When the end came, it was with little or no fanfare.
It was quiet.
It was effective.
It was much like the three-decade coaching career that had preceded it in every way.
Sometime between the Troy Christian football team’s 62-6 blowout victory over Mississinawa Valley to end the 2015 season and the recent hiring of Ryan Jones as the new head coach of the Eagles, a legend slipped out the back door. There were no parades or pep rallies or proclamations of his greatness.
Just the way Steve Nolan would have wanted it.
“It’s not about me,” Nolan said. “It’s about the kids. It’s always been about the kids.”
Which, for the past 30 years in this town, has pretty much said it all about Nolan.
It was about making boys into men, winning football games and letting his actions speak louder than his words, which were few and far between, save for those he let into his tight inner circle.
Nolan arrived in Troy in 1984 from Conneaut High School in the Rust Belt farthest reaches of Northeast Ohio. A once-proud Trojan program was just two years removed from an 0-10 season and this man with trademark mustache and death glare that could rattle the soul of even the most hardened linebacker was charged with restoring the Troy football team to its previous glory.
He did so immediately.
In his very first season as head coach, the Trojans went 8-2. The following season, he and the Trojans topped that, going 12-1 and reaching the Division I state semifinals, where it would lose to nationally ranked Cincinnati Moeller. He would reel off 15 winning seasons in a row — something that has not been done before or since.
He would produce dozens of Division I college football players, league championships, playoff appearances and a Mr. Football Ohio winner. By the time he stepped down as head coach following the 2011 season, he had won more than 200 football games at Troy, more than the seven previous coaches combined.
It all could have ended that way for Nolan — a nice, tidy package with a Trojan-red bow on top.
But then, after one year away from the game, Nolan did something Hollywood screenwriters can only dream of — he produced a sequel worth of the original.
In 2013, Nolan was named head coach at Troy Christian High School. The year before, the Eagles couldn’t even field a team due to lack of participation.
But, almost as if to prove his 28 years of success at Troy was no fluke, he did the same thing at Troy Christian he had down across town at Troy — he built a program from the ground up. In just his second year as head coach, Nolan took the Eagles to the playoffs and won the school’s first playoff game in more than a decade.
As impressive, he did it his way. While many at Troy would lament the lack of a passing game in his run-heavy wing-t offense, Nolan proved a solid ground game and a stout defense could still win football games. In his three seasons, his teams piled up rushing yards and victories.
And as per usual, Nolan did it quietly.
When the end came at the end of last fall’s 5-4 season, Nolan walked away. There were no press conferences called. He simply packed away his whistle and went home to his beloved wife, Marietta, the woman he claims has been the silent partner (which, considering how much Nolan himself talks, is saying something) in their football relationship.
Coaching legends Woody Hayes, Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel never got to leave the sport they love on their own terms. All experienced a fall from grace on their way out of the profession.
Not Nolan. He left with his head held high and his lips pressed firmly together.
Just the way he would have wanted it.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong