ONTARIO — It was an opportunity too good for Tim Mergel to pass up.
Mergel was introduced as Ontario’s new boys basketball coach Friday morning, pending school board approval. He will officially take over Tuesday.
A 1999 Madison graduate, Mergel has been the head coach at his alma mater for the past nine seasons. He was 79-129 at Madison with four consecutive winning seasons from 2014-15 to 2017-18.
Mergel will take over for Joe Balogh, who stepped down in March after 36 seasons. Balogh won 598 games during his remarkable Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame career.
“I’m excited. From the outside looking in, when you hear Ontario it’s one of the top coaching jobs in the county and maybe in the state,” Mergel said. “When you look at the recognition and what Joe has done there to build and the foundation he has put down there for the last 30-some years, it’s an amazing opportunity.
“The last time this job came open, Ronald Reagan was president. I don’t have time to wait around 30 more years.”
A former junior varsity coach under Gregg Collins at Mansfield Senior, Mergel took over at Madison for Doug Rickert for the 2012-13 season. He led the Rams to a Division II sectional title in 2016.
Balogh led Ontario to 21 sectional title and eight district crowns. He was inducted into the OHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2019 and the court at Ontario’s O-Rena is named for him.
“Am I taking over for Joe? Yeah. Am I replacing Joe? I don’t think anybody can,” Mergel said. “You don’t see pillars in the community like that anymore. Joe is one-of-a-kind.
“My job is to go in there and sustain that tradition and build on the foundation he has provided. Is it going to be a challenge? Absolutely. But coaching at Madison is a challenge. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge.”
The decision to leave his alma mater wasn’t made lightly.
“Am I going to miss Madison? Absolutely. I’ve got a lot of really good relationships here,” Mergel said. “There are a lot of really good people at Madison and a lot of really good kids I’ve coached. What’s cool is now that word is getting around, I’ve got a lot of former players texting me to congratulate me.
“Change is inevitable, but the relationships I’ve built at Madison are lifelong.”
Mergel will be a good fit at Ontario, athletic director Jeff Fisher said.
“Tim’s varsity coaching experience, competitive energy, and strong conviction for the success of his basketball athletes were attractive attributes that permeated throughout the hiring process,” Fisher said. “We are excited for Coach Mergel’s opportunity to lead inside the OHS hallways and the O-Rena.”
Mergel knows there will be some obstacles to overcome.
“Any time there is change, it’s going to be difficult on the kids,” Mergel said. “They’ve heard one voice for a long time and they’ve got their ways. It’s just building upon that. … I think I can build on what Joe has done there.”