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ARTICLE & VIDEO- Coach Matt Richardson Unveils Loaded Staff At 'Meet The Coaches Night'

Updated: May 28

January 13, 2024 marked a very important date for Warren G. Harding football. On that day, a familiar face returned to take over the program in Matt Richardson, who originally laid his foundation as Harding's Running Backs Coach from 2000 until 2006. While his 24-year coaching resume made him a heavy favorite to land the head coaching job, the opportunity still came as a nice surprise.

"Glad to be home," Richardson told the excited crowd during "Meet The Coaches Night" at DiLucia's Banquet Center in Warren. "Didn't necessarily think that it would ever happen, but

the way things work, somehow I'm back home. I'm ready to get to work."

"Work" is exactly what Richardson has put in over the years as he's helped guide his teams to a combined record of 213-76. Most recently, his last four years have been spent on the staff at perennial powerhouse Archbishop Hoban High School. All four years of his tenure there concluded with an appearance in the OHSAA Division II state championship game as the Knights took home one state championship (2020) and three runner-ups.

While Richardson's history of winning state & even national championships goes back over three decades as a player for Warren JFK High School (1991) and Youngstown State University (1994 & 1997), he made sure to credit a man that he's always looked up to since his coaching career began.

"I would like to thank my mentor for being here, Thom McDaniels," Richardson said of the former Harding head and now-National High School Hall of Fame coach who was in attendance. "I wouldn't be standing up here if it wasn't for him.

"I am a Thom McDaniels guy, so if you aren't a Thom McDaniels guy, then I'm the wrong guy that you have up here."

Having coached under McDaniels for the entirety of his original stint at Harding, Richardson was constantly surrounded by experienced and disciplined colleagues early on in his career. That was a major point of emphasis in the selection process of his very first staff as a head coach. There's three assistants who have at least three decades' worth of coaching experience in Rick Radich (37 years), Bob Toth (37 years), and Greg Lazzari (30 years).

Meanwhile, Defensive Coordinator Eric Ungaro is entering his 28th year on the sidelines and Outside Linebackers Coach Dominic Menendez is going into his 27th season.

"Football pedigree. Experience to get our kids ino the position that they need to be in to be successful," Richardson said as he described what he was looking for in an assistant coach. "We have former head coaches on the staff, so I expect to hit the ground running."

With his strong background as a Running Backs Coach, Richardson couldn't bring in just anybody to assume that role for him at Harding.

"I've been coaching running backs for 25 years, so I want to make sure that the guy that comes in has a strong football pedigree," Richardson said.

That said, he got more than he could've asked for in a guy that set the standard for him before his days as a Penguin.

"I look up to him," Richardson said of 20-year Coach Tamron Smith. "When I stepped on the field at YSU, this guy was the all-time leading rusher. He had over 5,100 total yards and he won national championships in 1991 and 1993. He has that championship pedicgree that we want to bring to this room."

While Richardson is aiming to change the direction of Harding's football program, he still trusted that there were already guys in place for the job. One of them was his former YSU teammate in Quarterbacks Coach Jim Keagy.

"He has that football pedigree that I've talked about," Richardson said of Keagy. "He's coached here for eight years and has a great knowledge of the quarterback position, so I wanted to make sure that I kept him on the staff."

For the past ten years, Anthony Elias has coached the running backs and has served as the offensive coordinator at Harding. Richardson recognizes that Elias' days of being an assistant coach are numbered, so this year will add another layer to his resume.

"From the moment that I met him, he's done everything that I've asked him to do," Richardson said of Elias. "I told him that I'm going to do everything that I can to help him become a head coach because he is next in line. There's no doubt about it.

"He's coached offense for a while, so I want to move him to the defensive side so he can learn it better. He's fired up and just wants to coach."

With Richardson's current obligations as a teacher at Solon High School, he hasn't been able to be at Harding at all yet during the day. While that will change very soon, he credits all of his assistants for holding down the fort in his absence. One of the coaches that he credits the most throughout this entire year has been Alfie Burch. For them, it's much deeper than football.

"He is my brother," Richardson said of his long-time friendship with Burch. "I would not be up here without him. Alfie is going to help out with our defensive backs. He is also our Football Operations guy.

"I am not in the building yet, so we have been functioning since January because of Alfie and the other coaches. He's been serving the entire community for 30-40 years, so it's nothing for him."

Coach African Grant will also be working with guys in the defensive backfield as he will be in charge of the safeties. The common denominator with him and Richardson extends to Central Parkway Avenue.

"He played at the University of Illinois and the Miami Dolphins," Richardson said of Grant. "He coached at JFK for Coach Nap, so we have that in common. I'm a Coach Nap guy and everybody knows that I'll go into a fox hole with anybody who has coached for him."

One thing that this Harding coaching staff in particular has is a big "Youngstown State presence." One of those guys that Richardson is most excited about has been doing an awful lot in the community for years. Not only that, but he's bringing an added bonus with him.

"Vince Peterson is a mentor, pastor, and he's been a probabation officer," Richardson said. "He's done a litle bit of everything. He's coached for eight years and he's a Youngstown State guy.

"I also have the privilege of having his son, Vince Peterson II, who is going to be an analyst for us. He's going to be sacrificing a lot of time to help out, so I feel great to have two Petersons on the staff."

While most of the aforementioned assistant coaches have many years of experience under their belt, the youngest member of the staff, in terms of years coached, has the playing experience that will propel him far in his coaching career.

"Rico Murray played at Cincinnati Moeller, Kent State, for the Cincinnati Bengals, and played in the Canadian League and even won a Grey Cup," Richardson said of the 2nd-year coach. "Again, football pedigree. I want guys like that around me so I can get these kids doing what they're supposed to do so these guys can coach them up.

Coach Richardson went on to elaborate on his goals for the program. All of which can be viewed in its entirety at the link below.

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