(This was written in 2010 before Ivan McGlone’s entry into the Dawahares/Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. It chronicles the career of a terrific high school football coach).
When Ivan McGlone took the head coaching football job at Russell High School in 1976, he told his wife they weren’t going to move from their home in West Virginia just yet.
“I had just bought a house in December ’75,” he said. “I said ‘Gloria, we could move down there but you never know…’’’
You sure don’t.
Thirty-four years and two state championships later, the McGlones live in that same house in West Virginia.
But there’s no firmer a foundation than the one he’s built at Russell High School.
On Saturday, the 72-year-old McGlone will enter the Dawahares/Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
Four words come to mind: It is about time.
The architect of Russell’s football success has coached generations of fathers and sons in making the Red Devils a household name in Kentucky.
Who knew when he hired on as a 38-year-old head coach in 1976 that such success would follow?
“I’ve been there almost half my life,” he said. “When I first started, if you stay in coaching 10 years, you’re kind of lucky. I lot of people have got in and got out. You never think in terms of 25, 30, almost 40 years.”
Few coaches do last that long and for a number of reasons, including a fickle fan base, mental and physical fatigue and overall health. Sometimes family comes into play, like it did for Herb Conley at Ashland. He successfully coached the Tomcats from 1968 to 1976 before giving it up to help rear his three sons.
The sacrifices that high school football coaches make are many. They spend hours watching film – either in their office at school or at home – long after the players have gone home from practice, usually long after most of us have gone to bed. It can become overwhelming and many coaches step away from the game for just that reason.
But there are some, like Ivan McGlone, who will only stop coaching when they stop breathing. It’s what makes them go, what makes them who they are in life.
There are a handful of coaches who have coached as long as McGlone but most of them haven’t stayed in the same place. Bell County’s Dudley Hilton was at Breathitt County when McGlone came to Russell. Belfry’s Phil Haywood was at Prestonsburg and Bob Schneider, the longtime Newport Catholic coach, was on the sidelines what seems like ions before finally retiring.
Of course, right across the river, Bob Lutz has been a staple at Ironton High School since 1972.
“He got out for a couple of years and rested,” McGlone said. “He got rejuvenated.”
Lutz actually has missed only one year since he began coaching in 1969. He is Ohio’s winningest high school coach with 361 victories in 40 years of coaching.
McGlone has won 317 games, including 289 at Russell from 1976 to 2009. Henry R. Evans Stadium is The House that Ivan Built.
How it started
McGlone had just finished his fifth season at Vinson High School when he learned of the opening at Russell in the summer of 1976. He had been an assistant at Vinson four years prior and served one year as a graduate assistant at Ceredo-Kenova.
“But I started getting paid for coaching in ’67,” he said. “I was student teaching in ’66 (at C-K).”
McGlone was at his 20th high school reunion when he found out that Charlie Sammons wasn’t returning as Russell’s head coach. “Charlie Sammons had married a girl from C-K. Donna and Charlie were there at the reunion. We walked down to the lobby and Wayne High School was having a 10-year reunion. Some kid was there from Russell with a girl from Wayne. He said to Charlie ‘I understand you’re giving up that job at Russell.’ I said ‘Charlie, are you quitting?’ He said ‘You ought to see about it.’ I may not have even realized it was open. He said ‘You should go down and apply.’’’
McGlone wasn’t sure, especially considering Vinson was coming off a good season and a lot returned. “I said ‘I’ll think about it.’’’
His Kentucky football knowledge was mostly limited to Ashland, Boyd County and Catlettsburg. The Tom Scott era was just finishing up at Boyd County and the Tomcats had been a powerhouse under Conley. Catlettsburg had consolidated with Boyd County in 1973 but McGlone was familiar with many of the past Wildcat coaches, some with C-K ties.
McGlone marveled at how Boyd County’s super Rob Chaney-Terry Keelin teams handled the West Virginia schools during the early 1970s. “The one thing I always remember is they beat Huntington High a couple of times during that period,” he said.
McGlone knew Boyd County and Ashland would be some of the best competition the Red Devils faced. He was right. Even today the Russell-Ashland rivalry rates as the best in northeastern Kentucky.
Closer than brothers
McGlone inquired about the Russell job later that summer. Logan Perry was the superintendent and former coach Lafe Walter the athletic director.
“Lafe, I found out later, had relatives who lived in Westmoreland (in West Virginia),” McGlone said. “He got to investigate me.”
What Walter found out was that McGlone was the man for the Red Devils. He was hired on July 26, 1976. Grady Walter would later become McGlone’s first assistant coach – and a lifelong friend. He was also one of the best history teachers ever hired into Russell’s school system.
McGlone, Walter and Jim Epling, who coached the freshmen, made up the early Red Devil coaching staff that first season.
When Grady retired seven years ago, his longtime buddy did everything he could to talk him out of it. “I hated it,” McGlone said. “But he felt like it was time to do it and he did.
“I got along with him probably better than anybody I’ve ever got along with. We were there a long time together.”
Even beyond football – what little time there was beyond football – the families become close, too. Their wives, Sue and Gloria, grew close. The families would go on vacations together and Grady and Ivan became closer than brothers. It’s a relationship that both men still relish today.
McGlone’s first Russell team went only 4-7 in 1976 but the foundation was being laid for a great finish to that decade. He brought the Wing-T offense with him from Wayne County. It wasn’t exactly fast-break football but it would become the staple of Red Devil football for four decades. Fans have grumbled for about as long about an offense that’s considered conservative.
“I haven’t convinced everybody it’s any good yet,” he said. “To be perfectly honest, I know they don’t like it. (But) It’s what I know.”
Then, in the kind of wit that has followed McGlone as long as the Wing-T, he said: “I’ve been working on the spread offense for 10 years but nobody knows it.”
McGlone said when he came to Russell most everybody was running tight formations, either an I-formation, a T-formation or the veer, which was considered the wide-open offense of the day. Ashland ran the wishbone under Conley starting with the last game in the 1970 season, with the option becoming a dangerous weapon on the football field.
“It wasn’t so difficult to convince them, at that particular time, that it would work,” McGlone said of introducing the Wing-T. “People don’t believe this but, in the first two years, into the second year, probably the second or third game, was when we actually first ran a play outside by just pitching it.”
Times have changed and even McGlone’s Wing-T will have motion, a split end and a planned sweep.
“Sweeps are what we rely on anymore,” he said. “But if we need something, it’s going to be with the Wing-T. For the most part, it’s hard to go from getting 280 yards a game to start changing things.”
But when necessary, change has been made.
Like in the 2005 state championship, when Kasey Clark lined up in an I-formation and sprang for 190 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries in a 27-14 victory over Owensboro Catholic.
“I’ve always said this: Kasey was more of an I-(formation) back,” he said. “It was kind of strange in that game. We’d go into the I-formation for Kasey and the Wing-T for the bootleg run.”
Russell’s ’98 team relied on the passing of Tyler Wyatt and receiving and big-play capability of Eric Day. “Eric could score from anywhere,” McGlone said.
But mostly, throughout the years, it’s been the Wing-T offense and a hard-hitting, ball-hawking defense that were Russell’s calling cards.
Using his assistants
The key to the Wing-T offense is the play of the offensive guards and McGlone has coached them up for 34 years. He’s had some good ones, too, including some of the better athletes on the team. In a lot of places, some of those players would have been in the backfield. That’s how importants athletic guards are to the Wing-T.
“I’ll take a good athlete anytime I can get one,” he said.
He’s also been blessed to have capable assistant coaches who have stood with him for years. Men like Tracy Edwards, who played for him, and Russell alum Mike Jones, who retired after last season. Walter was with him from the start. Edwards is now the longest tenured assistant. Jeff Smith, another former player, has stuck around. Buford Hurley is another longtime assistant. Other coaches, like highly regarded defensive coordinator Garry Morris, have followed McGlone’s blueprints for success.
Former players Nathan McPeek, Garry McPeek and T.J. Maynard used variations of the Wing-T during their head coaching stopovers.
“They run their version of it,” McGlone said. “T.J. used a wide open or spread version. There are a lot of variations.”
Assistant coaches have always been important and used well in McGlone’s coaching system. They are involved in the substitution routines, in playcalling and in game preparation. “Coaches have to have an important part of it,” he said.
But when the big decisions come down, they look to the Big Guy for the call. Always.
A difficult season
One of McGlone’s most trying seasons came in 1990 when the Red Devils went only 2-9 and missed the playoffs.
But it wasn’t just what happened on the field that made it so miserable.
Jim Tardy, who played for McGlone at Vinson and was hired as an assistant coach in 1977, was killed in a tragic accident the day after the Red Devils defeated Boyd County for their first win.
“You don’t expect that to happen,” he said. “You see that happening all of the time but it’s never to you. It came out of the clear blue.”
Truth be told, Tardy was like a son to McGlone. He was a pulling guard for him at Vinson and a bright young coaching star. Players related to him, fellow assistants respected him, everybody liked him.
McGlone asked Perry about hiring Tardy as an assistant and got the OK from the superintendent with one catch. “Mr. Perry said ‘We’ll hire him but he has to know if he quits football, he doesn’t have a job.’ It was only a part-time job. He (Perry) came to practice one day and said he needed to talk to Jim about a fulltime job. You could do those things back then.”
McGlone said one of his lasting images of Tardy was seeing him walking down the hill at Boyd County after the win in that ’90 season. “I still have a vivid memory of that. We won that game and won the next one. But it was difficult to push through the rest of the season to be perfectly honest.”
The great teams
McGlone won the Class AAA state championship in 1978 during his third season at Russell. The Red Devils defeated Woodford County 17-7 in Richmond.
Little did he know that it would be 27 more years before he’d get the chance to repeat that feat. “A lot of times you don’t get that second chance,” he said. “But it doesn’t get old. If we ever win another one, it won’t be old.”
Some of Russell’s best teams were the early ones, like the years that sandwiched that first title. The 1977 team had its season end against Fort Thomas Highlands in the semifinals. The ’79 team lost the season opener to Belfry, a district foe, and then finished as strong as any team in the McGlone era but missed out on the playoffs. Back then, only the district champion advanced.
Russell’s ’94 team, led by Jeff Frasure, was undefeated at 12-0 before losing to Whitesburg. The ’04 team, powered by exciting Josh Gross, fell to Belfry in the state semifinals after a fabulous season. The list goes on and on.
Ten teams have made it to the semifinals and the ’06 team returned to the state finals only to lose a heartbreaker to Mercer County, 15-12, in Louisville to deny the Red Devils from winning back-to-back crowns.
McGlone has coached fathers and their sons. He says that when he starts coaching grandsons, it might be time to get out of it.
If anything would make him hang up the whistle for good, it would be to care for his wife Gloria.
Over the past several years, she has been dealing with breast cancer. Gloria still has her ups and downs although if there’s anyone tougher than Ivan, it’s his wife. She is always there for him in the stands after games, cheering on the Red Devils and her husband. He glances up at her after the wins and after the losses. When their eyes meet, it’s still like fireworks going off.
Meanwhile, another love story continues to play out in Russell, one that has lasted 34 years. It’s the one between a community, a school and its soon-to-be Hall of Fame football coach.