“He fits the mold of what we talk about here at La Salle High School," La Salle Athletic Director Keith Pantling told WCPO.com. "Obviously head coaching experience, knowledge of the conference and the GCL. It’s big-time football. He maximizes the potential of the student-athletes. His attention to detail, his experience in Catholic education -- just all those things. It was a home run. He checked every box.”
McLaughlin, a 1996 Moeller graduate, led Princeton to a quick turnaround on the field in 2016. The Vikings were 6-4 overall last season and narrowly missed a Division II postseason appearance after Dayton Dunbar forfeited two regular-season games the final night of the regular season.
Princeton was 3-7 in 2015 and 2-8 in 2014. The 2016 season was Princeton's first winning season since 2011.
“The reason why I am leaving has nothing to do with Princeton,” McLaughlin told WCPO.com. “It was a great experience. A great year. The kids were awesome. But to get back in the GCL South has always been a goal and also to be a head coach in that league. It was always something that I was looking forward to.
"And of course probably the biggest piece of it is that I am Catholic and I went to a Catholic high school. My kids go to a Catholic grade school. To be a part of that is really important to us.”
McLaughlin, who is president of the Southwest Ohio Football Coaches Association (SWOFCA), was named the La Salle coach a little more than three weeks after previous Lancers coach Jim Hilvert left for Baldwin Wallace University.
La Salle defeated Massillon Perry 14-7 Dec. 1 at Ohio Stadium to win its third consecutive Division II state title and second straight championship under Hilvert.
La Salle (13-2) was also just the ninth Ohio school to win at least three consecutive state football titles and the first program locally to win three in a row since Moeller (1975-77). The school plans to host a state championship ring ceremony the weekend of April 28.
The Lancers also won the GCL South outright in 2016 for the first time in program history, which dates to 1962.
“It’s awesome to go and compete against the best,” McLaughlin said of being in the GCL South. “You have coaches in that league that have all won state championships.”
McLaughlin will teach history at La Salle starting in the 2017-18 school year. He is scheduled to informally meet with some of the La Salle staff at 3:30 p.m. today before formally meeting the team Monday.
The Lancers have been recognized statewide and nationally for their football success the past three years and McLaughlin says he’s looking forward to earning the trust from the players and embracing the school community.
“Obviously it’s in a good spot right now,” McLaughlin said of the La Salle football program. “It’s in a little bit different spot than the last two places I was at -- Reading and Princeton. La Salle has high expectations of itself. They know how to win. They’ve been there. They have some good talent coming back. They know what it takes to compete at a very high level and a great league. I look forward to adding on to that.”
La Salle will graduate several key standouts in June. There were 28 seniors who won three consecutive state titles.
But the Lancers do return several talented players including senior-to-be quarterback Griffin Merritt, senior-to-be defensive lineman Zach Rumpke, junior-to-be linebacker Brody Ingle and senior-to-be tight end Josh Whyle, a 6-foot-7 standout who has scholarship offers that include UC and Kentucky. Merrit, Rumpke, Ingle and Whyle were first-team all-GCL South selections in 2016.
Pantling is confident in McLaughlin and his plan for the Lancers. He approached McLaughlin in mid-January after the coaching vacancy to determine his interest level.
"He aspires to coach in the GCL South," Pantling said. "He grew up around it and understands it. This was his end goal."
La Salle opens the 2017 season against Colerain in the 20th annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown at Nippert Stadium. The date and time in late August hasn’t been announced. It is a one-year agreement between the schools.
La Salle could remain in Division II for 2017 and 2018 but that hasn't officially been determined. The Ohio High School Athletic Association will implement a competitive balance measure for the first time this fall. La Salle's base enrollment figures released earlier this week indicated Division II but that is before an adjustment for competitive balance. (The OHSAA removed the base enrollment figures from its website Thursday after discovering an error in the data received from the Ohio Department of Education).
The OHSAA will likely announce the fall sports divisional breakdowns in early April.
Discussion about the state tournament division occurred during the interview process with the candidates, Pantling said.
For McLaughlin, he is looking forward to the opportunity on the football field and in the school building with the Lancers.
“Whether you look at Elder, Moeller, (St. X), La Salle or Princeton – all the teams that have winning programs – they are doing things the right way,” McLaughlin told WCPO.com. “They are competing hard, they are working hard. There is no way around that. (La Salle Principal Aaron) Marshall, (La Salle Athletic Director Keith) Pantling – they know what it takes it to be successful. (Basketball) coach (Dan) Fleming has been there a long time. These kids know what it takes. I’ll embrace that.”
McLaughlin coached at Reading in 2015 and 2014 and helped to turn around that Division IV football program. He was named the Princeton coach in March 2016.
McLaughlin led Reading to the Division IV playoffs in 2015 in just his second season. It was the first playoff appearance for the Blue Devils since 2006. As a result, he garnered Division IV area coach of the year honors and was named the Cincinnati Hills League coach of the year.
Prior to Reading, McLaughlin was an assistant from 2006 to 2014 at Moeller where he coached the secondary, then running backs and finally was the co-offensive coordinator with Chris Majors under head coach John Rodenberg.
Moeller won back-to-back Division I state titles in 2012 and 2013 in Canton.
McLaughlin’s coaching resume also includes a three-year stint as the assistant coach at Haywood High School in Brownsville, Tenn., from 2003-06.
McLaughlin played quarterback at the University of Dayton from 1996 to 2000 before accepting a graduate position at the University of Memphis from 2000 to 2003.
McLaughlin and his wife Layne have four children: Patrick, Jack, Brooks and Nora. The family lives in Liberty Township.