SHEPHERDSVILLE – While Bullitt County had no major football coaching changes this season, and hasn’t for a number of years, some of this fall’s opponents had major changes at the top of their programs.
Two of particular note could affect our local teams. One happened in Hardin County between Elizabethtown and John Hardin, something that could affect all three programs in the post-season as they often have to face John Hardin. The other is at Boyle County, a foe that Bullitt East will face in the season-opener on Aug. 22 at Lincoln County in the Death Valley Bowl.
At the end of last season, it was no secret when long-time John Hardin head coach Mark Brown said he was retiring from coaching. Brown turned the Bulldogs into one of the state’s top programs, although, he was rarely able to get John Hardin past Bowling Green recently in the Class 5-A semi-finals.
Brown led Nelson County to the big school state championship in 1996. He has won 272 games coaching high school football in Kentucky.
This past year, John Hardin beat Bullitt East 33-28 in the regional final and opened the play-offs with a win over Bullitt Central.
But Brown didn’t stay retired long. In a relatively surprising move, Brown was hired at nearby Elizabethtown High School late in the spring. The Panthers have been in a somewhat lengthy winning drought, at least by their standards. Elizabethtown was coached by Adam Billings, but he was let go after the Panthers went 6-5 last season, the first winning season since 2008. That Elizabethtown team lost in the first-round of the Class AAA play-offs.
The Panthers did beat Bullitt Central 42-21 last season in Elizabethtown and will play at Bullitt Central on Sept. 26 this season.
The new coach at John Hardin is long-time assistant coach Chad Lewis, but he has major holes to fill from graduation. Still, the Bulldogs are the pre-season favorite in Class 5-A, District 3, meaning they will probably be facing Bullitt County teams at some point in the post-season.
Starting next season, John Hardin will drop down to Class 4-A.
Of more immediate note is the coaching change at Boyle County, a team which is once again being coached by Chuck Smith. Smith coached Boyle County five straight state titles in the early 2000s.
Actually, Bullitt East was the first play-off team to beat Boyle County after Smith left to become an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky. The Charger beat Boyle County, downing the Rebels 35-33 in Mount Washington in the regional final in 2005. Bullitt East went on to lose to Bowling Green in the state semi-finals that season.
At that time, Bullitt East was coached by Mike Settles.
In the most recent coaching changes at the University of Kentucky, Smith was on the outside looking in at the coaching carousel. Smith was not retained by Mark Stoops and he was out of coaching last season. Actually, Smith was hired as the head football coach at Madison Central for three weeks in January before Larry French left Boyle County for Southwestern High School.
Very quickly, Smith switched to Boyle County.
Now here is the kicker. One of Smith’s first jobs was to talk Settles out of his head coaching job at Lincoln County (which he left Bullitt East to take) to become the top assistant at Boyle County. The word on the coaching grapevine is that Settles is in line to become the head coach at Boyle County when Smith retires at some point.
Settles’ wife was already working in the Boyle County school system.
In fact, Settles called Bullitt East head coach Darrell Vincent in the fall and sort of apologized for not staying at Lincoln County where the Chargers had just played the first game in a two-year contract for the season-opening Death Valley Bowl.
What had already been pre-set was that after playing Frankfort in that bowl game last season, that Bullitt East would play Boyle County in that spot this season. Vincent politely told Settles that Bullitt East had signed the contract because of the level of competition (and the monetary guarantee) and not because Settles was the coach at Lincoln County.
So, on Aug. 22, Bullitt East will take on Boyle County in the Death Valley Bowl in the 8 p.m. game with Smith and Settles on the opposite sideline.
Boyle County had an 11-1 record last season, but lost to Mercer County in the second-round of the Class 4-A play-offs. That Mercer County team was coached by Chris Pardue, who had replaced Smith at Boyle County after the 2004 season.