The Marshall School Board on Tuesday chose Owls assistant coach Jason Varner to take over the program as head coach, replacing Cody Leonard -- who announced his resignation earlier in the spring to accept a job as head girls' coach at Monroe City, near his hometown of Hannibal.
Varner has been Leonard's right-hand man during his three-year tenure. It's the first head coaching position for the 1994 Malta Bend graduate.
"I'm excited," he admitted. "I like the group of kids we've got. I'm ready to go."
Although the Marshall team became progressively younger during the Leonard era, it's competitiveness has increased. From six wins in 2009, the year before the Leonard-Varner team took over -- the Owls gradually improved 9-18 last season and won a pair of tournament championships -- at Stover and Wellington-Napoleon.
Varner's hiring would appear to validate the direction the program is heading.
"It's made great strides," Varner said. "I like what we've been able to do in the last three years."
Working with an experienced coach like Leonard has been an invaluable learning experience for Varner.
"He's very organized," Varner noted, pointing to some key aspects of the job: "Talking to the kids, teaching the kids, how to break down film and schedule practice."
Marshall will lose only one senior -- forward Collin Porter -- from a squad which started two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen by the end of last season.
"Good things are going to happen with this group," Varner predicted, adding that familiarity is a benefit. "They know what to expect out of me and I know what to expect from them."
Stylistically, the Owls shouldn't be much different under Varner.
"We're going to be defensive-minded, that's for sure."
Varner becomes the sixth head coach for the Marshall boys over a nine-year span, Leonard's term being the longest since Scott Harrold was released following the 2005 season. During that period, the Owls only reached the post-season once: under Mike Baker in '06.