They say all roads lead back to home, and for Jep Irwin and his family, it rings true.
South Laurel High School needed a “home run hire”, and they got it by bringing Irwin back as the Cardinal football program’s head coach on Wednesday.
Irwin was a huge part of South Laurel’s success from 1999 to 2005 as an assistant along with being the head coach during the last four years of the time span.
In 1999, South Laurel was regarded as one of the best teams in Class 4A before losing a heartbreaker in the regional finals to Tates Creek, while in 2005, Irwin guided the Cardinals to their last playoff win.
During the 15-year playoff win drought, South Laurel has fielded some good teams but just couldn’t get over the hump during postseason play, posting an 0-8 mark.
The Cardinals’ struggles also carried over against district opponents and crosstown rival North Laurel. Since 2006, South Laurel is 10-53 against district opposition and 4-13 against the Jaguars.
Those numbers alone define just how much the football program had struggled since Irwin’s departure.
But now he’s back, and I believe he will turn things around quickly. It might not show in the win column right off the bat but changes will be noticed and in the long run, Irwin will have South Laurel competing for district and maybe regional crowns.
I’m not going to get ahead of myself, though. There is plenty of hard work ahead for Irwin and his coaching staff, and he realizes that.
“It's a tremendous challenge and will require a huge commitment from everyone involved,” he said. “It can't be done by any one coach alone, it takes the entire community pulling together... We are going to work every day off the field to win as soon as possible on it, controlling what we can control on a daily basis — Effort, Pride, A Positive Attitude, and Toughness."
“What has happened in the program before today does not matter to me much. I plan to implement our program standards and expectations immediately, and we can improve in our daily work habits in the weight room and learning our systems right away. “The community will see a change in the way we do things and play immediately,” Irwin added. “Wins and losses will come when we play to the identity and standards we create and embrace in the program. Every prospective player has a decision to make about buy-in and trusting the new staff. Change is difficult but necessary to get where we want to go. Everyone is starting off with a clean slate. We are going to start immediately to establish a championship mindset so that we can learn how to — 1. Work Hard 2. Compete 3. Be great teammates and 4. Sustain Success. If we take of those things daily the wins will take care of themselves.”
Kudos goes out to the South Laurel High School administration. Just with the hire of Irwin alone, South Laurel is already headed in the right direction.