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Mark Brown has been considering retirement for several years, but after nearly four decades in football, he finally decided the time was right.
Brown built John Hardin into a perennial power after previous coaching stops at Nelson County and Marion County. He spent 36 years coaching, the last 32 as a head coach.
“It’s been a good run,” Brown said. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.
“I’ve been thinking about it since 2009,” he added. “I kept going. It was just real hard to walk away. I’ve spent more than half my life preparing for football seasons, so it’s kind of like what am I going to do now?”
Brown was named John Hardin’s first coach in 2000. After a losing season the first year (2001) when the program didn’t have any seniors, the Bulldogs have had 11 consecutive winning seasons – including going 13-1 this past season. 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.
Brown can’t believe the strides the program has made since the rocky start when the Bulldogs didn’t even have a home field to call their own.
“I couldn’t do that again,” Brown said of his first season at John Hardin. “We had all these coaches fresh out of college and we didn’t know what we were getting into. That first season, we didn’t have any seniors or any players who had started a varsity game. It was hard, but we stuck with it.
“We had no idea we’d do what we did,” he added. “When you’re dealing with kids, you can never predict that. You always have turnover with kids and we’ve had some pretty good classes. We’ve had turnover in coaches. You can never predict what’s going to happen, but we’ve built a good program.”
Brown, who retired as athletic director and vice-principal in January 2008, said he informed the administration of his decision Jan. 7.
John Hardin posted the job Wednesday on the Hardin County Schools Paperless Applicant Tracking System (PATS). It has not yet been posted on the KHSAA’s open jobs page.
Prior to John Hardin, Brown spent 11 years at Marion County, the last seven as the head coach. He left Marion County for Nelson County, where he spent 13 years and won the Class 4-A state championship in 1996.
“That would be one of my fondest memories, but there are so many good ones,” Brown said. “That was the high point, I guess you’d say. Winning it is a blessing and a curse. Once you win it, you’re never satisfied with anything else. You don’t appreciate all the other things.”
Brown finishes 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 Breathitt County’s Mike Holcomb.
“When I look at the whole thing, I’ve been fortunate,” Brown said. “I’ve won a lot of games. Well, I didn’t win them. The kids and other coaches did. I was part of a lot of wins. I’m proud of that. But I’m more proud of the way we did it.
“In 11 seasons, Marion County had three winning seasons,” he added. “In 19 seasons, Nelson County had three winning seasons and never had made the playoffs. I’m proud of the way we built a program and won games everywhere we’ve been.”
Brown said his family has been supportive his entire career. His wife, Lucy, hasn’t missed many games.
“She’s been very, very supportive,” Brown said. “It’s so important if you’re going to be coach whether it’s football, basketball or baseball. You dedicate so much of your life to it that you need to have a wife that’s on board.
Brown’s sons, Cody and Ross, played for him at Nelson County and both were assistants at different times at John Hardin.
“It’s been wonderful to coach them,” Brown said. “It was real special to then coach with them. One of the reasons we’ve had success here is we’ve always been on the same page as a coaching staff.”
Brown said he’s knows once summer rolls around, there are going to be certain things he misses.
“I’m going to miss the contact with my kids,” Brown said. “Since I’ve just been coaching, I’ve drifted farther from my kids. I’m going to miss the practice. I know I’ll miss Friday nights, but I’ll miss preparing the kids for the season. And I’ll miss the camaraderie of coaches. We always had a blast.
“If I can’t live without it,” he added, “maybe I’ll try to get back in it after a year.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org