The news of Paul Greene’s passing moved quickly through the Lima Central Catholic community and coaching ranks this week. Greene was a beloved teacher and coach at the school for nearly 30 years and touched the lives of generations of former students and athletes. Social media has been flooded with testimonies from many of those lucky enough to have come under his influence. His impact was felt both in the classroom, where he taught advanced math classes, and on the football field, where his success earned him induction into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
Greene’s arrival at LCC came about partially by accident. His resume contained successful stops in Huron and Oakwood high schools and he had his pick of several prime coaching openings. In the early sixties he was one of two finalists for the head coaching position at Massillon High School, considered one of the elite football programs in the state. He lost out to Earl Bruce, who later became the head coach at Ohio State University.
Greene was not comfortable in Oakwood and shared his feelings with a priest who was instrumental in his conversion to the Catholic faith a few years earlier. That priest was a friend of Fr. Edward Herr, the legendary principal at LCC, and a meeting was set up between Greene and Herr. They made an immediate connection. Fr. Herr told me years later that it took him only a few moments with Greene before realizing he was someone special. “I knew I was hiring a great coach, a terrific math teacher and a respected family man,” he told me.
Upon his arrival in Lima in 1968, Greene and his wife, Dot, unpacked their family of seven girls and one boy and he began assembling a successful football program. He built his offense attack around a trapping game, a strategy that became the foundation of his success over the next two decades. Anyone connected with LCC football in that era will recall the “50-51” and “60-61” trap play calls that sprung a bevy of gifted running backs sprinting through the middle of opponent’s defenses. His 1973 squad, quarterbacked by his son Tim was the first Lima football team to qualify for the postseason playoffs.
I was lucky enough to begin my coaching career as an assistant coach on his staff in my first year at LCC. Greene’s impact on my own coaching career was profound. He was a demanding coach but what I remember most about Paul was his patience when working with his players. I watched so many young men develop into solid athletes for him, players I was ready to give up on. After a couple of years at LCC I felt I was wearing too many hats and asked Fr. Herr if I could drop my football coaching duties. Fr. Herr advised me I could drop any extra-curricular activity but football. Years later I realized and appreciated that Fr. Herr understood that being mentored by Paul Greene would pay dividends in my own coaching career and he was right.
Tony Lester, a fullback and linebacker on the 1977 team, who went on to a great career at Murray State University, remembers Greene as a strict but impartial coach. “Coach Greene was tough but he was fair to everyone,” Lester said. “It didn’t matter who you were, if you screwed up, he let you know about it.”
Lester’s teammate, Matt Huffman, the current majority leader in the Ohio Senate, played football and wrestled for coach Greene but remembers him as a great math teacher as well. “I had Greene for algebra and trigonometry, and he was an excellent teacher,” Huffman said. Years later, a remark Huffman overheard Greene advising to his coaching staff has stuck with him. “I remember coach Greene telling his staff that there was a difference between being tough and being mean and that mean never works,” Huffman said. “Coach Greene was tough and demanding but he also had a great sense of humor and was famous for his corny jokes. We had fun playing for him.”
Indeed, for many, their memories of Paul Greene include his corny remarks in the classroom and on the football field. A student or athlete who attempted to make an excuse was met with, “If your if’s and but’s were candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas.” Any student/athlete facing a difficult challenge was encouraged with, “It’s just a can of corn.” And in the days before teachers had to worry about litigation for even the slightest faux pas, Greene was famous for loading up an eraser with chalk dust and firing it at any student who had the misfortune of falling asleep in his class.
Paul Greene’s legacy lives on in the lives of those students and athletes whose hearts and minds he touched. His unforgettable coaching and teaching career was fueled by his genuine love for the young men and women who marched through his classroom and competed on his teams. He was one of a kind and we were all lucky he passed this way.
Rest in Peace Paul
Reach Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org