PREP FOOTBALL: Bearcat coaching job up for grabs

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Cullman High School Principal Kim Hall, speaking to The Tribune’s Nick Griffin, said the school hopes to have a new head coach in place by Christmas break. / Wendy Sack

CULLMAN – It’s been a little more than two months since Cullman High School head football coach Mark Britton announced his retirement. The question every Bearcat fan is asking now is: Who is going to fill those storied shoes?

Britton’s 17-year tenure as head coach ended this year, when, on Sept. 22, he announced that the 2017 football season would be his last. Little did he, or anyone, know, that the longtime coach’s retirement would come much sooner.

CHS Principal Kim Hall said in a statement in September, “Within 72 hours of this announcement, Coach Britton had health concerns that required medical attention.  Through a series of tests and the attention of local physicians, Coach Britton received a diagnosis of renal cancer on Wednesday, Sept. 27.  Due to the nature of his condition, Coach Britton will need to follow his doctor’s orders at this time and take care of himself through this process.  He will undergo surgery once his medical team completes the scheduling process.  At this point, the cancer is contained in the kidney and he will require no additional chemotherapy or radiation treatments.”

Stepping up, on Oct. 11, CHS Assistant Principal of Student Affairs and Athletic Director Mark Stephens was named the interim head football coach for the remainder of the season.

Now that the ‘Cats season is officially over, though, the search for a full-time permanent replacement for Britton is in full-swing.

In an exclusive sit-down interview with The Tribune, Hall said she recognizes the challenge of replacing the winningest football coach in her school’s history and wants to make sure the right hire is made for CHS moving forward.

“Coach Britton has never had a losing season here and there are a lot of variables that come into play when you’re looking to fill his shoes because those are really some big shoes to fill,” shared Hall. “That’s why we’re trying to be very cautious in the process, to be very thorough, and you know there isn’t a surefire answer to who the right person will be. You have to have all the right pieces of the puzzle working together and Coach Britton has had a very special career and we’ve been blessed to have him and his leadership. He loves the kids; he’s very passionate about our school and our community, so finding that kind of balance will be very difficult.”

Hall talked about the process that she and others are going through to evaluate the extensive list of candidates for the position. To that end, a search committee was formed, made up of a cross-section of people from the community. Hall said the names of the members would not be released at this time, in order to ensure the validity of the hiring process.

“The coaching world is a pretty tight-knit community so once people knew that Coach Britton would be retiring, they knew the job would be open. From that point I’ve worked with (Cullman City Schools Superintendent) Dr. (Susan) Patterson to get our job description online and we’re looking at exactly what we need to do to fill that position. I’ve been accepting resumes for a little over a month now and we’ve had over 60 applicants from in-state, out of state, small schools, large schools and private schools.”

Hall said she has also been gathering input from CHS parents, faculty and other parts of the community as to what they would like to see in the next football coach.

“In a coach, we’re obviously looking for strong leadership skills and someone that will help us to raise young men to be strong leaders in our community. Yes, we want a great football mind, but we also want someone that is invested in Cullman and that acknowledges and respects the commitment that our teachers and other extracurricular sponsors show,” Hall stated. “One of the first things I did was have a parent meeting and I created a survey of input and asked parents to provide some sample questions or other things they’d like to see be a part of the process. As resumes are coming in right now I’ve worked with our administrators on campus as well as Dr. Patterson and our other head coaches on campus to formulate a rubric to score the resumes. It’s a very calculated, academic process because there’s a lot of qualities that we’re looking for in a head coach, including that coach being, or wanting to become, an invested member of our community.”

The administration is still in the search process, but Hall and the search committee are working hard to try to make the hire by the time the semester ends for Christmas break. Hall said she would like to have the new coach in place before the beginning of the year, to work on developing next year’s schedule, with the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s (AHSAA’s) regional re-alignment coming up soon, as well as to get the students ready for off-season programs.

Coach Britton not only coached football, but also baseball. Under his leadership, the Bearcat baseball team made it to the final four of the state playoffs; the team garnered 199 game wins during his 10-year run as head baseball coach.  Since 1998, two of Britton's former players have served as CHS head baseball coaches: Brian Bowen and Brent Patterson.  In 1998, Britton was hired on as the head football coach at Fairview High School, where he led the Aggies to a 17-15 record during his tenure. In 2001, Britton returned to his alma mater to take over the helm as head football coach of the Bearcats. Britton had 151 wins on the Cullman grid iron, the last coming when his Bearcats beat Fayette Co. 37-34 on Friday, Sept. 29.

“It was a great victory,” Britton said following his team’s stunning upset of Fayette County in the final seconds. “It’s wonderful. The kids fought all the way through it. I’m just proud of the kids.”

The next Bearcat football coach has a lot to live up to after the long, successful Britton era of Cullman football, but Hall is confident that the detailed search and hire process will result in the right hire for the school.

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