ASHLAND — Leon Hart came to Ashland 10 years ago looking for a home.
He’s retiring as a local coaching great.
Hart, who won 78 games in 10 seasons as head coach of the Ashland Tomcat football program, told his team on Thursday that he was hanging up the whistle because of family issues.
“I knew I wanted to find a place where I could be part of the community and where football was important,” Hart said. “This is the best job I ever had.”
Hart, 62, is leaving the Tomcats as the second-winningest coach in program history. He won nine games in six of 10 seasons and took Ashland to the regional finals twice.
The 2012 season was his 40th in coaching, including a long assistant coaching stint with Eastern Kentucky University where he was on a staff that won a pair of Division I-AA national championships.
Yet his time in Ashland was the best of his coaching life, Hart said.
“With all that success, this is the best job I ever had,” he said. “I love this community. Bill Tom Ross got it right: I’ll always be a Tomcat.”
Ross, a former assistant coach at Ashland, famously said once you’ve been with the Tomcats you’re a Tomcat for life.
Hart came to Ashland in 2003 with impressive coaching credentials. It was so good that many doubted if he would be around for long.
“When I first got here, everybody thought I was leaving within a year,” he said.
Instead, he stayed for 10 seasons and it may have been longer if not for family issues. Hart’s parents, both 84, live in Mansfield, Ohio. His father is ill and he wants to spend as much quality time with him and his mother as possible.
“My father’s sick and I can’t fix what’s wrong with my dad,” he said. “My mother needs my help and my support. You can’t put a price tag on it.”