By STEVE CORNELIUS, CJ Sports Editor
Every jigsaw puzzle has those ‘hard-to-find’ pieces needed to complete the entire body of work.
Over the last three years, Southwestern High School athletic director Scott Gregory has been working on his own version of an ‘athletic jigsaw puzzle’.
Monday night in the school’s cafeteria, Gregory finally snapped in that final piece of the puzzle with the hiring of Larry French as his new football coach.
“For my job, I always want the best person who I think is best suited for my kids – that is the most important thing,” Gregory stated. “I think with the three great coaching hires we have made recently, it is about us being the right school at the right place at the right time to be able to land these three individuals.”
“I think our facilities, I think our location, I think what we have to offer and I think our academics all played into how important it is to land a coach who you want to take over a program,” Gregory continued. “Winning is contagious in any sport. So if you bring people in who are accustomed to winning and have won in the past, it helps tremendously and it gives the kids a big uplift, as well as the community.”
Three years ago with all the outside, flat-sided pieces of the puzzle put into place, Gregory started rummaging through the other thousands of inside puzzle pieces.
In May of 2011, Gregory was able to locate that perfect piece of the puzzle in the hiring of Steve Wright as the boys basketball coach.
Since the turn of the 2000 century, Wright had become the most prolific coach in the 12th Region and was a permanent fixture at KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen State Tournament.
Prior to coming to Southwestern, Wright won a state title in 2005 and compiled six regional titles in a stretch of nine years at South Laurel High School.
And in his very first season wearing the ‘blue and orange’, Wright added another regional title to his resume, and a first basketball region crown for Southwestern.
The next piece of the puzzle was put into place on June of 2013 when Stephen Butcher was hired to coach the Southwestern girls program.
Butcher was a young coach, who had already proven himself with three consecutive region final appearances, a regional title and a KHSAA State Tournament Final Four showing to his credit.
More importantly, Butcher was a ‘homegrown boy’ with roots in the local area and he seems to be the perfect fit for the Lady Warriors’ basketball program.
Still competing in his first season as the Lady Warriors’ coach, Butcher has his squad in a good position to make a run at the program’s first regional title.
Now only one puzzle piece was missing in Gregory’s Warrior athletic trifecta – the football coaching position.
Since Southwestern High School was formed back in 1994, football had always been the Warrior Nation’s pride and joy. In the early years, they quickly surpassed their sister county program, Pulaski County High School. Amongst several changes in the administrative staff, ADs, and coaches in the other Southwestern sports, Warrior football coach Dale Anderson was the one constant at the upstart school.
But after 17 years everything started to unravel with the Warrior football program.
From the year of 2011, the Warrior football program was filled with highs and lows...but mostly lows.
Anderson resigned mid-season in 2011, but the Warriors went on to win the program’s first regional crown with a band of experienced assistant coaches and a newcomer interim coach.
But the Gatorade bath that interim coach Andy Stephens enjoyed on that cold November night after Southwestern had defeated Harlan County for the program’s first regional title was his last taste of success. The Southwestern football program spiraled downhill ending with a painful 1-9 season this past fall.
The Warrior football faithful needed some kind of good news, or just any kind of news that might help them get back to their ‘Days of Glory’.
That ‘good news’ came in the form of the hiring of Larry French.
And now Gregory’s puzzle was complete.
“I think we have been fortunate to be able to hire these three coaches. In coaching I have always said, ‘I would rather be lucky that good sometimes.’ That had a lot to do with it with our circumstances,” Gregory said. “As a coach or an AD, you look at other athletically successful schools and you try to model your program after them, and hope to be like them one day to offer that to your kids.”
“As an AD, you look around at other successful programs, and you say to yourself, ‘I want my kids to have this’,” Gregory concluded. “I am very fortunate, I am very appreciative and I am very thankful for the people I work for, who are around me to help me with my ultimate goal – to help my kids.”