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Elliot gets the nod to replace Annarella at Fitch

July 2, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

The unenviable task of continuing the legacy of Phil Annarella as Fitch head football coach will take a step in the right direction on July 23.

That day the Austintown Board of Education is expected to pass the appointment of veteran assistant coach Jon Elliot to the top position with the Falcons. The new coach will be filling the sizeable shoes of Annarella, who unexpectedly passed away at the age of 70 early last month. Elliot will carry 32 years of coaching experience into his new role. Many of those years were spent as an assistant to Annarella at Warren Harding, Hickory, Niles and, most recently, Fitch as offensive coordinator. He is a longtime teacher in the Niles school district, so he has the natural intelligence to realize that suddenly taking over for a coaching legend won't be simple.

"It's a good opportunity to carry on Phil's legacy," said Elliot shortly following the announcement, "but I understand the job in front of me. I'll try to keep things as normal as possible."

Since Elliot is no stranger to the Fitch program, the transition for the team should be a lot easier than if a total newcomer was brought in. That familiarity and Elliot's passion for his new position are a couple of reasons why he is now in charge of the Falcons.

"He already has been involved in our current program, knows the player expectations on and off the field and continued to care for the kids after our tragic loss," said Fitch Athletic Director Jim Penk to reporters. "He knows the kids by name and the individual talents they each bring. We look forward to a great season under his leadership."

Elliot was with the Falcons' program from 2007-2011 then moved to Howland's staff. He came back to Austintown and served under Annarella again the past two seasons. The new mentor is grateful for all of the support afforded him by the Fitch family since his appointment was announced.

"I'd really like to thank the Austintown school administration for having confidence in me," Elliot said. "The support has been phenomenal. I feel I'm ready to do this."

After being absent two years from the Division I playoffs, the 2018 Falcons regained their footing and finished 8-2 to advance to the postseason. Fitch was easily eliminated by powerhouse Euclid 35-0 in the opening round. Elliot was partly responsible for that goose egg since he ran Fitch's offense. Although Elliot's responsibilities have broadened, he is expected to still run the offense. He explained that his offensive instincts are his most useful, but he also has a grasp on the defense.

"I'm definitely an offensive coach by nature" said Elliot, "but being around the defensive coaches I get asked a lot of questions, so I learned a lot about defense."

Fitch only has 10 returning starters in 2019 so many of the young men that Elliot has been used to coaching have graduated. With such a large number of newbies on Fitch's roster, returning to the playoffs will be an immense challenge.

"We'll be very inexperienced in some areas," said Elliot.

Since he's been around Coach Annarella for quite some time, plenty of the late leader's style has rubbed off on Elliot. One personality trait has not been shared, however. "I'm a pretty laid back guy normally," he said. "Phil was a little more intense (than me). I can get pretty fiery once I get on the football field though."

In reality, wins and losses may not be the way Elliot gets judged this fall. If he's able to keep the ship steady and Coach A's memory entrenched in the collective minds of Falcon Nation, Elliot will be a winner.

"I'd trade anything for Phil to be here right now," said Elliot, "but I'll do all I can to keep his tradition and the tradition of Fitch football alive."



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