Coaching instability and New Palestine Football have been contrary notions. Through last season, the Dragons had employed only three head coaches since the varsity team’s 1968 inception.
But, when Tim Able abruptly resigned June 28 — 49 days before what would have been his fourth season-opener in southern Hancock County — the New Palestine gridiron machine was temporarily in disarray.
On such short notice, the Dragons turned to defensive coordinator Charlie Hill to keep things together. New Palestine named Hill, Able’s coordinator for three seasons and a Dragons assistant coach for seven total years, the interim head coach for this season. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Large was promoted to associate head coach to assist Hill with day-to-day responsibilities.
The Daily Reporter sat down with Hill earlier this week to discuss the sudden changes, and his plans for New Palestine football.
Are you surprised to be the head coach of the New Palestine football team?
“Going into that Thursday (June 28), we didn’t know anything, expect anything, hear anything, anticipate anything, and (Able) made that announcement after that whole morning workout was over. So, yeah, surprised from that standpoint.
“Two weeks ago, I sure wasn’t planning on being the head coach of anything. I just was anticipating working in the same role and doing the same thing and working together to help him have success here at what we were doing.”
How did the process work that ended with you being named interim head coach?
“We didn’t really know what the school thought was right or what they were going to do, with all the challenges on teaching positions, and it’s so late in the year.
“(Athletic director) Al Cooper’s been great with being transparent about what’s going on. We met 15 minutes after we found out what had happened. We all sat down as a staff and with him and started talking through what had happened and started talking about what will happen. And I think that’s been the biggest thing, as a staff, we just started planning.
“We lost the kids because of the (IHSAA) moratorium week, so it was kind of weird. We didn’t have a chance to talk with them or see where their heads were at with the whole thing. It just came at a very difficult time, frankly.
“We gave (the administration) what I thought were some great folks to contact in terms of exercising options from an outside standpoint on who we thought would fit as a coach, who we thought were high caliber people and who we thought did great at the programs they were at. Some of them were head coaches, some were assistant coaches and we just kind of said, ‘Contact them and find out what they say. Don’t assume they’ll say no. Give them a chance to consider it.’ I think it’s difficult in that any decision had ramifications at the school they were leaving from, so it was just a tough situation from that standpoint.
“But we let the administration go on about what they were doing and we just knuckled down to what we needed to do come Monday when the kids came back and to plan out the next 30 days of what we were doing.
“So it really almost moved from the shock and awe of a dramatic change to just, ‘Now what do we have to do?’ We got knee deep into what do we have to do, so that probably helped the transition for us a lot. We were over it quickly from the standpoint of we just had work to do.”
Is there any indication that there will be a negative impact from the last-minute coaching change?
“The kids reacted great. And I got a ton of emails and messages from parents being patient of what got decided. Sure, none of us were in a spot to do what we’re doing. Coach Large, the same way. With the load he had full-time teaching and his extra responsibilities, nobody was really in a spot to just say, ‘Ok, I’ll do it.’ But because we all said, ‘We’ll help, we’ll figure it out, we’ll do what we have to do,’ that made it possible. The kids rallied around it and seemed really supportive of it.
“It’s probably more than a bump in the road. Maybe when we look back three or four months from now we’ll say it was a bump in the road and that will probably be a fun conversation to have. But the bump’s behind us. However big it was, we’ll take damage assessments later I guess (laughs).”
You lost a large graduating class. Do you think it will help the coaching transition that you’ll have many first-time starters on a team that is somewhat starting over?
“Tim won a lot of games with these kids and so these kids have a culture and a tradition and a history to uphold and to be responsible for. And they understand what it took to win and what winning looks like and how to react in that role, so I think that’s good.
“But it is kind of a fresh palate. It’s the challenge of having kids that need to learn and figure out their roles and an increased level of responsibility. Fresh kids that want to have an impact and want to have their shot to shine. Even somebody who didn’t get to do what they wanted to do in the past season, I think they’re looking at it as a chance to say, ‘At least I got a fresh look at what I can do and I’m just going to put my best foot forward out there and try to earn a spot at the places I want to play.’”
Coach Able was intense, but generally calm and collected on the sideline. On a scale of Tony Dungy to Jim Harbaugh, where would you rank your coaching demeanor and style?
“I’m probably a little bit more of wearing my emotions on my sleeve, of what I’m thinking and what’s going on. I think football is a passionate, emotional kind of experience for me as a coach and I’m looking for the kids to experience that same thing. All folks are a little bit different. But I would agree that Tim was a little more toward the Tony Dungy side; Charlie’s probably more toward the other direction somewhere. That’s probably the kind of things you’ll see. Hopefully it will stay within the lines of good common sense (laughs).
“We ask the kids to be high character in the classroom and on the field as well as at home and we need to demonstrate that same thing, so that will be important to us.”
Will there be any drastic changes to the style of football from the past few seasons now that you’re the head coach coach?
“I think for the kids and for us to know that the defense they’ve been working in and the offense we’ve been working in is the system they’ll continue to work in, I think that makes that transition a bit easier.
“And Jeremy’s pretty sharp at what he does. So depending on that mix of kids, those 11 kids (on offense) that are out there, his scheme will change a little bit to better reflect the talents and skills of those kids. They won’t have to fit into the round hole that the kids were in last year. There’s kids that can do some of those same things, so I think we’ll be able to a bit of those same things. And there’s kids that have strengths that are a little bit different than those and I’ll think we’ll look to utilize those.
“I still think we can throw that thing around and I think we’ve got good kids that can catch it. We’ve got a good group of kids up front that will protect our quarterback, but we’ve got some good running backs in there. I think you’ll see that too.
“We had a lot of conversations about how this thing could take shape moving forward and one of them was … I’d really like Jeremy just to continue doing what he’s doing and allow me the chance to do what I’m doing. We worked great together all these years before, so no reason to expect anything different than that.”
You’ve been officially designated as the interim head coach. Would you like to be considered for the permanent position after this season?
“They didn’t say anything about ‘flat out’ you can’t be the permanent coach.
“I think it would be wrong if we said it’s a short-term thing and we’re only looking now, because we’ve got some great freshmen kids and we’ve got some great middle school kids. And the (New Palestine Cadet Football League) is going strong. So, we’ve got a lot invested in whoever those kids are going to be next year and the year after and the year after for whoever’s standing here.
“I think overall if you were drawing it up on paper, you’d want a guy that was here full-time in the building around the kids all the time. That would probably be the ideal scenario. And I’m not a teacher.
“That’s why I value Jeremy’s role so much because he’s a guy that is here full-time during the day with access to the kids that can help be there for them and mitigate some of the things that happen during the normal school day.
“From my standpoint, I’m not worried about it other than putting kids in a good spot to be a better football player tomorrow and next year than they are today. And I’m fine with whatever smoke’s going to settle and whatever dust’s going to clear on what’s going to happen with the head coaching job.
“I’ll support whatever happens.”
Quarterback Connor Simmons graduated after setting several program passing records. Who is your new quarterback?
“Max Disman. And he had a chance to play there some last year, but ended up getting an injury and missed a lot of the season. But he has had a great summer and had a great 7-on-7 camp. Blake Luker is the No. 2 quarterback. A great, solid, athletic kid that will be in good shape and I’m sure will get plenty of playing time.”
How did you get into coaching?
“I went to Beech Grove (High School), then played football at Hanover (College), and during the summers I went back to Beech Grove to kind of help out the coaching staff. So, it was good for me. I got to work with them and help their kids during the summers while I was prepping to go to school and play football at Hanover.
“I also coached a couple middle school teams in the Beech Grove district before my wife and I had our kids. Then, I had the chance to work with our kids a little bit when it was still the Greenfield Boys Club and before the NPCFL started. And then it was just a blessing when that gang of pioneers took on putting together a football program for our youth here in town. I coached every year since it started until just a couple years ago with one of those teams or another.
“My youngest, three years ago would have been his last season there. So from the time it started until three years ago, I had some involvement with one of those teams in some fashion or another. Then about seven years ago (former NP coach) Doug (Armstrong) asked me to start helping at the high school level. So it’s really been these seven years at New Palestine has really been the core of the high school experience.”
You’re a 1983 Hanover graduate. Woody Harrelson, the actor, is a 1983 Hanover graduate. Ever cross paths?
“Actually, my roommate was good friends with him, so he was in our room alot. We all played a lot of intramural sports together and that sort of thing. He was also into the drama side of things, but at that point, obviously, he was just another guy we hung out with.”
So, you’re saying you partied with Woody Harrelson?
“Who hasn’t? (laughs)”
In the last 10 seasons, the New Palestine football program has won three sectional championship while compiling a 79-37 record. Do the goals remain the same, even though there was a coaching change?
“We talked with the kids yesterday and said ‘We’re going to beat Whiteland (in the season-opener) and do everything we can to prepare to do that. And we’ve got to hold on to that conference helmet trophy, and we’ve got to beat Mt. Vernon, and we’ve got to fight to win a conference championship and then go compete for a sectional championship.’ It’s a tradition-rich school and program and those expectations don’t change.
“We’ve got a wall of fame just outside the gym that’s got 18 football players that have earned that opportunity in some fashion or other in 44 years of football here, so we’ve got a lot of success that’s been here in the past. Marv (Shepler, NP’s first coach) did an amazing job in the length and run and accomplishments he had here. Doug won a bunch of games and a bunch of championships. Tim, phenomenal record in his time here. So these kids have lot to hold up and big shoes to fill and big responsibility from a tradition rich program.”
Wife, Jennifer. Sons, JD (2007 NP graduate), Ty (2009), Chas (sophomore)
Business development and sales for commercial construction
Beech Grove H.S. Hanover College 1983 graduate.
Wide receiver/punt returner at Hanover. Until recently, played WR/DB for national champion flag football team. Played outfield in men’s baseball league.
Being outdoors. Fishing. And “anything competitive.”