Former Massillon Coach Lee Owens Receives State-wide Honor

by Gary Vogt; Rollie Layfield contributed to this story

On Friday, June 14, 2024, Lee Owens, along with five other outstanding Ohio high school football coaches, was inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.  Joining Lee in the Hall were Ron Berdis (Youngstown Chaney), John Livengood (Norwalk St. Paul), Andy Olds (Kings), Dan McSorley (Clinton Massie) and Bob Jacoby (Columbus DeSales).

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Owens was the head coach at Massillon from 1988 to 1991 and had rescued the football program following a few years of lackluster seasons.  Four years in a row the Tigers had committed the unpardonable sin of losing to Canton McKinley.  Something had to change.  And that change was Lee Owens.

During his four years at the helm his teams compiled a record of 35-14 and won three out of four games against Canton McKinley.  His teams also qualified for the playoffs three times and posted a 6-3 record, including two regional championships.

During his first year Owens’ team played its final game in Tiger Stadium on grass, or rather mud, defeating the Bulldogs 10-7 in overtime.  Recognizing the impact the playing conditions had on such an important game, the following year he launched a fundraising effort to install an artificial surface, which would be the first in the county and one of the first in the state for high school football.  The product selected was Omni Sand Turf, which was innovative at the time.  Thus, the new surface was ready for the 1989 season, but first christened in conjunction with the Ohio High School State All-Star Game.

In 1990 he led a project to construct the 3-level East Press box, which convinced the powers to be at the Ohio High School Athletic Association to bring football playoff state championship games to Massillon.  Tigertown is forever grateful to Lee Owens for what he did for the community.

Following Massillon, he was an assistant coach at Ohio State for three years and parlayed that experience into a head coaching position at the University of Akron, a post he held for nine years.  In 2000 the Zips finished first in the MAC East and in 2003 they were second.  But his greatest achievement there might surely have been making an immediate impact on player graduation rate, improving it from 18% to 83%.

His next eighteen seasons were spent leading the Ashland University Eagles of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.  His overall record there was a very fine 123-44, with his teams capturing four league championships and six NCAA Division II playoff qualifications.  Four times he was named Conference Coach of the Year.

During the recent event, each inductee was introduced by a significant colleague and friend in their life and provided an opportunity to deliver an acceptance speech.  Each, of course, thanked family and supporters, while also speaking of winning; not football games, but winning in life.  The message was consistent within the group, with the formula for success being (1) belief in God and the USA, (2) support from family, (3) caring about people, especially young people, (4) remaining consistent in your beliefs, and (5) genuine love for all people you come in contact with.

The Banquet Committee, which included Massillon Junior High Principal Tony Carr, must have known something, as they saved the best for last.  And he did not disappoint.  The presenter for Lee Owens was past Booster Club president and long-time Tiger supporter Rollie Layfield.  Rollie, sporting his orange Tiger blazer introduced Coach Owens by pointing out his importance to family, as coaches spend countless hours away from their loved ones.  Rollie chronicled the list of Massillonians who contacted Lee to persuade him to take the Tiger job.  Lee, who highly cherishes loyalty, had taken the Lancaster job just one year earlier and felt an extreme gratitude to them.  So, convincing him to leave Lancaster was not going to be easy.  First to call was Cincinnati Bengals General Manager Paul Brown, but Lee declined the offer.  Then Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce called and again Lee declined.  Next, Tiger coach Ducky Schroeder, but with no success.  Former Massillon and Kansas Head Coach Chuck Mather tried, with the same result.  But then, there was Massillon School Superintendent Al Paris.  Al (who was in attendance at the banquet) must have had the correct approach, as Lee accepted the Massillon job.  Needless to say, football community was thrilled at Lee’s decision to become Massillon’s Head Football Coach.

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Owens’ acceptance speech was outstanding.  He first thanked his family: his wife Dianne, son Ben a West Point grad and decorated Army vet, son Andy who is a coach at Richwood North Union High School, daughter Leanne, who is married to Jake White, who owns RES Auction Services, and daughter Molly, who is married to Rob Mahaney, the head coach at Shelby High School.  He also thanked a long list of friends, coaches and supporters who were significant in growing his career.

In typical Lee Owens fashion, he then spoke passionately about the state of football in our country.  He is concerned that the transfer portal and NIL has damaged college football.  Players used to come to college to (1) get an education and (2) play football.  Now they come to be millionaires.  But he credited football with helping so many.  “We need football today more than at any time in our history,” he said.

He concluded his acceptance speech with the following thought: “God bless you and God bless football!

Lee is the fourteenth Massillonian to be inducted into the Coaches Hall of Fame.

The following appeared in the induction program.