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Barta's spot up for grabs in Smith Center

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Smith Center High School football coach Roger Barta announced his retirement last Wednesday night after he won 323 games in 34 seasons with the Redmen program.

In the last few days, Barta's longtime assistant coach Dennis Hutchinson, who had served on the Redmen staff since before Barta came to Smith Center, said he was done coaching, too.

"I was driving to watch my son play last (Thursday) in a basketball game, and I asked him, and he thinks he is done," said Brock Hutchinson, Dennis' son and Smith Center's longtime defensive coordinator.

However, the next head coach and makeup of the 2013 Redmen staff remains in flux. Mike Rogers, Smith Center's longtime running backs coach and a former Redmen standout, said he will not take over as head coach.

"I am not," Rogers said. "That's not something that I think that I have wanted to do. I enjoy what I am doing right now. I guess my hope would be that one of the other assistants would take over.

"We have been there under Coach Barta for a long time and I think we have a good system," he added. "It's worked for a lot of years. I think whoever does that -- if it's somebody within the program -- will keep the program where it will look just like it has in the past, except that it will be a few different faces."

Brock Hutchinson said he had "no clue" who would take over as head coach.

"Talked about it a little bit among the coaches that are going to continue to coach, but I don't know what the plan is," Hutchinson said. "We will just have to play it by ear and see what goes on."

Hutchinson said doesn't want to make a decision public yet about whether or not he will take over.

"That's just not something that I am ready to discuss right now with anybody except for my family and the people here that I am very close to," Hutchinson said.

Tim Wilson, another veteran Smith Center assistant, coached multiple sports for many years. However, Wilson decided not to coach at all this season to help out at the family farm. It's uncertain whether Wilson would return. Rogers said Hutchinson and veteran assistant coach and junior high head coach Darren Sasse were two coaches "who could do it" as head coach.

"If you had asked me that question last year, I would have put Coach Wilson in there, too," Rogers said. "But he got out of coaching just before the season started this year."

One of Kansas' all-time great coaches, Barta, 67, guided Smith Center to a state record 79 straight victories that ended in the 2009 Class 2-1A state championship game to Centralia. The New York Times reporter Joe Drape chronicled the Redmen program and the 2008 season in his best-selling book "Our Boys."

"It's always rewarding, the effect that you may have on kids," Hutchinson said.

"I think Coach Barta has paved the road for us as assistant coaches. For him to mentor us and show us how to do those things has been a blessing. I hope that's what people remember him for. Not just that he had 32(3) wins. ... He has affected so many young people's lives in a positive manner and so (has) my dad."

Barta had retired from teaching a couple years ago and doesn't have the energy like he used to. His grandson is currently a freshman at Holton High School under Brooks Barta, Roger's son. Plus, Barta's wife, Pam, recently retired.

Smith Center had just one returning starter on offense this season and had to replace its entire offensive line. Still, the Redmen finished 6-4, won its district and then lost to Sterling in the first round of the playoffs. In the season-ending meeting with his team and coaches, Barta announced his retirement. Hutchinson said he was "caught off guard."

"I was shocked," Hutchinson said. "I knew it was coming. We just didn't know when. We knew it was going to happen eventually. He has got a grandson that plays in Holton. He has got grandsons and granddaughters in Wichita that are now very active. I think he wants to be around those people and spend some time with those kids."

Hutchinson said the last few days have been difficult with Barta and his dad retiring. Similar to Rogers, though, he wants to see Smith Center stay successful -- and continue helping shape football players' lives.

"In my heart and my mind, I just know what's best for the program, whether it's me taking over or somebody else taking over, I know that we have got to continue to coach kids to the best to our ability and prepare them," Hutchinson said.