Kirtland’s Tiger LaVerde on Sunday was named the 2018 Cleveland Browns High School Coach of the Year during the Browns’ game against the Carolina Panthers.
LaVerde led the Hornets to a 15-0 record and the Division VI state championship. The title was the fourth four the Hornets in LaVerde’s 13 years at the school.
ABOUT TIGER LAVERDE
When Kirtland High School hired Phillip “Tiger” LaVerde as its new football coach back in 2006, an area athletic director shared his opinion with then Kirtland athletic director Al Russ.
He said, “Tiger LaVerde is a Cadillac in a world of Yugos.”
That Cadillac has a lot more miles on it then it did back in 2006, but the new car smell remains as fresh as the day it first pulled into the Kirtland High School parking lot.
In his 13th season coaching the Hornets, LaVerde led the Hornets to their fourth state championship last week. Kirtland finished the year 15-0 for the third time during LaVerde’s tenure and the Hornets played in their seventh state title contest in the last eight seasons.
Under LaVerde, who now holds an amazing 159-17 record at the school, the Hornets have qualified for the postseason in 12 of the last 13 years. Kirtland is 38-8 in the playoffs under Coach LaVerde.
LaVerde’s .903 winning percentage speaks for itself but that doesn’t mean his current and former players don’t shower him with praise.
Current senior running back Joey Torok learned a lot from LaVerde over the past four seasons.
“Coach LaVerde has been more than just a coach to not only me, but everyone else who has ever played for him,” Torok said. “He puts in so much time and effort to make sure we become good football players, but better people. Former players always come in during school just to eat lunch and catch up with him because of the impact he had on their lives. He always preaches about hard work and that’s something that he’s instilled in every one of his players. He’s meant so much to me, my teammates, this school system and our community. Kirtland is blessed to have someone like him.”
LaVerde’s success stems from his own work ethic but also his willingness to reach out to other coaches for ideas and inspiration.
When Mentor High School played in its first state championship game back in 2006, shortly after LaVerde completed his first season at Kirtland, he asked Mentor head coach Steve Trivisonno if the Hornets could spend some time in the offseason working out with the Cardinals so his players could learn just what it takes to reach week 15.
That move paid off and the Kirtland strength training program has led to continued success on the field.
“These kids love it,” said Ray Sullivan, Kirtland’s strength coach. “These kids lift three days a week with the team and four days a week with me. They lift to be bigger, stronger and faster for the team and the community. After a while, it’s contagious. This is why in the third and fourth quarters we are not tired and weak. We dominate at the line of scrimmage because of this.”
Like all great coaches, LaVerde’s philosophy and coaching style has branched out as several of his former players have moved on to become coaches in the high school ranks.
Rossi Santo, a 2008 All-Ohioan who went on to play at Edinboro University, is now an assistant football and basketball coach at Painesville Riverside. Lino DeSapri, a 2009 All-Ohioan, played college ball at John Carroll University and now coaches at Euclid.
“As a player, he taught us to be remembered as a good person in life, not just a good athlete,” Santo said. “As I coach now, I look back and teach my players the same thing where I want them to treat people the right way. He has made a huge impact on hundreds of players.”
According to Joe Ehermann’s book, “Inside Out Coaching,” there are two types of coaches.
Transactional coaches focus on actions and performance. “You do this for me; I’ll do that for you.” Those coaches focus on wins and statistics.
Transformational coaches focus on people and communication. “I am here as a coach to help you grow, not just as an athlete but as a whole person and I want you to be a good person and successful when football is over with.”
Santo believes LaVerde is the epitome of the transformational coach.
“He is hands down the best coach in the state of Ohio,” Santo said. “I am not saying that because he was my coach. I am saying that because he is (the best). I have seen others in the state of Ohio and the majority of them are transactional. There are few who are transformational and Tiger is the definition of transformational.”
Paul Guhde also earned All-Ohio honors as a senior in 2010 before heading off to play at Baldwin Wallace University and now he is the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Brush High School.
Guhde remembers fondly the lessons he learned from LaVerde.
“Coach LaVerde has been an instrumental figure in both my personal and professional life,” Guhde said. “Having the opportunity to play for Coach LaVerde allowed me to develop as a football player, but even more as a person. Coach always challenged me to become better at everything I do in life and in football, but most importantly to always compete. I carry these values with me today both as a person and as a coach.”
As a coach, Guhde models for his players what he saw out of LaVerde.
“Coach LaVerde has influenced the way I coach and why I coach greatly and I strive to instill the same values and disciplines he taught me in the players I coach,” Guhde said. “Most importantly, Coach LaVerde was always available to provide support, advice or even a challenge when needed and always showed he cared about his players. His desire to not just be a football coach, but a mentor to all of his players, is what makes him great. Coach LaVerde’s impact at Kirtland is felt off the field as well.”
A former actuary, LaVerde teaches AP math and his students are just as successful as his football players.
“He was really excited at the end of last year,” according to Kirtland athletic director/assistant principal Matt Paul. “He called very proud of how many of his kids did well on the AP test and how many of them get fives (on a five-point scale). His classroom is like a playing field. He has competitions all the time in his classroom. If I rated him in the district, he’s definitely one of the top teachers, if not the best teacher in the district.”
LaVerde may run an old-school offense, one that pounds the ball from all angles and wears down opponents, but he’s relatively breaking new ground when it comes to coaching and teaching.
He doesn’t run two-a-days in August and his classroom sessions are focused on making learning fun.
“He believes in kids spending time with their families,” Paul said. “He believes if they can get everything done in a two and a half or three-hour period, why should they bring them back for a second practice. They should spend time with their families or helping their parents.”
In the classroom, LaVerde uses creative ways to teach statistics using fun games and competitions.
He spends his free time coaching his own children in the Kirtland recreation program and serving other roles in the community.
“When anyone asks me about Tiger, what kind of guy is he, what kind of coach is he, I tell them obviously his record speaks for itself, but if you met him, he’s a better person than he is a coach,” Paul said. “He’s always concerned about all of the kids on the team, not just his starters. He and his wife Mary have the team over for breakfast at least once during the season. He attends a lot of sporting events. You’ll see him at a boys’ basketball game or a girls’ basketball game. He goes to soccer games and he encourages his kids to support one another and encourages his kids to play other sports.”
As a father to four children at Kirtland—Leah, a junior, Phil, an eighth-grader, Sophia, a seventh-grader, and Jake, a fifth-grader—LaVerde couldn’t be a better role model.
His children have watched him on the field over the years and they have learned what it takes to inspire others.
“My dad being a coach has impacted me in many more ways than I can explain, but the most probably being that he knows how to push me to be the best student, athlete and person every day,” said Leah LaVerde, who helped lead Kirtland’s girls’ soccer team to the Division III state championship game the last two seasons. “He’s a great coach because he doesn’t only teach his players about football, but teaches them how to be better and kinder people when they go out into the real world. He makes sure his players know how to treat others and shows them by how he treats his players. He treats all his players equally and loves every one of them, which has shown me the right way to treat people, because I have seen all of his players grow up to become nice, amazing men.”
LaVerde’s competitive and playful nature extends to his household as well.
“Being a coach, he turns everything into a competition at home with my siblings,” Leah LaVerde said. “Whether it’s doing chores, homework or practicing basketball, we are always competing. He pushes me to be a better person every day and I think it’s so cool I get to experience him both as a coach, teacher and dad.”