After spending six years as Del City’s offensive coordinator, Jason Madonna knew it was time to give head coaching another try. When the Shawnee High School job came open, it checked all the right boxes.
“When I thought about myself as a head football coach, it was in a town like this,” he says. “Shawnee is a one high school town with a lot of support and tradition. I know there have been some minor setbacks recently but that doesn’t discriminate from the amount of success Shawnee has had throughout its history.”
Those setbacks include an 0-10 record last season and a current 14-game losing streak dating back to 2021 as the Wolves get set to open their season on Friday against Seminole. But Madonna feels this team is full of potential.
“I’m extremely impressed with these young men,” he says. “Even with the experiences they’ve had the past couple of years and then going through the (April 19th) tornado, I’m really impressed with the way that they show up every day and go to work.”
This is Madonna’s second head coaching opportunity. His first opportunity was down the road from Shawnee at Bethel High School. In his tenure as Bethel’s head coach, the Wildcats struggled going just 3-37 in his four seasons, but he is confident this head coaching stint will be different.
“The first time you do it, especially when you don’t have success, you kind of learn all the lessons you didn’t know you needed to learn,” he admits. “Taking the step back and going to Del City allowed me to be around some awesome coaches like Mike Dunn, who’s now the head coach at Carl Albert, and Robert Jones, who’s now the head coach at Del City. I learned from the other sport’s coaches as well. You know, Lenny Hatchett is a state championship winning basketball coach. The things that I was able to absorb from working around guys like that, I think helped me prepare for this next step. But you ultimately won’t know until you do it.”
Not only did Madonna learn invaluable lessons at Del City, he also experience a ton of success. As the Eagles offensive coordinator, Madonna led a unit that averaged at least 33 points per game in all six of his seasons, including an incredible 41.3 points per game last year. The Eagles also made the postseason all six years, going as far as the 6A-II semifinals in 2019.
Along with the lessons he learned from his time at Del City, one other thing that could make Madonna’s second stint as a head coach better than the first is the staff he has around him. Madonna retained several coaches from the previous Shawnee staff, but he also brought in a few new faces, including his defensive coordinator. Madonna, and Shawnee Athletic Director Dax Leone, were able to lure Mike Blitch away from 6A-II power Booker T. Washington. Blitch had great success at Booker T. and likely had head coaching opportunities after putting numerous players in college and even a couple in the NFL, but Madonna was able to convince him to come to Shawnee.
“When I got the job, I knew as the offensive coordinator, I had to find the right fit for defensive coordinator,” he says. “I had some intense battles against Coach Blitch when I was at Del City and he was at Booker T. Washington, and I think there was a common respect there. We were extremely fortunate to get someone who has had his experience and success and been on state championship staffs. That was a huge domino for us.”
While Madonna did have those early wins when it came to hiring a staff, things would quickly come to halt. Just nine days after he was hired, the April 19th tornado ripped through Shawnee causing widespread damage to schools, stadiums, businesses, and homes. As the new head coach, that left Madonna in the unenviable position of trying to help his players, some of which he hadn’t even met, through a devastating tragedy.
“It was difficult because I didn’t know them yet. Spring sports were still going on, so I hadn’t met any of the baseball players, track and field athletes, or soccer players,” he says. “I just had to rely a lot on the kids we did have and the small relationships we were able to build before the tornado to help us reach out.”
Madonna says he was grateful for the outpouring of support shown to the Wolves. Tecumseh High School reached out and let Shawnee use their weight room until they could get back into their buildings. Oklahoma Baptist has also opened its stadium for Shawnee to use this season since Jim Thorpe Stadium was deemed unplayable following the tornado.
Despite the challenges Shawnee has faced in the four months since the tornado, Madonna is pleased with where his Wolves are and is excited to get the season underway.
“I had a pretty good understanding that, even with the setbacks, the potential was here,” he says. “I think Shawnee has the potential to be a great job. It has a great location and it’s easy to get to all parts of the state. Plus, there are some really talented athletes that have come through Shawnee. You look at one of the best centers in the NFL, Super Bowl champion Creed Humphrey, is from right here in Shawnee. With the athletes, the administrative support, and the community support that’s here was really a big plus and made it easier to leave a job I loved.”
Madonna and the Wolves kickoff their 2023 season this Friday, September 1st, when they welcome the Seminole Chieftains to Shawnee.
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