North Xtra: Former NFL player takes the reins at Canon-McMillan

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A high school football head coach for the first time at the age of 59, Ron Coder doesn't have any delusions of grandeur.

"I'm obviously not going to set any win records in the WPIAL or PIAA," Coder said, laughing.

He added: "But if I can make an impact on these kids' lives and help them win in life, that's what's important."

Coder is about to begin his first season as head coach at Canon-McMillan. Coder, a Bellevue resident, was hired in April. He replaced Tim Sohyda, who resigned in November after going 2-26 in three seasons.

Coder was an offensive lineman at Penn State in the 1970s. He was a third-round draft pick by the Steelers in 1976, but was traded to Seattle during training camp. Coder played six seasons in the NFL and an additional two in the USFL.

When it comes to coaching, Coder is no rookie. His previous positions, however, were much different than his current one. In 2007, Coder led the Pittsburgh Passion to an undefeated record and an Independent Women's Football League championship. Coder held multiple assistant coaching positions, most recently at Northgate the past two seasons. Coder's first coaching job came at Redmond High School in Washington, where he and a few of his Seattle teammates were volunteer assistants.

You could say the Canon-McMillan job found Coder. Coder said he hadn't even thought about applying for a head coaching job, stating that his job with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- which called for a lot of traveling -- made it too tough to make a commitment. But the day after finding out he was going to lose his job because of company downsizing, Coder received a phone call from a local pastor -- a man Coder had not talked to in several years -- asking him if he had interest in the position at Canon-McMillan. Coder put some thought into it, applied, and was eventually hired.

"The timing was so weird," Coder said.

This isn't the first time Coder has worked with Canon-McMillan athletic director Guy Montecalvo.

The two played together at Penn State (Coder was one year ahead of Montecalvo). Coder said the two had seen each other only occasionally since their college days, but it didn't take long to rekindle their friendship in recent months.

"It was fun to reconnect," said Coder. "Guys that played together under Joe Paterno, there's a great fraternity there."

Coder and his staff are trying to resurrect a program that has fallen on hard times. Since finishing 6-4 and reaching the WPIAL playoffs in 2008, Canon-McMillan has won a total of five games. The Big Macs went winless in 2011.

Last season, they went 1-8, were shut out four times and scored the fewest points (64) of any Class AAAA team.

From the film Coder has seen from last season, he said turnovers and poor tackling were two of the primary deficiencies.

Coder, who knows a thing or two about offensive linemen, said the Big Macs potentially could have a very good unit. The group is led by Alex Paulina, one of WPIAL's top juniors.

"I told him he needs to dominate every play," Coder said. "I told him if he can do that, he'll have his choice of anywhere he wants to play in college."

Also returning are the team's top three rushers from last season: seniors Deonte Kelly and Jules Gdovic, and junior Justin Mattola.

"I think if we can cut down on a lot of mistakes, we can have a much better season," Coder said. "I would really like to win some games. These kids have only won two games in three years. They deserve a chance to win. I'm excited to see how we'll do."



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