How the Village of East Canton rallied around a football coach and got him reinstated

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EAST CANTON, Ohio (JMN Sports) – An emergency Osnaburg Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night resulted in the reversal of the board’s Monday decision to not retain John “Spider” Miller as head football coach of East Canton High School.

Following a 5-0 vote, Miller is set to return for his seventh season with the Hornets.

The East Canton community was initially stunned by the local school board’s Monday vote to not retain Miller as its head coach – including Miller himself, who learned of the news from East Canton principal Gary Hinton late Monday night.

“I was actually in Tallmadge. My daughter had volleyball practice. [Hint] called and then he wanted to come over. Wanted to tell me in person. I said, I’m [not] getting home until 9 o’clock or so, so just tell me. He told me, and [I was] pretty shocked that we didn’t have a heads up on any of that – none of us did. Superintendent, principal, and so forth.”

The board voted to a 3-2 decision on Monday against Osnaburg Local Schools Superintendent Kevin Finefrock’s recommendation to retain Miller to lead the Hornets program.

“Tonight the Board voted to renew the football coaching contract of Mr. Miller after having the opportunity to hear from the community,” Finefrock said in a Wednesday statement. “We thank the East Canton community for their input and patience as we worked through this issue.”

Said community made their presence ahead of Wednesday night’s meeting. Students and parents protested the decision to oust Miller, who has engineered one of the most successful runs in Hornets program history.

“It was pretty wild,” incoming junior quarterback Brennan Betz said on Wednesday on the Board’s initial decision. All the things he’s done for me, from getting me connections for [me as a quarterback]….being a little Hornet football player, and seeing as soon as we got him was amazing. All this drama going on…it’s crazy.”

A former head coach at Canton McKinley and Massillon Perry, Miller took over a Hornets program in 2016 that had won seven games over the previous three seasons. He has compiled a 34-27 record and three Inter-Valley Conference North championships over six seasons – five of which have ended in playoff appearances for East Canton.

“The guy is nothing but a role model and an exceptional person,” said incoming senior receiver/linebacker Ben Gallagher. “He does everything right. I’m really happy to have him as a mentor in my life, and I hope he can continue to be one.”

Miller, 64, has also overseen a variety of upgrades for the football program, including $70,000 worth of equipment for the team’s weight room.

“The big thing about the program here is when Miller got here, they didn’t have football helmets,” said Ben Gallagher. “So you bring in an experienced coach, who has ties [to] the community. So what did he do? He called in a favor and had helmets here the next day from Massillon so they could practice in the summer. That’s what the state of the program was.”

“A lot of people are here because one way or another, ‘Spider’ has impacted their life,” said Jessica McCullough, mother of Hornets linebacker Jake McCullough and a member of the East Canton Football Moms Club. “I think our community just really wants to make sure that it’s known this decision does not reflect us. This was not what we wanted; We want Spider to be here, and that’s what we’re trying to get out there.”

When asked about the outpour of support from players and community members, Miller responded: “That just shows great support from the community, the parents, and the kids. Not just football players, [but] all of them. You have to treat people with great respect to get respect back, and I believe I do that. For them to come out like that, and stand outside…it’s just amazing how many people can rally like that. I can’t say enough, other than ‘Thank you so much.’”

However, even with the excitement of getting his job back, Miller is keen on returning to work to get the Hornets ready for the fall season:

“I told the kids, ‘Back to work.’ This chapter’s over. Let’s get to the next chapter.”