Toward the end of 2015, when Shane Griffith resigned as Scott coach after 16 seasons, he was pretty sure he’d get back into coaching at some point.
He just didn’t think it would happen this quickly.
When Van coach Steve Price stepped down in the off-season, it only seemed natural that Griffith take over. Even though Griffith, the all-time winningest coach at Scott, was already in place, serving as principal at Van, another Boone County school, he could tell he missed the fall routines of football practice and game preparation.
“If last year taught me anything,’’ Griffith said, “it’s that I’m a football coach. I enjoy all the positions I’ve had — vice principal, athletic director, principal. The principal job is its own challenge. But without that coaching, I kind of went into the [school year] feeling a little lost or bored.
“I’m looking forward to doing it. I’m blessed in that the entire staff I had for all those years came up with me, so it will be a blessing having those guys around.’’
Price, who had coached football, baseball and basketball for 13 years at Van, opted to step aside from his football position in order to spend more time with his family. At first, Griffith intended to find a replacement inside his county’s school system.
“Coach Price had been there quite a long time,’’ Griffith said, “and when he stepped down, I found out there weren’t a whole lot of options. I was kind of toying with the idea [of coming back] anyway, and the timing seemed right. The opportunity was there.’’
Griffith, who remains as the school’s principal, takes over a Bulldogs program with some intriguing options, led by all-state senior running back Brady Grant, who last year ran for 1,965 yards and 26 touchdowns and has rushed for 5,144 yards and 65 TDs in his previous three seasons.
Other key players returning for Van this year include quarterback Caleb Green and fullback-tight end Gavin Smith (6-foot-2, 220 pounds). The Bulldogs lost just six seniors from last year’s squad, which made the Class A playoffs for a second straight season, losing to regular-season unbeaten Fayetteville 28-0 in the first round of the postseason.
Back in 2007, Griffith coached tailback-quarterback Jordan Roberts, who captured the Kennedy Award as the state’s top player and led the Skyhawks to a 9-4 record and a berth in the Class AA playoff semifinals, the program’s farthest advance in the postseason.
Griffith and Scott had become mainstays in the Class AA playoffs by the end of his coaching tenure, advancing nine times in 16 seasons, including six in a row. The Skyhawks won 98 games under Griffith.
He’d like to keep that going at Van and even though the Bulldogs face just a nine-game regular season schedule, Griffith thinks that might come in handy come playoff time.
Van is idle the final two weeks of the regular season, finishing with an Oct. 20 home game against Paden City. Only two teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule also made the Class A playoff field last year, Tug Valley and Sherman.
“I’ve looked at that,’’ Griffith said, “and I don’t think that will hurt us trying to qualify for the playoffs. We picked up two double-A teams [Lincoln County and Scott] and having extra bonus-point opportunities there might make up for not having a 10th game.
“Plus, playing only nine games with only 20-some kids on the team may actually keep us a little healthier. I remember walking into the locker room in the 11th week last year and one of our starting linemen had a broken collarbone, another kid had a broken finger and another had hurt his ankle. So I thought if we can get it done in nine games and get to the playoffs, we might be better for it.’’
Griffith considered picking up another nearby AA school for a 10th game after Midland Trail and Montcalm dropped Van from their schedules. However, he said there “weren’t a lot of options’’ for playing another Class A program within a 2 1/2-hour drive.
He’s looking forward to Van’s Sept. 1 date at Scott, which he said marks the first time those schools have met in football in 37 years.
How often does one program’s all-time winningest coach come back as the coach of the opposing team? Not to mention one who spent 29 years there as a player (a 1990 Scott graduate) and longtime assistant coach, as well as head coach?
“I’m sure the community will have fun with that one,’’ Griffith said of the matchup, chuckling at the thought. “I think that will be a good night in Boone County — a lot of excitement, I’m sure. We’ll see how it goes.’’