No matter the setting, the question begs to be asked.
How does he do it?
How does Todd Blackledge find the time, the patience, the attention to detail and whatever else it takes to do what he does? And still have time to, well, live life?
Ron Blackledge could only shrug his shoulders and shake his head in bewilderment.
“I have no idea how he does it,” the long-time high school, college and professional coach said in response to the question about his son. “If you ever figure it out, let me know because I sure don’t. But, he gets it done and I think he does a good job of it.”
Let’s see … there is Todd Blackledge, the husband to Cherie and the father of Harrison, Quinn, Eli and Owen, athletes all.
There is Todd Blackledge, nearing his 25th season as a college football analyst with ESPN.
And there is Todd Blackledge, the basketball coach at North Canton Hoover.
(Jeff Lange/Special to the Beacon Journal)
North Canton Hoover head coach Todd Blackledge (right) strategizes with his team during a timeout in the first quarter of a basketball game at East High School in Akron.
The guy’s life is all about games. If he isn’t attending games, he is analyzing them. If he isn’t analyzing games, he’s coaching them. If he isn’t coaching games, he’s watching tapes of them.
“I get asked that all the time,” Todd Blackledge said on Dec. 27, about 12 hours before leaving for Atlanta to prepare for the College Football Playoff semifinal between top-ranked Alabama and Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. “How do I do it? Where do I find the time? Honestly, it’s not that bad when I sit down and explain it.”
People also want to know who’s going to win.
“I answer that the same way every time,” he said, good-naturedly. “I get paid to call the games. I don’t get paid to pick them. When you are dealing with 18- to 22-year-old kids, anything can happen on any given night.”
One would think the craziness of college football mirrors Blackledge’s hectic life, once high school basketball begins in early November. Thanks to the playoff system, it’s not as crazy as you might think.
(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)
North Canton Hoover High basketball coach Todd Blackledge (rear) watches his team as they run a drill during practice.
For the first five weeks of basketball, while Blackledge was putting the finishing touches on college football’s regular season, the Vikings held practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I would leave for whatever game I was doing that weekend on Thursday, so I missed Thursday and Friday practices,” he said. “We gave the kids an off day on Saturday and we practiced Sunday evening. By that time, I was home.”
Once basketball’s regular season began during the first week of December, Blackledge had one football game left.
“Thanks to our administration at Hoover, I was able to rearrange our [basketball] schedule,” he said. “We didn’t open the season until December 6th. I did not miss a practice or a game between December 4th and December 28th. And as things work out, I won’t miss any games and very few practices the rest of the way.”
His final ESPN responsibility will be in the radio booth for the national championship game on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla. The next day, Hoover will host Jackson in what looms as a monster game.
(Akron Beacon Journal file photo)
In this 1997 file photo, Todd Blackledge poses at his home with football memorabilia. Blackledge was a quarterback at Penn State when the Lions won the national title in the early 1980's.
It’s not as if Blackledge went blindly into the endeavor of coaching high school basketball. He is too organized, too practical and too intelligent — he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Penn State in addition to winning an NCAA national championship — to fly by the seat of his pants.
Now in his third season, Blackledge was immediately intrigued by the job when it opened, but formulated a solid game plan before applying.
“I had to take some time to determine if it was doable in a way that would be fair to the school, the players, my family and my commitment to ESPN,” he said. “I thought through the entire thing. I would not have taken the job if Cherie and Eli were not on board. We knew there would be a commitment, time-wise. We knew that I would miss some things. That has been the biggest trade-off.
“One of the keys was hiring the right kind of people as assistants. They had to be people I could trust when I wasn’t going to be there.”
He relies heavily on assistants Kevin Stingel, Chris Marshall, Dave Burtscher and Isiah Elliott. The plan is working. The Vikings, with 6-foot-7 junior Eli Blackledge and 6-4 senior Nathan Fox playing vital roles, will take a 6-1 record into the new year and will be a key player in the Federal League race.
“I am confident that we’re all on the same page,” he said. “We have a veteran team and good chemistry. I know they’ll be ready.”
(AP File Photo/Gary Stewart)
Quarterback Todd Blackledge (14) of the Kansas City Chiefs, is grabbed by Jacob Green (79) of the Seattle Seahawks and sacked during their NFL game in 1986.
With his background, you would think Blackledge would have become a football coach. He won the Davey O’Brien Award in 1982, was a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy and was part of the bountiful draft that also produced John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. Blackledge went to the Kansas City Chiefs as the seventh overall pick, spent five years with the Chiefs and two with the Pittsburgh Steelers before moving to the telecast booth.
That he decided to become a basketball coach should not come as a surprise. He spent part of his formative years in Lexington, Ky., where his dad was an assistant on Fran Curci’s staff at the University of Kentucky. He became enamored with the UK basketball teams of Joe B. Hall.
“Basketball was always my favorite sport and it goes way back,” he said. “I was a pretty good player in high school, but I was a 6-3½ post man and I knew I wasn’t going anywhere to play college basketball. But up until my junior year in high school [at Hoover] my dream was to play college basketball at the University of Kentucky.”
That he eventually became a coach was no surprise at all.
“Coaching is part of my DNA,” he said. “My dad coached for 40 years, so I grew up with it, always been around it. I coached Little League, youth basketball and ran quarterback camps for high school kids. I’ve always enjoyed it.”
It’s not just the X’s and O’s that drew him to the job.
(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)
North Canton Hoover High basketball coach Todd Blackledge (center) talks with assistant coaches Chris Marshall (left) and Kevin Stingel (right) during practice.
“Coaching is as much about developing young men, character building and leadership building,” he said. “I really get into that part as much as anything. When I decided to apply at Hoover, that was the part that excited me the most. I love to win and compete as much as anyone, but a chance to make a positive impact on young lives is what really mattered to me.”
He has set no timeline on how long he will coach. He has two years remaining on his ESPN contract.
“We’ll take it one step at a time,” he said.
So far, the first few steps have been pretty good.