DOUBLE SPRINGS — Mark Mitchell has served as a coordinator at two of the most successful high school football programs in the state — now he’s bringing that knowledge to Winston …
DOUBLE SPRINGS — Mark Mitchell has served as a coordinator at two of the most successful high school football programs in the state — now he’s bringing that knowledge to Winston County.
Mitchell, the Yellow Jackets’ new head football coach, hopes to breathe some life into a program that has won just three games over the two seasons.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Mitchell, 45, who spent the last five years as the offensive coordinator at 3A title contender Piedmont. “I think you can win here. They’ve had a good tradition in the past and they’ve got great kids here.”
Mitchell coached under Steve Smith at both Cedar Bluff and Piedmont, helping the Bulldogs to back-to-back state championships in 2015-16.
Winston County is Mitchell’s first stop as a head coach.
“Being able to put my stamp on it, that was appealing to me. There aren’t a lot of expectations so I can come in and make it the way I want it,” Mitchell said. “I’m toward the end of my career and I was looking for somewhere I could go in and build it the way I’ve been taught to build a program.”
Winston County has struggled on both sides of the ball the last two years, scoring an average of 19.4 points per game while allowing nearly 40 points per game. The Yellow Jackets’ head coaching job became open when former coach Bart Stephenson left to take the head coaching job at New Hope High School in Madison County.
Mitchell interviewed for the Winston County opening with Principal Jeff Cole in 2016, but the timing wasn’t right.
“Mr. Cole tried to hire me two years ago, but it didn’t work out,” Mitchell said. “When something ended up happening with coach Stephenson, Mr. Cole text me and here we are.”
During his stint at Piedmont, the Bulldogs lost just nine games, advancing to the championship game twice and the state semifinals last season.
“I’ve been with coach Smith for a long time, and he’s one of the best coaches in the state. I have a blue print of what to do and I want to come here and build it. If it takes a year, two years or three years — that’s part of the fun and part of the challenge.”
Winston County has advanced to the state playoffs six of the last 10 years, but hasn’t won a playoff game since 2009, when the Yellow Jackets advanced to the third round. The last two years have seen Winston County go through its worst two-year stretch since the last 1960s.
“You’ve got to change the attitude and everything goes from there,” Mitchell said. “It’s a constant thing for us — talking about attitude and work ethic — not so much Xs and Os. It’s the mental aspect. You try to get to where we don’t get out there and don’t think we can win. We want to go out there with the expectation of winning and doing it the right way with the right attitude.
“The biggest challenge for us is when things are down we still have to work harder and make something good out of it. When things go bad, we still have to be positive. It’s a mind set.”
Winston County will compete in Class 2A, Region 5 this year. The Jackets open the season at home against Hackleburg on Aug. 24. Winston County also has Meek, Addison and Lynn on the schedule this season for the first time since 1999.