By Todd Porter CantonRep.com staff writer
Durbin grew up on a farm in Danville, just north of Columbus. There isn’t much to do in Danville. Still, Durbin doesn’t complain.
He grew up the youngest of seven children. His father worked for the gas company and farmed the land. His mother worked in a small factory in town.
“Danville is a place for turkeys,” Durbin said. “Mom worked in a dressing plant there and she helped on the farm. My parents were workers and instilled that in all of us. It was a great experience for me. We never had a boring day. Ever.”
Durbin has built up the football program over the years the same way he learned to farm. He took his time. He cultivated the land. He worked hard. He respected players. He didn’t just get to know the community in Lake, he became a part of it.
Wednesday afternoon he told Lake athletic director Bruce Brown he was ready to spend time traveling with his wife Teresa. Durbin has acquired a taste for wine and enjoys visiting wineries in Northeast Ohio.
After 35 years of coaching football, Teresa finally gets her husband back in the falls. Durbin is only 61. He’s healthy. He can enjoy life … for the next year or two.
Maybe, he said, he would get back into football.
Selfishly, though, Stark County high school football lost a piece of its fabric. When a man spends 27 years coaching in one place, cultivating young people to become so much more than high school football memories, he leaves behind a void.
Likely in the next few years, Central Catholic head coach Lowell Klinefelter will retire, too. Klinefelter has been the Crusaders’ head coach for 40 years.
Combined, that’s 63 years of head coaching experience.
There is a great pressure on Brown, Lake Principal Kevin Tobin and Superintendent Jeff Wendorf to find not just any replacement for Durbin — who wants to fill those shoes — but the right replacement.
“I would say they are institutions,” Tobin said. “Someone like Lowell and Jeff … I push young coaches toward those guys. I hope young people will continue to look to them as mentors.”
Coaching, even in the high school level, has changed. Many young coaches aren’t looking to become fabrics of the communities they inherit as much as they look to them as a steppingstone.
“That’s one of the things that’s most disheartening,” Tobin said. “Coaches are looking at their own pieces and parts as opposed to we’re all in this together. You would go to a Stark County coaches’ meeting 30 years ago and the camaraderie was second to none. We’ve lost a little bit of that.”
Maybe it never comes back. Maybe coaches such as Klinefelter and Durbin, who came from parents who understood spots on a roster and, more importantly in life, were earned and not given, are a breed from yesteryear.
Over the last several years, Lake has built one of the finest Division II stadiums in the state without taxpayer money. They held fundraisers. Durbin recycled cans when he first started.
“We built that with fundraisers and sweat equity,” Durbin said.
It was common to find Durbin pushing a wheelbarrow through the stadium during the summer when the press box was being built.
Career stories such as Durbin’s don’t come along every day. He worked hard. He coached hard. He taught hard. His face has more wrinkles in it than when he started. He looks like a leathery old cuss. His handshake is still firm.
Now he gets to ride off into the sunset, holding the hand of the bride he wed 35 years ago and enjoy the twilight.
You wonder how many young men’s lives he changed, or shaped over the last three decades.
And Jeff Durbin answers the same way leaving as when he arrived.
“A lot of people deserve credit for it beyond me,” Durbin said.
He found his place in the world. He farmed it. He cultivated it.
Stark County is better off because of it, too.