For the first time in more than a decade, George Rogers Clark High School is looking for a new football coach.
Longtime coach Paul Columbia stepped down Friday after 13 seasons at the helm. During his tenure as coach, Columbia went 71-75 and resurrected a program that compiled back-to-back winless seasons from 1997-98. The Cardinals went 3-8 this past year and lost to Ryle 35-21 in the opening round of the playoffs last month.
“I decided today (to step down),” Columbia said Friday. “After more than 30 years of coaching, it will give me time to spend with my grandson, who is six now. They can get somebody hungry in here and take over.”
Columbia spent more than 30 years as a player and later as a coach at GRC and will remain on staff as an assistant principal at the school. Columbia, who has been “pondering” the move for the past two seasons, guided the Cardinals to at least eight wins three times during the past six years. Clark went 8-5 and won the district championship in 2006. Clark lost to Henry Clay during the regional finals that season. The Cards also went 8-4 in 2009.
"It's been very enjoyable," Columbia said this afternoon. "I've coached a lot of good players who have gone on to become great young men. It’s been very enjoyable.”
One of those players Columbia took under his wing was Miami Dolphins defensive back Yeremiah Bell, who was the school’s first draft pick in the National Football League in 2003. Bell also played at Eastern Kentucky University before moving on to the professional ranks.
“It’s good to see him go on to the NFL,” Columbia said.
Shortly after taking over as coach in 1999, Columbia snapped the school’s 23-game losing streak that spanned three seasons.
“We got the numbers up,” Columbia said. “We had 70 varsity players this year and 25 freshmen. It’s good to see that many coming out (for football).”
Columbia also served as wide receivers and defensive backs coach during the school’s state title run in 1991, capping a perfect season for Clark, in the most memorable moment in school history.
“That was a special season,” he said.
He also played one season for retired coach Don Danko and longtime assistant coach Marty Joyce at Clark and later served on Danko’s staff at the school.
“It was nice to come back and work with them for quiet a few seasons,” Columbia said.
Clark County athletics director Ryan Nolan said no timetable has been set to find Columbia’s replacement and a search is under way.
“The most important step in this process is finding the right fit,” he said.
Columbia said Clark assistant football coach James Stults will lead the weight-lifting program this winter. Columbia said average attendance for those sessions have been 45 players.
As for his future plans, Columbia said he wouldn’t rule out a possible return to coaching in the future.
“We’ll just have to see what happens down the road,” he said. “It (coaching) is still a possibility and I wouldn’t rule it out.”