Dan Day eager to get Seton Hill football team on winning path
If Dan Day, one of the first people to play football at Seton Hill, becomes a successful coach at his alma mater — something along the lines of what he did as a senior offensive lineman in 2008, captaining the Griffins during a march to their only postseason appearance — the university might want to consider erecting a statue and building a stadium on campus for its display.
Day bleeds Seton Hill. He wears the school’s spirit on his sleeve. He will say emphatically he doesn’t want his team to fail.
In December, when it was announced Day would become the school’s fourth football coach, he declared with glee: “Words cannot describe how excited I am to come home and lead our football program.”
Day was raised in Petersburg, Ohio, a small community south of Youngstown. But it is as if he grew up in Westmoreland County rooting for Seton Hill.
“Dan has a genuine passion for Seton Hill,” said athletic director Chris Snyder, the school’s first football coach, who recruited Day out of New Middletown Springfield Local.
As Day began preparing his first Seton Hill team for the Sept. 14 season opener against East Stroudsburg (2 p.m. at Offutt Field), he hoped the process had begun a return to that brief moment of glory.
It’s not likely to be easy.
It was under Joel Dolinski, Snyder’s successor when Snyder relinquished his coaching duties to concentrate on the AD’s job, that Day and Seton Hill, as a member of the defunct West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, won a school-record 10 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“We have to first acknowledge as a coaching staff that Seton Hill is different,” said Day, who succeeds Isaac Collins, who was fired after six losing seasons, including 1-10 in 2018. “When you acknowledge that, you have to target the players to fit that bill. We’re not a party school. You don’t tell a guy that’s not who we are. You can’t be talent blind.”
But that’s not all. Try telling a high school kid about the Griffins’ dismal track record on the field.
Seton Hill, one of three private schools in the 16-team Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, was picked by the league’s coaches again to finish last in the Western Division.
“We haven’t retained our players and established our culture,” Day said. “There’s really been no foundation to build upon. Last year’s senior class graduated just eight guys. That’s incredible.”
A total of 13 starters return — eight on offense — led by quarterback Ryan Barabe, who passed for 1,206 yards, and linebacker Jayylen McDuffie, the team’s leading tackler with 69.
If Day is successful in securing players he has targeted, there is yet another layer of difficulty, perhaps the most important hurdle of all.
“The hardest thing to instill in anybody is to make them believe they’re going to win. They’re going to be successful,” he said. “You have to learn how to win. When I was here before, we won six games over those first three years, and then we really turned the corner that senior year.”
Day recalled his early days with Snyder, saying it wasn’t a time to be taken lightly.
“Coach Snyder and the staff made the offseason incredibly difficult,” he said. “You had to ask yourself, ‘Do I really love this enough?’ What came of it was a resilient group of players. In three years, we won six games. Then (with Dolinski at the helm), we kind of made the decision we had put too much into it to let it be an average situation.
“There were no parties to speak of. We had our eyes fixed on a winning season. Culturally and physically, we made changes that changed the program. As a captain and as a senior, we went out Saturdays to make sure the younger guys would continue to sustain the program.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Day, who had been a three-year starter and a four-year letterman, spent two years as a graduate assistant under Dolinski before leaving for St. Joseph’s (Ind.), where he was an assistant for several years before being elevated to head coach in 2014 and leading the school to back-to-back eight-win seasons for only the second time.
St. Joseph’s since has closed its doors.
In 2017, Day was offensive coordinator at Division III Benedictine, which set a record for yardage in a season.
Before returning to Seton Hill, Day served two seasons as a high school coach at Vincent (Ohio) Warren Local.
After all that, he’s happy “to come home and lead our football program.”
Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.