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Nicholl commentary Good thing happened in Plainville; new coaches have not fared well

Last Monday, the USD 270 Board of Education, prodded by a public outcry, voted 5-2 to offer head football coach/weightlifting instructor Joe Simon tenure for the 2012-13 school year. Simon had led Plainville to a 10-2 record and Class 2-1A sub-state championship game appearance last fall, the Cardinals' first winning season since 1994. As well, Plainville has seen tremendous gains in other sports, especially volleyball, boys' basketball, boys' track and powerlifting under Simon. But Simon wasn't offered a contract or tenure until Monday and his future was in doubt.

Jay Friend, the school board member who called for the motion to change the agenda and decide Simon's fate Monday, had seen Plainville cycle through multiple football coaches in the last two decades. He believed if the Cardinals let Simon leave and the school board waited for another month to hire a coach, it would negatively impact the program.

"Then you go back to that same old rut of failure again," Friend said.

Friend is the son of Larry Friend, the most successful Plainville football coach in school history and a member of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. Jay Friend watched his dad build a program over two decades with the Cardinals -- the same way nearly every Kansas school builds a successful team, with continuity, hard work and building tradition.

If Simon didn't return, history shows that Plainville likely would have at least fallen back in the pack next fall, and perhaps taken a big drop in the next few years. History shows retaining Simon puts Plainville squarely in the running for a berth in the state championship game next season.

Having Simon, in his fourth year with the program, likely makes the Cardinals -- who lost just four seniors off of last year's team -- one of the four best Class 2-1A squads in the western half of the state, along with Meade, La Crosse and Smith Center.

Meade, La Crosse and Smith Center's head coaches have at least four years in their respective programs as a head coach and/or top assistant.

The numbers show rarely do teams with first-year coaches have success. Thanks to information at kansasprepfootball.com and preppowerindex.com, I looked at all 201 Kansas State High School Activities programs that hired a new head coach from 2009-11. I found the win-loss record of those coaches in the first year with the program.

It's true some coaches take over programs which have won zero or one game the year before and are a bottom-feeder. A winning season sometimes isn't attainable early on in a coaches' tenure. Sometimes wins and losses are greatly affected by injuries, luck, etc. But the bottom line is very, very rarely do coaches have success in their first year in the program.

Those who do almost always follow the same theme -- a theme that Plainville would have unlikely followed.

The 201 first-year coaches went a combined 754-1,145, a winning percentage of 39.7 percent and an average of 3.75 wins and 5.7 losses a year.

The numbers were fairly consistent in each season.

In 2009, 66 coaches had new jobs and averaged 4.09 wins and 5.56 losses.

In 2010, 70 new coaches combined for 3.67 wins and 5.69 losses.

Last year, 65 coaches combined for 3.49 wins and 5.84 losses. Just nine of the 201 teams won at least 10 games.

None of those nine squads came in Class 2-1A.

Just one team, the 2010 Class 5A Blue Valley-Stillwell team, won the state title with a 12-1 record. The Blue Valley state title is arguably considered the most surprising state championship in the last several years in Kansas prep football.

Only two teams reached a state title, Baileyville B&B in Eight-Man, Division II in 2011 and Bushton-Quivira Heights in Eight-Man, Division II in 2009.

The nine teams that earned double-digit wins -- a near-must for a team to reach a state championship game -- followed almost an identical pattern. In 2009, Manhattan, St. Thomas-Aquinas, Conway Springs and Quivira Heights each won 10 games with a first-year coach. All four promoted a longtime assistant and/or former head coach of the program. Continuity stayed.

In 2010, Dodge City, Blue Valley and Ashland each won double-digit games with a first-year coach. Blue Valley and Ashland also promoted long-time assistants.

Justin Burke was Dodge City's coach but was relieved of duties in Feb. 2010 because of a controversy over offseason practice time.

Dodge City had ample time to find a new coach and hired Dave Foster from Elk City, Okla. Foster went 11-1 in his first season and then slipped to 5-5 last fall.

Last year, Osborne and Baileyville-B&B won double-digit games with a new coach. However, Steve Tiernan, one of the most successful coaches in eight-man history, left B&B and took over at Osborne, which was closer to his family's pheasant farm. Tiernan kept Cullen Riner, the former head coach, on as the defensive coordinator. Tiernan announced the decision with several months left in the school year.

Justin Coup, the veteran coach at Goessel and a longtime friend of Tiernan, took over B&B. Again, continuity was key.

Simon's assistants were Ryan Becker and Justin Casey, each Cardinal graduates and well-liked with the players and community. Neither has coached varsity football before, though Becker has been a head coach with wrestling and baseball. Becker and Casey do not teach at the school. Plainville would likely tried to find a coach elsewhere, which would have been difficult in late spring.

Finding a coach outside the program probably would've short-circuited the Cardinals' chances of a state title next fall -- and could have ended the school's run of success in various sports. If history is any indication, the Plainville school board made the right choice. Not only does Simon push and build student-athletes, the continuity should serve Plainville well going forward.