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The John Hardin football program didn’t have to look far to find its replacement for Mark Brown, the man responsible for building the Bulldogs into a state power.
John Hardin hired Chad Lewis as its football coach Tuesday to take over for Brown, who retired in January. Lewis, who has been with the program since its first season in 2001 and served as the defensive coordinator since 2009, becomes the program’s second coach.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true,” Lewis said. “I had no idea when I came here 12 years ago that I would be the head coach of this program one day. It’s a great honor and I hope to continue the tradition Coach Brown has built here.”
John Hardin athletic director Greg Cecil said it was clear Lewis was the right person for the job. The three-member committee of Cecil, principal Alvin Garrison and assistant athletic director Austin Jones liked what Lewis brought to the Bulldogs.
“The thing that stands out to me is his integrity and the way he works with kids,” Cecil said. “He knows the game of football. He comes from a football family. He knows the system in and out and he knows our program in and out.”
Lewis follows in the footsteps of his father, Mike, who was a head coach at Hopkinsville, East Hardin and Central Hardin. Lewis, a 1995 Central Hardin graduate, realized at an early age what he wanted to do in life.
“Both of my parents had such an influence on my life,” Lewis said about Mike and Shelia. “I know I wanted to go into education. I’ve been around the game of football since I was little. I knew I wanted to go into teaching and coaching. That’s what I wanted to do with my career.”
Lewis is the fourth assistant under Brown to currently become a head coach. Mike Rogers is at Warren Central, Bill Sharp at Russell County and former John Hardin defensive coordinator Lance Gregory at Graves County.
“When you lose a guy like Coach Brown, there’s going to be a transition period,” Cecil said. “Chad has that will power, drive and determination. Look at the coaches who coached for Coach Brown and the success they’ve had. Chad has been preparing for this and he loves the opportunity to coach here.”
Lewis doesn’t plan many changes. The Bulldogs will continue to run the Wing-T, and their defensive scheme will remain the same. Assistants Ross Brown, Matt Treadway, Marcus Hyche, Adam Cobb and Jerren Morning will return. The only change is Mike Lewis will be the offensive coordinator, while Lewis will continue to call the defense.
“I think one of the big things is that has made us so sound is we haven’t had much turnover on our coaching staff,” Lewis said. “The camaraderie built with the coaching staff has been important to our success. He (Mike Lewis) is very familiar with the offense, so it should be an easy transition for our kids.
“One of the best things to happen to me was becoming defensive coordinator,” he added. “I was a little apprehensive at first, because I was always an offensive guy. But being able to call the defense helped me grow more than anything as a coach. We’re not going to have a lot of change.”
The Bulldogs are coming off a 13-1 season in which the defense allowed 11.1 points and 197.4 yards per game. They lost in the Class 5-A state semifinals to Bowling Green, 14-13.
John Hardin returns only two starters on offense – quarterback Patrick Anderson and center Jared Givens. Meanwhile, the defense returns tackles Matt Elam and Kofax Stephens, ends Marcus Goree and Austin Laing, linebacker Chris Smith and safety Dimitri Cooper. Khalil Frazier, the team’s leading returning rusher, and Anderson saw time on defense as well.
“I’m very excited about what we have coming back,” Lewis said. “We’ll have 20-plus seniors. We’ll have to build around our defense, which returns six starters. We have to replace the core of our linebackers, which will be tough. Our biggest holes are on offense. We only have two starters but quarterback and center is a good place to start. We’ll probably have more guys playing both ways. I’m excited and I can’t wait for spring practice.”
Lewis’ familiarity with the program was a huge selling point to Cecil.
“That was an important factor,” Cecil said. “Chad’s been an important part of the success we’ve had here. The kids know him and they all respect him. That should help with the transition. We tried to find the best person for the job. That doesn’t mean they have had to be a head coach. We wanted a person with integrity who the kids could learn from and Chad was that person.”
Lewis has big shoes to fill. Brown finished his career with a 272-121 record, including going 116-34 at John Hardin. He is tied for 11th on the KHSAA’s career win list with Mike Holcomb.
After a losing season the first year when the program didn’t have any seniors, the Bulldogs have had 11 consecutive winning seasons. They have won 11 or more games six consecutive seasons and seven of the last eight.
John Hardin has finished the regular season 10-0 the last four years and five of the last six. The Bulldogs have won 64 of their last 65 regular season games. They’ve won or shared the district championship seven of the last eight years and they’ve claimed five straight region championships. The Bulldogs reached the 2009 Class 5-A state championship, falling to Fort Thomas Highlands.
Lewis, a 2000 University of Kentucky graduate, and his wife, Holly, have two children – 3-year-old Ethan and 7-month-old Braxton.
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.