Says John Muhlbach, a Massillon great who played at Ohio State, "I always found Mike to be pretty flexible in taking criticism. Sometimes I thought maybe he listened too much." Says Kimmins, "It has been extremely, extremely, I repeat, extremely difficult for Mike to take criticism." The situation is as murky as the water flowing down to the Sippo Reservoir on the east side of town.
But it's impossible to analyze it without reference to that 79-16-2 career record of Currence or the fact that he was 6-4 in '84, the worst record since Chuck Shuffs 6-4 in 1974. Currence's record had a lot to do with his dismissal.
"The pressures would not have been as significant if Mike had a Bear Bryant-type record," admits Kimmins. "Mike had the worst [career] record of any coach in 35 years. Somehow, Mike managed to lose the big games. He had what amounted to an 8-3 average. An 8-3 record is not satisfactory at Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Notre Dame and Texas. And I don't think it's satisfactory at Massillon."
But the record book doesn't support the board of education president. Currence was just one win short of Brown's alltime career mark. His winning percentage of .832 does not, as Kimmins says, average out to 8-3, but to 9-2. Subtract one for Kimmins' math, but add a point for honesty—he is expressing what many anti-Currence Massillonians are couching in glib phrases like "lack of support from the community." Excluding Shuff's two calamitous years of 12-7-1 and Bob Seaman's three years of 20-9-1, Currence does own the "worst record in 35 years," but that's like batting eighth on the '27 Yankees. He is up against standards like Brown's 80-8-2 (.909), Strang's 54-8-1 (.871) and Mather's absurd 57-3 (.950). Bear Bryant, by the way, had a .780 career winning percentage as a head coach.
"Mike has won about 8½ games out of every 10 since he's been here," says Paul David, a local booster and businessman. "Now what are we going to ask this next guy to do? Win another half so it's nine out of 10?"
The same thing that makes the Massillon job as attractive as any in high school football—the town's cradle-to-grave interest in football, the tradition, the avid cross-generational support—also makes it one of the most treacherous. At Massillon a coach is entrusted not with a team but with an heirloom. It's the town's team.
There is a tendency for outsiders to look upon Massillon madness as wrongheaded, as an obsession of a town in a time warp. Even in Massillon there are naysayers, like Polly Cochran, the retired head of the high school's English department, who says, "I went to one football game 25 years ago, got hit in the head with a whiskey bottle and never went back. I think the emphasis on football around here is a little ridiculous."
That emphasis, however, is what makes Massillon Massillon. On an autumn Friday night in the town there is something of America's spirit: the stream of honking, decorated cars turning onto Hess Boulevard, heading toward Paul Brown Tiger Stadium (capacity: 19,700); the inevitability of Studer leaving his downtown sign business a few hours early to paint the hoop; or of local booster Ed Annen leading Obie out of his basement, where the tiger cub lives, to head for the stadium; or the singular ritual of the Booster Club presenting all male newborns in Massillon with a rubber football. "He'll be a Tiger someday," mommies and daddies coo into their sons' playpens in this town.
But tradition is a many-headed beast, one that stomps on reality and coldcocks high school football coaches. Though support for Massillon football has remained rabid, the Tiger juggernaut hasn't quite kept pace. Massillon hasn't won the state championship in 15 years. Yes, Currence was able to beat archrival Canton McKinley a record seven out of 10 times, but he lost all three of his games against Cincinnati Moeller, which in Ohio—and U.S.—high school football has become what Massillon used to be. Why, the Tigers won 21 state championships between Brown's first title in 1935 and Commings' last in 1970. Twenty-one!
"The people here are restless about a state championship," says Immel. "It gnaws at them and embarrasses them, and don't let anybody tell you it doesn't."