MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

May 13, 2014

Things change, things remain the same at Hilldale

Hilldale named its new head football coach Monday. Replacing Chad Kirkhart will be...Chad Kirkhart.

Seventeen days after an emotionally charged farewell to kids in his program, Kirkhart called them together again to let them know he would be in charge as spring ball starts next Monday. Kirkhart, who originally stepped down to take on assistant principal duties at the high school, will now do both jobs, giving up track in the spring.

This comes after a committee headed by athletic director Erik Puckett and including Kirkhart himself interviewed four finalists.

“If you’d told me once we opened the job up that Chad would be our coach I’d have said no, but going through the candidates and interviewing and trying to find out what I and what our committee thought was the best decision, that person turned out to be Chad,” Puckett said.

Retaining Kirkhart, Puckett said, involved putting a plan in place that would allow Kirkhart to handle both duties. That plan will tilt toward administrative changes at the school more than within the football program.

“It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be hard on our high school administration, it really is. But we feel that challenge is worth the fact that we’ve got the right person in that position and that person is Chad,” Puckett said.

When he stepped down, Kirkhart told the Phoenix that one of the reasons he chose not to pursue doing both was spending more time with family. Asked Monday if the end scenario turned out like he wanted it do, he hesitated.

“I don’t know. I think it’s hard to sit here and say,” he said. “I don’t think you ever know that until you’re not coaching but I’m ready to move forward into spring ball and get it going.”

When asked if there was any pressure from any source outside the committee in coming to this decision, Puckett said no.

“There was no caveat, no directive from any power above to do what we did,” he said.

Nor, he said, did it have to do with timing issues or not finding the right candidate from the group that was interviewed.

“Timing is always a concern but I don’t see it being the major issue,” he said. “That’s why you go through the process. We did and in honesty, at the end of the day, we sat down and figured out a way to make this work.”

One candidate who told the Phoenix he applied and was interviewed was Wagoner assistant coach Travis Bryant. Bryant, who was on Kirkhart’s staff at Hilldale before going to Wagoner last fall, declined to comment.

Kirkhart will begin his sixth season in spring drills Monday minus 17 seniors from a second consecutive Class 3A quarterfinal team.

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