Sunday, November 9, 1997
Klonne's priorities have changed

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DAYTON, Ohio - Steve Klonne can see the whole field now. The big picture. The greater scheme of things.

The head football coach at Moeller High School says he has mellowed, but that would suggest he has gradually gone soft. That would be the wrong read. Klonne is not the sideline screamer he once was, but his passion is still in place. It is his priorities that have changed.

He has been around long enough to stop caring so much about statistics and a lot more about standards.

''When I was an assistant, we beat Massillon to win the state (in 1980),'' Klonne said Saturday afternoon. ''They made a touchdown on our second team at the end of the game, and I wasn't happy because we gave up a shutout. That's ridiculous.''

Moeller mauled Harrison Saturday afternoon at Welcome Stadium, 56-36, and Steve Klonne might have named the score if he had been so inclined. The Crusaders finished the first quarter with a 28-0 lead, led 42-7 at the half, then allowed Harrison to salvage its dignity against the second stringers.

Nothing wrong with that. Their sweet season ended, the proud, defeated Harrison Wildcats paused for a team picture before boarding their buses. The Moeller players, meanwhile, hustled off the field for home, satisfied to still be alive in the Ohio Division I playoffs.

Ultimately, this is what matters about high school sports: memories and opportunities. The final score endures, but its importance is transient.

''It's just do-or-die,'' Moeller running back Grant Crosthwaite said with the urgency of a 17-year-old. ''A lot of the seniors want to make a run for state. . . . That's our only goal.''

Steve Klonne, with the seasoning of 51 years, said: ''I realize that this is a game. I realize that you're going to win some, and you're going to lose some. And every three or four years, you may have a class that can do something special. . . . You hope a good team can get better. That's teaching.''

Told that he did not seem as driven as one might expect of a high-profile high school coach, Klonne said his assistant coaches might view him differently. He recalled a lecture he delivered about cheap shots that he thought his defense had taken.

This is not how Klonne would want his teams remembered. He has won two state championships in 16 years and almost 80 percent of his games, but his goals are no longer numerical.

If he is successful, an ambitious young coach reaches a point where his reputation becomes as precious as his record. This is Steve Klonne, circa '97.

''To set a standard of what a first-class football program should be,'' he said, describing his goal. ''Today, that's more important than anything else.''

Saturday, being a first-class football program meant leaving the reserves on the field against Harrison's regulars and seeing a 35-point lead slashed to 49-36 with 4:11 to play.

Finally, Klonne sent his starters back into action to secure the victory. Crosthwaite would finish with 154 yards on 18 carries behind overpowering blocking. Moeller quarterback Ryan Cooper threw for three touchdowns and, Klonne said, might have played his best game.

''I think we're peaking at the right time,'' Crosthwaite said.

Professionally speaking, Steve Klonne might already have peaked. He has no illusions about following Gerry Faust's path to college football - even if that path were still possible.

''My dream is just coaching high school football,'' Klonne said. ''I have no desire to do it at a different level. I'm 51. My chances of getting a job at the next level are pretty much shot.''

Being mellow means making one's peace with circumstance and adjusting one's goals accordingly. If this is where Steve Klonne finds himself, it's not a bad place to be.

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE