In the pros and at the Division I college level, coaching is a lucrative gig, with million-dollar paydays and plenty of incentives.
In high school and youth football, coaching is a labor of love. You don't get rich doing it, but you can have a monumental impact on the lives of young people.
Dennis Casey '72 is the perfect example.
Casey's coaching career spans four decades, back to the 1980s. He's dedicated countless hours to coaching at the youth level, primarily CYO programs. During that time, hundreds if not thousands of kids from the East Side have learned from Casey.
And now, Casey is bringing his invaluable experience to Saint Ignatius. The 1972 grad has joined the Wildcats' freshman football staff as a running backs coach.
"I've known Dennis for a long time, in terms of decades. He's a loyal Ignatius guy," says Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69. "He's been coaching CYO for a long time. He expressed interest in taking it a level up and working with the freshmen. It'll be fun. He's excited and we're thrilled to have him."
Casey discovered his zest for football growing up in the 1960s. His love for Saint Ignatius sprouted from the sport on one fateful day in 1964.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1964, Casey headed to the University Circle rapid station, destined for Municipal Stadium. The half-Italian, half-Irish kid from Murray Hill witnessed one of the best games in Saint Ignatius football history and was immediately hooked.
In a Charity Game for the ages (if you're a Wildcat fan), the men of Ignatius drubbed the Benedictine Bengals, 48-6, to win the City Championship. The lopsided victory was revenge for a 30-16 loss in 1963, served up by an inspired Brian Dowling '65 and a talented squad that was inducted into the Saint Ignatius Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991.
From there on out, Casey was a Wildcat. In a neighborhood filled with Bengals and Latin Lions, Casey headed to Wildcat High a few years later.
Casey laced up his cleats for the Cats, playing guard for John Wirtz in the legend's final year as head coach in 1970. As a senior, Casey played for another Hall of Famer, Paul Nemec '57, who was in his first season as head coach. After four great years, Casey became the first Ignatius grad from Holy Rosary Grade School.
Casey took the path that many take, sticking with the Jesuits to attend John Carroll University. He acquired bachelor's and Master's degrees from JCU, setting himself up well.
Since graduation, Casey has enjoyed an illustrious professional career. Since 2009, he's worked as a Managing Partner at Financial Industry Representatives, LLC (FIR).
While building a great professional career, Casey started to coach.
The Kirtland resident began coaching in the 1980s, working with the Mayfield youth football program. Soon after, Casey joined the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) football. The team names changed over the years as schools consolidated and changed, but Casey remained as a coach, most recently for St. Francis of Assisi.
Over the past few decades, Casey has learned much and dispensed plenty of knowledge to young football players. Sam Snyder '18 and Toby Engel '18 are among the Wildcats to learn from Casey.
During that span, Casey has kept in touch with the Wildcats. If you've been to a Wildcats game recently, you've likely seen Casey in the stands. He's attended thousands of Saint Ignatius athletic events, many with his father, including 9 of 11 state football championships.
Casey has also developed a relationship with many members of the coaching staff. His classmate, Terry Fergus '72, coached Wildcats running backs for many years. Coach Kyle knows Casey well, too, going back to their days at Ignatius. Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Nick Restifo Hon. '19 also goes way back with Casey, as the two were part of the same fraternity at John Carroll. Casey has stayed connected with the program, as his son, Reilly '18, played running back for the Cats.
So it would be an understatement to say that Casey is excited.
"The Ignatius experience is a great one. I love the sport of football and the program," Casey says. "You want young boys to love the game because it builds camaraderie and teaches teamwork. The freshman team is the gateway to Ignatius football, so I want to do the best job I can at educating our boys."
Having worked with some prolific young running backs, Casey has developed a philosophy for coaching the position in a singleback offense. It boils down to 6 points:
#1: Limit turnovers
#2: Quick recognition and decision-making
#4: Staying focused
#5: Willingness to block
#6: Being a great actor
"First off, you need to protect the ball. You can be a great RB with acceleration or vision, but we can't play you if you fumble. Protecting the ball is so important," Casey says. "Then you need to be able to make split-second decisions to see the hole and go. You need to be fierce, because you're going to get hit, so you can't be timid. From there, you need to stay focused. You're looking for key points and where your linemen are.
"And you also need to be willing to act and be a good actor. You won't get the ball every play, so you need to block on pass protections or quarterback runs, and be able to move your hips and absorb guys. And finally, you have to be a good actor when pretending you're carrying the ball. The better you act, the more successful the play will be, because the defense will think you have the ball and flow with you, while the quarterback goes the other way."
To achieve those aims, Casey plans to have his players self-reflect often, not unlike Coach Kyle's legendary "10 Seconds" ending to practice.
"I'll ask the boys, 'Why do you want to be a running back? Why do you believe you can be a very good back for Saint Ignatius?' Self-reflection is important," Casey says. "You need to understand that no one gets more beat up than a running back, and no one gets hit with force like a running back. And you need to work hard to understand the playbook and the zone blocking scheme. We're fortunate to have pretty smart kids at Ignatius. You get really smart kids coming in."
Casey is excited to learn from and work with the bright minds on the freshman coaching staff.
"I'm excited to work with Mark Ruddy, as well as Matt Mooney '85," says Casey. "I've known Matt for a number of years. He suggested my name to Chico, and one thing led to another. I always tell Matt: 'You have the hardest job of any coach.' Matt is coaching a zone blocking scheme, which you don't learn in CYO or Muny or any other youth team. Everybody is moving in unison to create seams for the running back. It's the hardest job. From there, running backs have to follow what the linemen are doing."
Ruddy is similarly stoked to have another veteran coach on his staff.
"Dennis has jumped in immediately with both feet," Ruddy says. "He brings years of football experience to the staff and also a ton of energy. Our running backs are lucky to have a very dedicated coach and I'm excited to see them develop under Dennis."
In his role, Casey hopes to help the Cats succeed, but just as crucial is teaching young players how to be Men for Others.
"I have a saying: How do you spell fun? W-I-N. We want to win," Casey says. "But more importantly, want to teach how to be Christian Men. Give us a boy, we'll give you a man. The institution believes that, and I do, too."