world, if we have the players with the certain skillset we need, we want to be a shotgun power-running football team. We’re going to have a presence in the A and B gaps, and we’re going to stretch you vertically and horizontally. We’re going to get the ball to the perimeter for our athletes and take shots down the field.
“Defensively, I’m pretty open. I like to be an even-front guy and have four down linemen and have the flexibility to have an eighth defender in the box. We’re going to be attacking, but make sure we’re sound and not getting beat deep.”
Robinson is currently a physical education teacher in Lorain, which will enable him to spend quite a bit of time in the Oberlin school buildings.
“I’ll usually be able to be in Oberlin around before the end of the school day,” Robinson said. “That will allow to meet with teachers, students, hold workouts, and also attend extracurricular activities like baseball, basketball, wrestling, and things like that.
“I also want to get over to Langston and meet those kids and get their numbers up. We need to get going, get our heads down, and start working.”
Robinson and his wife, Jennifer, live in Parma with their two children, seven-year-old Joanna and five-year-old Jesse III.
Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.