By ANDY WOLF
Blaine Maag found exactly what he needed.
He had to come home to get it.
The former star athlete from Columbus Grove sought the benefits of a homecoming when he joined on as an assistant coach for the University of Findlay track and field team.
He works primarily with the throwers and handles a lot of responsibilities with recruiting.
“Right now, it feels pretty good,” Maag said. “That was the main pull. We had some harder times about a year and half ago. It was good to get home. That’s what was needed. Best decision I could’ve made, easily.”
Maag said a large factor in the decision stemmed from some of his family’s hardest days.
One year prior, on April 15, his wife, Ariana, gave birth to their daughter Kennedy Gayle Maag at 8:36 a.m. in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Kennedy passed away at 8:43 p.m. that night.
Maag was the throwers coach at Michigan State at the time.
“It wasn’t easy,” Maag said of stepping down at MSU. “My wife and I had built a family in East Lansing (Michigan), experienced our hardest days, and built incredible relationships within the Spartan family — relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Kennedy was laid to rest in Columbus Grove.
Blaine jumped at the opportunity to bring Ariana and his now three-year old daughter, Carsyn, back to northwest Ohio when previous UF throws coach Derrick Vicars left for a job at Bowling Green State University.
“I quickly contacted Blaine, said it’s now or never,” UF head track and field coach Mark Arce said.
Blaine had already served the 2011 season at UF as a graduate assistant when Vicars was competing for UF.
Vicars, a two-time Division II national champion thrower, kept standards for throwers high at his alma mater before passing the torch to Maag.
In his time at UF, Vicars oversaw five Oilers as national champions and 17 total Division II All-Americans.
“What Derrick did prior to me is more important than what I’ve been able to do the last couple months,” Maag said.
Being a natural standout athlete is one thing. Developing into a quality coach is another.
Few athletes were more accomplished than Maag, who excelled in three sports at Columbus Grove.
As an all-Ohio running back, he amassed more than 6,700 rushing yards and totaled 99 touchdowns.
The Bulldogs captured a Division VI state title in 2003, going 15-0 during his junior year.
The season was capped by Maag’s 40-carry, 287-yard, two-touchdown performance against Marion Local in the championship game.
Maag had entered his junior year already a two-time state champion. Not only did he win the state discus title as a sophomore, he was a key factor in Columbus Grove winning the Division III boys team championship as well.
In the spring of his junior year, Maag was discus state runner-up to Nick Panezich of New Middletown Springfield.
But he avenged that setback a year later, beating Panezich by two inches to reclaim his state title.
“I remember that (junior) track season pretty well,” Maag said. “I did not compete very well. I was off. It definitely fueled the fire.”
Maag also became a 1,000-point scorer on the boys basketball team.
After graduating from Columbus Grove in 2005, he enrolled at Ashland University as a two-sport athlete.
Maag gave up football after his sophomore year but continued to throw at a high level.
At Ashland, he became a two-time NCAA Division II outdoor All-American in the discus. He didn’t have much of a post-college graduation plan. As most athletes do, coaching seemed the appropriate path for him.
Then-UF throwers coach Steve Manz asked Maag to come on board and help him out.
One week later, Manz left UF for a job at Eastern Michigan. The move slotted Maag into the graduate assistant spot.
His next coaching stop was at Division II power Grand Valley State as throwing coach.
“Grand Valley State versus Findlay. Disney versus normal,” Arce said.
The accolades kept coming as Maag was named 2013 Division II Assistant Coach of the Year for the men’s indoor and women’s outdoor seasons.
He made the jump to the Division I level in 2015 for the same position at Michigan State. His growth as a coach continued, as well as the success of his throwers.
Stylistically, Maag has combined the elements of his father and high school coach Rick and Ashland head coach Jud Logan — a four time Olympic hammer thrower.
“My dad wasn’t, I wouldn’t say, the most technical coach,” Maag said. “But his view on directing a young man to try and be better than anybody else could have hoped for is what he taught me.”
The challenge in coaching throwers lies in making the necessary tweaks in a motion that can make a huge difference or squeeze out any extra bit of distance.
Sometimes, Maag has to completely rework a thrower’s technique when dealing with more raw athletes making the transition from high school to college.
“Nobody throws the exact same way,” Maag said. “Some coaches try to make their athlete look a certain way, mimic a certain thrower. I just look for positions, key positions to be in.”
Maag takes a “hands off” approach to coaching, allowing his athletes to be individuals.
He said he, admittedly, has a hard time speaking what he sees but tries to teach through showing rather than telling.
Maag most recently coached junior college transfer Tynelle Gumbs to an indoor national title in the weight throw in March.
Gumbs, a native of the British Virgin Islands, is in her first year at UF with her sister and fellow thrower Trevia.
“Coach Maag is just amazeballs,” Gumbs said. “Before I came here, my technique was so raw.
“It still is raw, but my technique has completely changed since I’ve come to Findlay and coach Maag is responsible for that.
“His lifting program (feels) exactly designed for me. It’s extremely painful. He knows his stuff and he’s going to help us get to the World Championships.”
Arce equally complimented Maag in making the transition from Vicars a smooth one.
He said the difference between the two is Maag having a bigger picture in wanting to do more.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate to have one good coach right after another. Boom, boom, boom,” Arce said. “Stability-wise, you’d like to have the same person carrying your program at all times. In this respect, the continuity was there and it helps you have a quality group of athletes.
“Then, the expectations are extremely high. You have to find someone that can handle it.”