Cody Reese

East Knox head coach Cody Reese speaks to his team following its season-ending loss in the Division VI state semifinals on Nov. 29, 2019. The Bulldogs finished the season 13-1, marking their deepest playoff run in program history.

HOWARD -- Cody Reese, the architect behind East Knox's modern-day football renaissance, has stepped down from his position as head coach after five years at the helm.

Reese told Knox Pages on Jan. 4 that he did so in order to spend more time on his day job and with his family. He is currently in his first year as East Knox's junior/senior high principal, after spending the last six years as the elementary principal. He is also raising three children – ages 4, 7 and 9 – alongside his wife, Chelsea.

“I was blessed with a great staff and great players (over) the last five years, to do what we were able to do. I had a lot of fun with it," Reese said.

"I just got to the point of moving to the high school with that principal position, you know, and my kids getting older. It just (came down) to putting more time towards my job and more time with my family."

Cody Reese

East Knox head coach Cody Reese communicates with his players during a game against Centerburg on Sept. 10, 2021.

Reese went 44-11 during his five years as head coach, winning 80% of his games. He led the Bulldogs to two Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference championships, three playoff berths, and the program's first regional title in 2019.

Reese said he began thinking about stepping down over a year ago. In some ways, he said, the decision was easy to make; in others, not so much.

“It's something I've had on my mind since probably the end of last season, coming into this season. I've been going back and forth for, it seems like, quite some time," he said with a smile.

"It certainly wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision or an easy decision by any means. And I felt a lot of support from Knox County, Bulldog Nation – and my family and the administration, and the school and the community – all that time. That was just absolutely outstanding.”

PATH TO PROMINENCE: Reese graduated from East Knox High School in 2006, having played four years for legendary Bulldog head coach Chet Looney. He joined the East Knox coaching staff in 2007, while attending Mount Vernon Nazarene University, before accepting teaching and coaching positions at Highland High School in 2011.

He returned to East Knox Local Schools in 2015, when he was hired as the elementary principal. He served as an assistant coach for two seasons before being hired as the head coach in 2017.

East Knox finished ninth in its region in 2017 and 2018 – one spot away from playoff contention in the OHSAA's old system. The Bulldogs broke through in 2019, finishing the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1996 and clinching their first playoff berth since 2005.

The Bulldogs then went on a magical postseason run, beating Crestview and Seneca East by 1 point apiece before coming back from 20 points down in the second half to dispatch Carey in the regional title game. East Knox fell to New Middletown Springfield in the Division VI state semifinals, but not before completing its deepest playoff run in program history.

East Knox regional final victory

East Knox players and coaches celebrate their first regional championship on Friday night at Marion Harding's Ohio Health Field. From left to right: head coach Cody Reese (purple); Dyer Williams (55); Caleb Gallwitz (4); Gage Steinmetz (24); Dawson David (holding trophy); Luke Grosscup (52); Kadden Lester (7).

East Knox made the playoffs in 2020 and 2021, but fell in the regional quarterfinals and regional semifinals, respectively.

The Bulldogs finished 6-3 in the postseason under Reese, including 4-1 at home.

“It was just an honor to be able to be a head football coach at East Knox," Reese said. "It was always a dream of mine, especially with all the tradition and the success that Coach Looney had over the years. The program he built (was) next to absolutely none.

"So just to be able to be part of that, and be able to represent East Knox and all of its rich tradition – and just growing up, coming up through makes it even that more special for me. It meant the world to me.

"I'll forever be thankful for the opportunity to have been able to do that. And I learned a lot and grew a lot as a person through that situation, and it was a chapter of life that I went through and I just have no doubt it's time for me to move on to my next chapter.”

East Knox won two KMAC titles during Reese's tenure – in 2019 and 2021 – and finished one play away from winning the 2020 title (the Bulldogs lost to champion Centerburg in double overtime).

Reese led his alma mater to a 4-1 record versus arch-rival Danville, including four straight victories from 2018-2021. The Bulldogs' victory in 2018 was their first over the Blue Devils since 2005, Reese's senior year of high school.

East Knox Bulldog football 2019

The East Knox Bulldogs pose after finishing the 2019 regular season 10-0.

East Knox was nearly unbeatable at home under Reese, going 24-4 at Chet Looney Stadium. The Bulldogs went 20-7 on the road.

“I'd like to believe that we are leaving it better than what we found it," Reese said. "I feel like we've had a lot of success because of the hard work players and coaches have put in, which has been a lot of fun."

Reese inherited a program that had gone 32-78 in the 11 years since he graduated. The Bulldogs had nine losing seasons during that stretch, including three where the team won just one game.

East Knox is now regarded as one of the top small-school programs in north central Ohio, with two conference championships and three playoff berths in the last three seasons.

"It's kind of remarkable. ..." East Knox athletic director Scott Brickner said. "When you talk about Cody Reese, he actually is an outstanding coach, and he's a better person than he is a coach. And you don't get to say that all the time."

Cody Reese

East Knox head coach Cody Reese speaks to his team following its season-ending loss in the Division VI state semifinals on Nov. 29, 2019. The Bulldogs finished the season 13-1, marking their deepest playoff run in program history.

Brickner said Reese's passion for the game – and his love for his players – separated him from the pack.

"He not only is a great moral and ethical leader, but he loves those kids. They truly are his boys," Brickner said.

"And I've been multiple places, and I've never seen anything like the end of the football games, where every single coach hugs every single player. I've never seen that before. That shows the culture – the sense of real family and real love between the players and the coaches that you don't get just everywhere. ...

"One of the things that I talk about a lot is leaving the ground better than you found it, because we never know when our day's up. And Cody Reese definitely left this place – and the football program – much better than what he found it.”

Cody Reese

East Knox head coach Cody Reese talks with senior quarterback Kadden Lester during the Bulldogs' Div. VI state semifinal game versus New Middletown Springfield on Nov. 29, 2019.

LOOKING AHEAD: Reese said he will miss the people involved with high school football – the relationships he's formed with players, coaches and administrators from across Ohio – but he looks forward to the additional time he will be able to devote to his day job and family.

“They're getting to the age where they're gonna be busy," Reese said of his children, "and I'm certainly not gonna miss that. I'm certainly gonna be a part of that.”

Cody Reese

East Knox head coach Cody Reese communicates with his team during a game against Crestview on Sept. 4, 2021.

The goal, Reese said, was to re-establish East Knox as a competitive football program in Knox County and beyond. He believes that goal has been accomplished.

"I hope people view East Knox football as a well-respected, well-run program with a lot of character that comes out of the players and coaches," Reese said.

"I'd like to think that (when) people see East Knox football and they hear East Knox football, I surely hope they think of good things – good thoughts and high expectations. And when they're playing (us), I certainly hope (they think), 'This is gonna be a tough game, no matter how good they are.'"

Cody Reese

East Knox head coach Cody Reese speaks to his team following its season-ending loss in the Division VI state semifinals on Nov. 29, 2019. The Bulldogs finished the season 13-1, marking their deepest playoff run in program history.

Reese, 34, wouldn't rule out a return to the sidelines at some point in the future. But he indicated the immediate future would be football-free to focus on other commitments.

“I won't rule anything out, you know. I'll never say never on anything because never is a long time," he said with a smile. "Just not right now, but I'm not gonna rule anything out for the future.”

Reese said he will still be supportive of the East Knox football program "in any way, shape or form that I can be." That includes the hiring process, Brickner said, as Reese is expected to play a role in the selection of his replacement.

"Whoever steps into his shoes already has a built-in culture of love and trust and passion for football, and then you combine the success that he's been able to create – there's gonna be a lot of competition for the job, I'm sure," Brickner said.

"But for me, the good part is, he's still gonna be around. He's still gonna help me in the process of hiring. He's gonna be involved in the whole process, and that makes me feel comfortable."

Those interested in applying for the East Knox head coaching position (a teaching job is also available) are encouraged to email their resumé to Brickner (sbrickner@ekschools.org). They must also complete an online application at www.k12jobspot.com.

The deadline to apply is Jan. 22.

"I'm personally gonna miss seeing Cody on the sidelines ..." Brickner said. "But I'm happy for him because as a principal with three young kids, the guy's got a lot on his plate. And he wants to be a true academic leader, and I give him a lot of credit for that. He takes that very seriously.

"But he'll be right there with us the whole way, and he'll be a great leader for those kids in the hallways and in the cafeteria every day, 365 (days a year). We’re blessed.”

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.