From the Bench: After Cole Makes Decision to Apply, a Look at Challenges, Coaches and More for 2018

By Jeff Toquinto on March 04, 2018 from Sports Blog via

It was the last day of July. The heat was blistering off the turf of Wayne Jamison Field as John Cole had just completed his first practice of the 2017 football season with the official tag of interim head coach.
As I do each year, I hung around to talk about day one. Cole was gracious enough as his team departed the field to sit with me on the bench and he told me the numbers, what he liked, what he didn’t like and what he hoped for the season.
Toward the end of the interview, I asked him a question he probably knew was coming. The question rested on whether he would seek the job full-time when it was posted sometime after the 2017 season was over.
Johnny Cole said he didn’t know. He said he needed to weigh the options and see how things played out.
For anyone that has ever known Cole, he wasn’t dodging the question. He didn’t know. In fact, he still wasn’t sure about it when the job was posted early in 2018.
The hesitation had nothing to do with faith in his ability. And it shouldn’t. Anyone that’s followed Cole on the sidelines as an assistant for 20 years and watched him last year put together an impressive 11-2 season under difficult circumstances knows he has the respect of his staff and the players.
Cole needed to be sure it was more than the right move for him. He needed to be sure that it was the right move for the kids and, ultimately, the program he loved.
Eventually, he threw his hat into the ring. It was his hat that was chosen by the BHS administration to serve as head coach for the foreseeable future.
“This was really a tough decision, but one I’m glad I made,” said Cole. “I’ve said it before when I took over last year that when you’re the coach, you better be all in. I’m all in.”
For those thinking Cole is coming back because the program is loaded and will be an automatic for a deep run into the Class AA playoffs, that’s not necessarily the case. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of talent still hanging around. What there isn’t hanging around is a lot of experience.
“During my (interim) year, knew we had some components with skill and some linemen and we knew we had talent to fill in at linebacker where we didn’t have a whole lot of experience,” said Cole. “This year is going to be a totally different story.”
Cole said out of the 22 starting positions, there are about four full-time starters back – five if you count one that started both ways. The most alarming thing, he said, is the Indians have zero full-time starters coming back along the offensive line.
“We had experience, especially on the offensive side of the all and that was actually a good defense for us because we had the ball enough and scored enough that it allowed our defense to grow,” said Cole. “This year, guys need to be ready to play because there’s going to be a whole lot of opportunity.”
In actuality, there’s four full-time starters back. Jake Bowen returns after an all-state year at tailback and will also return at linebacker. Brian Henderson will return at fullback after replacing an injured Brice Haines in week four.
Bridgeport also has D’Andre Holloway back who started in the backfield and saw a ton of action on defense. With Bowen and Holloway, BHS will have two of its top three rushers. And they’ll also have the services of Devin Vandergrift who started at quarterback in games where senior John Merica was injured.
The good news is that last year’s question mark will likely be this year’s strength. With Bowen back at linebacker, he’ll be joined by fellow starters Trey Pancake and Cody Spring.
“It’s funny how that was such a concern last year and should be the heart of the defense this year,” said Cole.
Cole’s biggest concern is at offensive line because he knows everything that the Bridgeport power pistol offense is predicated on is done by the guys in the trenches. And he knows it because for years Cole handled the offensive line and kept deeply involved last year with the same group that blossomed into a power for the club.
“Maybe Spring will see some time there and Owen Henline; maybe they’ll see time on the defensive line too. There are some spot starters returning including Ethan Bradley who got a few starts early on the defensive line,” said Cole. “Here’s what I know going in whether I was the head coach or an assistant again and that this season is going to be a challenge.”
The challenge is what Cole and his staff are the best at – instruction.
“There’s going to be a lot of teaching by the entire staff and I think this year we’re going to do something we haven’t really done before and that’s take advantage of the flex days the state allows coaches to work with kids,” said Cole. “I would imagine we’ll likely take advantage of those days well before June.”
One other thing will take place, he said, well before June and is already taking place. And that’s a focus and perhaps a chance on the weight room.
“We’re thinking about tailoring our offseason to more strength than conditioning. We’ve got to develop strength and put on muscle,” said Cole. “We do have some speed and skill, but we need kids to be strong on the lines for us to do what we need to do. I think you may see guys like Bowen having to earn more yards on their own this year than last. I hope the kids work hard and prove me wrong.”
There’s also another big thing Cole will have to deal with in his first year as the official head coach. He has to find a replacement for long-time assistant coach Jason Nicewarner who announced he won’t be back after starting with the Tribe back in 2007.
Make no mistake – Jason Nicewarner’s departure is a big one. Last year, he served as the offensive coordinator after several seasons of serving as the defensive coordinator. That experience, and versatility, will be hard to replace.
“It’s very important to get the right assistant coach in here. We rely heavily on our coaching staff to teach like we always do and I want anyone thinking about it to know they’re going to have a lot of autonomy,” said Cole. “The problem is that with the way things are there’s not a whole lot of young teachers, or teachers of any age, wanting to coach. As the coach, I hope to see a lot of candidates and have input on who comes aboard. This is as important as anything to keeping the program on a winning track.”
He’s officially the head coach. And he sounds like a head coach. Here’s hoping for many years of success for Coach Cole and his Indians.
Editor's Note: Photos showing Coach John Cole by

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