Trib HSSN Head of the Class: Coach of the year in each of WPIAL football’s 6 classes

Saturday, January 1, 2022 | 6:01 AM

The students are expected to execute a good lesson plan, but it takes a top teacher to develop the plan and find ways to get the most from their students.

The same could be said on the football field. Yes, teams need good players to be successful, but coming up with a winning game plan and getting the most from the players is all about good coaching.

There were plenty of coaches who excelled around the WPIAL in 2021; however, these six were a cut above the rest and deserve a 10-whistle salute.

The following have reached the HSSN Head of the Class for this past season and are our coaches of the year in each of the six classifications. A gold star on the game plan to the following:

Class 6A

Bob Palko, Mt. Lebanon

Palko was a record-setting coach in his tenure at West Allegheny, but when he left the Indians and was later named coach at Mt. Lebanon, many wondered how he would do taking over a program that had been upper-middle of the pack in the highest classification. Three years later, Palko proved his golden touch by leading the Blue Devils to a perfect 15-0 season, the school’s first WPIAL title in 21 years and its first PIAA championship.

Class 5A

John Ruane, Penn-Trafford

The Penn-Trafford football program has been a contender for decades, first in the old Class AAAA and now in Class 5A. The Warriors had been to the altar a couple of times but always as bridesmaids. The program just could not clear that championship hurdle. Well, here comes the bride, all dressed in gold. After back-to-back losses in Weeks 2 and 3, Ruane led his team to 11 consecutive victories and in dramatic fashion, a first WPIAL championship followed by a first PIAA title.

Class 4A

Mike Warfield, Aliquippa

Do you get the feeling if the PIAA eventually forces Aliquippa to play in the MAC, Warfield would lead them to beat out the likes of Ohio, Ball State, Akron and Western Michigan and face the Mountain West champion in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl? The amazing story of Aliquippa football continued in 2021 as the Quips, playing in three classifications higher than their enrollment, won another WPIAL and PIAA championship, this time in Class 4A. They also built on their record of 14 straight WPIAL title game appearance.

Class 3A

Mark Lyons, Central Valley

Yes, for a second straight year, Central Valley was loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. However, Lyons was the man who built this team, starting back when the seniors were freshman in 2018. He has continued to push all the right buttons as the Warriors have dominated the district with three consecutive WPIAL championships and back-to-back state titles. CV became only the sixth WPIAL team to repeat in the PIAA playoffs, and the Warriors will start the 2022 season with a current district and state high 27-game winning streak.

Class 2A

Jose Regus, Serra Catholic

Everybody goes through a year with ups and downs, but few though compare to the highs and lows of 2021 for Regus. Earlier this year, Regus suddenly had issues with his legs and arms that he thought was a back injury. After months of searching for answers, he was diagnosed this fall with the neurological disorder CIDP (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy), which prevents him from walking more than a few steps with a walker. He has spent most of the season coaching in a wheelchair. The Eagles and their coach had a brilliant season, winning the team’s first WPIAL championship in 14 years and finishing second in the state to power Southern Columbia.

Class A

Rich Johnson, Bishop Canevin

When Johnson took over as Bishop Canevin coach before the 2020 season, he vowed to rebuild the once-proud program brick by brick. After the two years, the foundation appears to be sturdy with a hint of gold. Johnson now has an overall record of 18-5 with a WPIAL championship after the Crusaders beat OLSH in the Class A finals, 42-7. In the two previous years before Johnson arrived, Bishop Canevin was a combined 4-16. What makes the Crusaders’ title run even more impressive is that a lot of the key components are underclassmen who will return next fall.

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