SALEM - The only Salem football coach to ever lead the Quakers to the playoffs is walking away from the program.
Mike Kopachy announced Tuesday he was stepping down as Salem varsity football coach citing personal and family reasons.
"I was very torn on it," Kopachy said. "I was battling what to do until Monday afternoon."
Kopachy said a combination of things led to his decision including personal health issues within his family which he said wouldn't allow him the time to be able to fulfill all of the obligations of a head coach.
"To do it right you need to be able to put your whole heart into it, and I just didn't know if I could," he said. "For now I'm just trying to take care of my family and myself."
Kopachy came to Salem in 2009 after spending six seasons as head coach of Western Reserve. In Berlin Center, Kopachy took a 1-9 team in his first season and just three years later made the playoffs. They made the post-season again in 2008, a year prior to his coming to Salem. From 2006-08 it was the first time Western Reserve had three consecutive winning seasons.
His first season in Salem marked the biggest single-season turnaround in school history as the team went from winless in 2008 to their first ever playoff appearance and win in 2009.
"Today I got to think about the past three years a whole lot," he said. "It was just amazing the outpouring of phone calls and texts, and e-mails from former and current players just saying 'thank you' and recalling all the great memories."
Kopachy informed the football team of his decision Tuesday morning.
"It was important to tell them what the truth was," he said. "To tell them how much I care about them and that no matter what happens with my situation, they need to stick together and go do great things with the program."
Salem superintendent Tom Bratten said in a statement the school would being looking for a replacement immediately.
"We are extremely proud of the strides that the football program and its athletes made," Bratten wrote. "The teams gave this district and this city a lot to cheer for and be proud of. We will begin immediately looking for a replacement to build off of that momentum and look for the right person to continue those efforts."
Bratten wished Kopachy well in the statement.
"I wish coach Kopachy luck with his personal issues, and I wish him nothing but the best professionally."
Kopachy also said he recommended one of his assistants take over to limit the amount of changeover within the program. Salem returns 19 lettermen this fall.
"The key to sustaining this program is bringing in someone the kids are familiar with so it's not a wholesale change. But I don't make that decision. I'm sure they'll do what's best for the kids and the program."
Kopachy isn't sure when he'll be on the sidelines again, but knows he won't be able to stay away too long.
In fact he will be the head coach of Mahoning and Columbiana counties in the Mahoning Valley Coaches Association all star contest June 21 as a last hurrah to Salem's current seniors.
"I think being a coach is part of who I am," he said. "It's something I have a very hard time not doing. Eventually I would like to be a head coach again and continue on that path. At this time, whether it's a Friday night helper or scout or assistant, I'm willing to do that if the right situation presents itself. I'm not sure if the time table will work out for this year or next. Right now I'm just not sure."
What he is sure of is the impact Salem football had on him the past three years.
"Looking back and recalling all those memories about what kind of impact Salem football had on this community, it makes it something that's really special," he said.
"It's something I'm going to miss this fall."
E-mail B.J. Lisko at email@example.com