Marsh Brought Luster Back to Salamanca
He knows his name will likely never be permanently etched alongside the legendary ones that came before him.
Few football coaches could ever keep that kind of company.
From 1957-1973, Joe Sanfilippo went 95-33-4, good for a winning percentage of .735. He was followed by the iconic George Whitcher, who finished an eye-popping 167-59-5 (.734) in 25 campaigns. Rich Morton continued the winning tradition, going 42-19 across his six seasons from 1999-2004.
Each of these men — especially the former two — were part of the fabric of Salamanca football, setting or continuing the winning culture, forever living on in the program’s rich history.
But for one night, Jason Marsh, the current Salamanca coach, could be mentioned in the same breath as his predecessors, joining them as a winner of the Big 30 Coach of the Year Award — the most highly regarded of the Times Herald’s football honors.
Marsh was presented the prize — now named the Alfred Joe Bunnell-Rod Rohl Memorial Award — at the 64th Annual Football Testimonial Tuesday night in Allegany.
“It really is an honor to receive the award,” said Marsh, who just completed his seventh season with the Warriors. “To think about the coaches that have gotten it before me — Sanfilippo, Whitcher, Morton — to have my name mentioned alongside of theirs...
“I’ll never be able to fill their shoes or have the kind of success that those guys had, but it is definitely an honor to receive that award.”
He added: “It’s an award that really reflects upon what we did as a whole. You’ve got to thank your coaches for what they did, and your players ... it’s a team award.”
To Marsh, who played for Whitcher in the early 90s, it also came as a surprise.
Oh, he’d done enough to earn on it merit. He guided Salamanca to a 6-1 regular season record, including a signature victory over Southwestern — which happens to be in the State Final Four this weekend — and the school’s first divisional title in 10 years.
But he was facing some of the stiffest competition the award has seen in years: Frank Brown, who guided Wellsville to its first-ever sectional title; Jim Duprey, who led Pioneer to an undefeated regular season and the sectional semis for a second-straight year; and Mike Bodamer, who led Port Allegany to its first AML title since 1988 and has the Gators within two wins of a District championship.
“For me, it was definitely a surprise,” Marsh said. “(Just) in hearing my name mentioned along with those guys.
“We really did have a great year this year. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, and if we didn’t have those injuries (in the playoffs), who knows what would have happened. But with the seasons those other guys are having, I was very surprised.”
But, as the selection committee stated on the day it named the award winners, it wasn’t necessarily only about wins and losses and titles.
It can sometimes be about the transformation of a program, turning the corner or relocating past success.
In 2003, Kerry Snow won the award at Otto-Eldred after a 6-3 campaign. No playoffs or titles, but he snapped the Terrors’ streak of eight-straight losing campaigns in just his second year. In 2009, Brown had Wellsville in the Section 5, Class C semifinals, but won the award moreso for turning around a Lions program that hadn’t had any success since 2002.
Marsh, in a way, did the same at Salamanca this season, helping the Warriors — who had suffered losing seasons in three of their last five years — reclaim some of the luster that once defined them, helping them become the toast of Veteran’s Park once more.
And he’s hoping it’s something that now becomes the trend.
“The mindset is starting to change,” he said of his program. “They know what to expect as students and as athletes. This was the first year in my seven years where we didn’t lose a starter to academics.
“They’re starting to know what our expectations are. They have that desire to win. They’re starting to get that taste of winning and they want more of it.”
(J.P. Butler, a sports writer for the Times Herald, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)