Mike Manley, who in his only season as head coach at Ashland in 1980 began a turnaround to a great era of Tomcat football, died Wednesday from heart complications in Naples, Florida.
Manley, 69, had been teaching math at a private school. He suffered a heart attack in a Publix grocery store, was rushed to the hospital but later passed away, according to friends.
He was coaching at Bullitt Central when he applied for the Tomcat coaching position in the winter of 1979. Ashland had suffered three consecutive losing seasons after the first half of the decade had produced some of the Tomcats’ greatest teams under Herb Conley, who took an administrative position after the 1976 season. The natives were restless to say the least.
Manley was a quarterback for Mt. Sterling High School in 1967 where he teamed with receiver Don McReynolds on a team that was the Class A runners-up. He also shared a birthday with McReynolds, who he talked into coming to Ashland with him to coach.
Mt. Sterling defeated McKell and Don Gullett in the 1967 playoffs, with Manley returning a punt for the winning touchdown during a 21-13 victory, and then the Trojans lost to Bardstown 20-13 in the Class A championship – the game before the Tomcats defeated Elizabethtown in the Class AA championship game in Louisville.
Manley left after one season at Ashland to become the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Morehead State. He was only 29 at the time.
McReynolds, who had been at Fleming County before coming to Ashland, went on to coach through the 1989 season with the Tomcats as an offensive coordinator. Manley’s staff kept only one coach from Mike Holtzapfel’s staff and that was Vic Marsh, who he made the defensive coordinator.
When Manley left for Morehead in the late spring of 1981, Marsh was handed the reins of the program. It turned out to be a great move with Marsh winning more games than any coach in Ashland history. He led the Tomcats to the 1990 state championship which was the last title until the 2020 team broke through in December.
Manley also hired Randy Heaberlin, a line coach who also had a long and successful career with the Tomcats as an assistant coach.
Coming off a 1-9 season in 1979 and consecutive 3-7 seasons in 1977 and 1978, the Tomcats needed something positive to happen and Manley became the answer, introducing a wide-open attack led by junior quarterback Scott Crank (1,127 yards passing, 516 rushing) and halfback Dave Hall (1,353 yards, 11 TDs). The 1980 Tomcats also included future major league pitcher Drew Hall, who had 24 catches for 302 yards, lineman Tony Consiglio, future Tomcat quarterback Greg Conley and hard-running Paul McPeek (563 yards, 8 TDs).
“The players loved him,” McReynolds said. “It’s a lot like it is now with Tony (Love). They liked his style.”
The change in culture led to a 9-4 season that ended with a 21-6 loss to Henry Clay in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A playoffs.
McReynolds said Manley called him in December and invited him to come to Ashland to watch the Ashland Invitational Tournament when high-scoring Ervin Stepp and Phelps were playing the Tomcats.
“I told him, ‘We won’t be able to get tickets’ and he said ‘Don’t worry about that,’’’ McReynolds said. “So I told him I’d go with him. He also told me Ashland had a head coaching opening and he might apply for it. I said, ‘They’ll never hire you.’”
Manley left for a meeting in the first quarter of the first game and didn’t return until the fourth quarter was starting, McReynolds said. “He told me he was going to apply and he was going to get the job. He asked me if he did, would I come with him. That’s what brought me to Ashland.”
McReynolds was the offensive coordinator with a seat in the press box but Manley was offensive-minded and liked calling the players.
“I remember the first game against Scott County,” McReynolds said of the 35-0 victory. “I was upstairs and didn’t get to call one play. He was calling everything. I came down after the game madder than a hornet. I told him if he was going to call all the plays, what am I supposed to be doing? I couldn’t get one play called before he’d already sent the play in. We came to an understanding. It got better as the season went along.”
Manley couldn’t resist the lure of coaching in college and when Morehead State called in the spring, he jumped at the opportunity. That opened the Tomcat door for Marsh, who had learned a lot himself coaching on the staff with Manley.
The Tomcats were back on track and winning became the norm under Marsh, who built on the coaching staff with Mark Renfroe.
Manley stayed at Morehead only one season before taking the head coaching position at Anderson College, where he played and graduated from in 1972. He coached at Anderson from 1982 to 1997 where he compiled a 68-86 record. He was named ISAC Coach of the Year in 1993 after leading Anderson to a 10-0 regular season and into the Division III playoffs.
He took a sabbatical from coaching in 1998 and resigned the following spring.
Manley came back to coach girls basketball at Montgomery County later in his career. He wasn’t coaching at the private school where he was teaching in Naples.