Owen football coach Kenny Ford has been mulling his own retirement in recent years.
Ford said Wednesday that he plans to return for at least one more season.
But otherwise, the landscape of the Western Highlands Conference will be dramatically different.
Tuesday assured that.
Mitchell announced in the afternoon that seventh-year coach Russell Barnett had resigned. Later that night, Polk County’s Bruce Ollis was approved as the next coach at T.L. Hanna (S.C.) during a board meeting in South Carolina.
Ford said he keeps paper files on each team in the conference and was in the process of updating them after the turbulence.
“Mitchell always played you hard, and you saw what (Barnett) could do when he had the players and talent,” Ford said.
“I feel like they are really on the upswing. I like Russell a lot, so I hated to hear that. (Ollis) always had his team ready to go and well-prepared. With us and them, it always seemed like they had an open date before us. And you just can’t give a coach like him extra time.”
Ollis and the Wolverines (9-4) beat Owen (9-3) by a 41-24 score to decide the WHC championship on Nov. 24 in the Swannanoa Valley.
It was the fifth conference title since 2006 for Polk County.
Ollis is the winningest coach in the school’s history with a career record of 110-42 in 12 seasons.
He was named the 2013 Citizen-Times All-WNC Coach of the Year after leading the Wolverines (9-4) to a WHC championship despite an 0-3 start and being picked to come in fifth in the 1-A/2-A league’s preseason coaches poll.
“It has certainly been a very difficult decision,” Ollis said.
“I’ve had three sons walk across the stage and get diplomas at the football field (on graduation day at Polk),” Ollis said.
“We opened a new fieldhouse 11 years ago, so you feel good about leaving that stamp on the program. I wasn’t looking to leave. This type of job just presented itself, and as the process played itself out, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Ollis came to Polk County in 2002 from Crescent (S.C.).
“I’ve coached in the state before and there is no doubt, South Carolina football as a whole is a different animal,” Ollis said.
“No disrespect to anyone here because there is some good football, but the facilities and (coaching) supplements down there are generally better.”
Ollis said the decision was made before his resignation to discontinue the nine-year-old Border Showcase preseason jamboree that Polk County hosts. The scrimmage event drew crowds too large for the Wolverines stadium, and was rotated between Cleveland County and South Carolina sites most years. However, it was held at Roberson in 2012.
Barnett’s record at Mitchell was 35-52.
The Mountaineers established a school record for single-season victories (12) in 2011, one year after their run to the 1-AA Western Regional championship game.
Mitchell is coming off back-to-back one-win seasons.
Barnett cited personal reasons for his resignation.
“I decided to put my family first,” Barnett said.
“My decision was not easy as I have dedicated 21 years to coaching at the high school. I would like to thank the parents, fans, coaches and players who have supported me. I would also like to thank Mitchell High School and Mitchell County Schools for giving me the opportunity to coach and I wish the best for the team and the new coach.”
Mitchell and Polk County will be the third and fourth Western North Carolina football programs to change coaches since the season ended in December. Cherokee (Kent Briggs) and East Henderson (Mac McMillan) announced their new coaches earlier this month.
Five WNC programs had new coaches for the 2013 season — Brevard, Cherokee, East Henderson, Enka and Pisgah.