FORTVILLE — Things are never spur of the moment for Doug Armstrong. Methodical is his preferred pace, and the exact reason he waited, weighing all aspects before making his final decision.
This month, however, after 30 years of coaching, Armstrong, 54, resigned from his position as head football coach at Mt. Vernon High School, where he’s been the past six seasons.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years, and I felt it was a good senior group to go out with,” said Armstrong, who led the Class 4A Marauders to the sectional finals in his final season. “And then, you leave another good senior group for the new coach to work with. I felt that was important. There’s a quality football team still coming back with all the returning skill players we have coming back.”
Hinting at “retirement” during the preseason, Armstrong has been a head coach for 15 of the past 16 years, beginning at Indianapolis Manual in 2000 before taking over at New Palestine for Marvin Shepler in 2002.
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Armstrong’s tenure as the Dragons’ head man ended in 2008, which led him to Franklin Central as a defensive coordinator and later head coach at Beech Grove for one season in 2010. He returned to Hancock County at Mt. Vernon in 2011.
“I loved it at Mt. Vernon. We had a lot of success. The best thing about it was in 2014 and 2015. We lost our quarterback both years and we still had winning records,” Armstrong reminisced. “That says a lot about the persistence and the toughness of the kids in our program. Usually when you lose your quarterback, you go 2-8 or 3-7. We managed to find ways to win. We’re proud of what we did.”
At Mt. Vernon, the Marauders never endured a losing season under Armstrong, finishing 5-5 his first year and winning the program’s first sectional title since 2006 in only his second campaign.
The 2012 team went 11-2 and defeated Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Delta 28-13 in the sectional title game before falling to Cathedral in the regional, a school Armstrong knows well.
Prior to becoming a head coach, the 1980 Perry Meridian High School graduate and former strong safety at the University of Indianapolis served as an assistant coach at Roncalli (1988-90) and was defensive coordinator at Cathedral (1991-99) where he worked with head coach Rick Streiff.
While part of the Fighting Irish’s coaching staff, he helped Indiana’s winningest football program capture four state titles — a Class 3A crown in 1992 and three 4A championships in 1996, 1998 and 1999.
“It was a different Cathedral then it is now. When I got there, we had around 35 guys,” Armstrong said. “They had only won one championship in 1986. Now, it’s about 135 kids or so it seems.”
At Roncalli, the Rebels won the 3A state title in 1988 while Armstrong patrolled the sidelines.
Bringing a no-nonsense approach as a head coach at New Palestine, the Dragons posted four winning seasons in his seven years and captured back-to-back sectional championships in 2004 and 2005. The team claimed the HHC in 2005 and 2006.
Armstrong has always prided himself on smash-mouth offense, hard-hitting defense and grit, expecting nothing less from his players, which carried over to Mt. Vernon where he led the Marauders to an HHC title in 2012, brief ownership of the coveted Boundary Rail and compiled a 45-23 record. He sits at 97-79 overall.
This season after a disappointing 1-3 start, the coach challenged his seniors to turn the season around, and they responded by winning seven consecutive games en route to an 8-4 record while also posting the program’s fifth shutout in Armstrong’s era. The Marauders blanked Pendleton Heights 13-0 in the sectional semifinals before Delta beat them in the finals 12-6.
“That run will be one of the things I remember. We had a lot of good memories. The great year in 2012 and some of the good battles in 2013 are good memories. I’ll remember quite a few good things from the past six years,” Armstrong said.
While stepping down as head coach, Armstrong isn’t officially retiring. He will remain a teacher in the physical education and health department at Mt. Vernon High School and doesn’t want to stray too far from the football field.
“I think I’ll probably still coach, but I’m not going to be a head coach,” Armstrong said. “As a head coach, there are so many obligations and things that a lot of people don’t understand. I don’t want to do some of those things anymore.
“When you’re an assistant coach, you’re just coaching football. You don’t have to deal with the other things. That’s what I want to do now.”
Mt. Vernon athletics director Brandon Ecker said he believes keeping Armstrong on staff as an assistant is a possibility, but nothing has been finalized.
“I think if you have the ability to retain a coach that has the experience he’s had and keep him on staff to help with that transition period and provides that support is something you want,” Ecker said. “He has a great defensive mind and is a great asset to have in any program.”
In the meantime, Armstrong is enjoying his down time with his wife, Jean, and his family. The 1985 University of Indianapolis graduate is also looking forward to his other favorite pastime.
“I plan on playing a lot more golf,” said Armstrong, whose son, Thomas, is a golf pro at Winding River Golf Course in Indianapolis. “I shoot probably low 80s and my son shoots high 60s, so I have a lot of ground to make up and it’s probably not going to happen. I’m ready for those senior tees. They might help me.”
Name: Doug Armstrong
High School: Perry Meridian (1980)
College: University of Indianapolis (1985)
Coaching Career: Speedway (assistant), Roncalli 1988-90 (assistant), Cathedral 1991-99 (defensive coordinator), Indianapolis Manual 2000-01 (head coach), New Palestine 2002-08 (head coach), Franklin Central 2009 (defensive coordinator), Beech Grove 2010 (head coach), Mt. Vernon 2011-16 (head coach), IFCA South All-Star Team 2013 (assistant).
Head Coaching Record: 97-79
Record at Mt. Vernon: 45-23
Championships: Sectional Titles (3A – 2004, 2005 at New Palestine; 4A – 2012 at Mt. Vernon; 3A – 1988, 1989 at Roncalli; 3A – 1991, 1992/4A – 1993, 1996, 1998, 1999 at Cathedral). Regional Titles (3A – 1988, 1989 at Roncalli; 3A – 1991, 1992/4A – 1996, 1998, 1999 at Cathedral). Semistate Titles (3A – 1988, 1989 at Roncalli; 3A – 1991, 1992/4A – 1996, 1998, 1999 at Cathedral). State Titles (3A -1992/4A – 1996, 1998, 1999 at Cathedral; 3A – 1988 at Roncalli).
HHC Titles: 2005, 2006 (at New Palestine), 2012 (at Mt. Vernon)
Mt. Vernon Season-by-Season Record