Mike Spencer didn’t intend to become a head coach again.
The Indiana High School Football Hall of Fame coach retired from Perry Central after the 2011 season, where he amassed a 119-26 record in 12 years leading the Commodores, After taking a year off, he returned to the sidelines last season to serve as an assistant coach at Corydon, where his grandson played for the Panthers.
But when head coach Darin Ward left to take the Charlestown job in June, the opportunity presented itself.
“Having been with these kids, it wasn’t a hard decision to make,” said Spencer, who has a 206-99 record in 27 seasons leading Tell City, Connersville and Perry Central. It took a couple of days for the ramifications to sink in, but “by then I was right back into the swing of things.”
He inherits a team that went 6-4 last season, but the Panthers return nine players with significant starting experience on offense. That gives Spencer a good foundation from which to start. The starters back include quarterback Lannis Buck, who completed about half of his passes last year, receivers Josh Allen (10 receptions for 114 yards) and T.J. Mathes (12 for 119) and fullback Ben Woodward (52 carries for 299 yards).
Spencer’s teams at Perry Central were known for their ability to run. At Corydon he’ll use the passing game more often. But fall weather can be unpredictable, which can limit the effectiveness of spread-based offenses.
“If you can’t run the ball, you’ll run into a night that’ll give you fits,” Spencer said.
The defense returns just four starters, but three of them will anchor the defensive line. Senior end Nathan Schmitt leads the veteran linemen with 46 tackles, including 11 for loss and three sacks. Linemen Travis Phelps and Steven Sallee each made nearly 40 tackles as well.
Allen is the only starter with experience in the secondary. He’ll see time at strong safety, but Spencer said he could move to linebacker as well.
Andrew Smith comes over from Jennings County and will serve as the defensive coordinator. He’ll oversee a defense that Spencer called multi-dimensional, especially on the line.
“Depending on the offense, we’ll have the ability to adjust,” Spencer said. “If we’re spread, we can move from a 4-4 to a 4-3 or a 3-5.”
Smith is one of several new faces on the coaching staff. Many of the newcomers are former Corydon players Spencer coached against at Perry Central.
Despite the turnover in staff, many still expect Corydon to be competitive in the Mid-Southern Conference.
“I expect them to reload instead of rebuild,” North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. “That’s what I expect from them.”
Spencer turns 68 next month. One thing he appreciates about this opportunity is that he doesn’t have to take a year-by-year approach, as he did in his earlier stints.
“The great thing about this is … I can enjoy the coaching,” he said. “We’ll let it ride and see how it goes.”
CORYDON AT A GLANCE
Coach: Mike Spencer (first year)
Last season: 6-4 (Lost 28-7 to Charlestown in the first round of Sectional 31 playoffs)
Outlook: Mike Spencer comes out of retirement to lead an experienced Panthers team, with nine starters returning on offense. While he has several skill position players returning, Spencer also gets back a veteran offensive line. Four of which started all season and another that split time at tackle. The line, he said, will help establish the running game, which will set up the pass.
Spencer also sees the team’s chemistry as an asset. “I really think one of our strong points is our team unity,” he said. “That’ll play a big role in helping where we want to be.”
Player – Pos. – Ht. – Wt. – Cl.
Josh Allen – WR/DB – 6-1 – 198 – Sr.
Lannis Buck – QB – 5-11 – 170 – Jr.
T.J. Mathes – WR – 6-3 – 170 – Jr.
David Brann – C – 5-8 – 215 – Sr.
Cameron Ayers – OT – 6-1 – 270 – Jr.
Nathan Schmitt – DE/LB – 6-1 – 226 – Sr.
Travis Phelps – DL – 6-0 – 255 – Sr.
Jordan Watson – RB/DB – 5-9 – 165 – Jr.
Date – Opponent – Time
Aug. 22 – at Southridge – 7:30
Aug. 29 – *at North Harrison – 7:00
Sept. 5 – *at Silver Creek – 7:00
Sept. 12 – *CLARKSVILLE – 7:00
Sept. 19 – *EASTERN PEKIN – 7:00
Sept. 26 – at Paoli – 7:00
Oct. 3 – *CHARLESTOWN – 7:00
Oct. 10 – *at Salem – 7:00
Oct. 17 – *BROWNSTOWN – 7:00
*-Mid-Southern Conference game