HORSE CAVE — Caverna High School Principal Brad Phipps said one of the main qualities he and the hiring committee were looking for in a new football coach was fit. Does the candidate fit the program, the school and the community? Phipps believes ‘fit’ is one of the key bricks in building a foundation for a successful program.
On Wednesday, Phipps said he found the fit he was looking for when he announced that Shawn Thacker has been chosen to lead the Colonel football program. Thacker comes to Caverna off a two-year stint as head coach at Pike County Central High School in Pikeville.
“We had 20 applicants from all over the country. We had people from Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and several from Kentucky,” Phipps explained. “One of the things the committee asked of every candidate was to give them a short-term plan and a long-term plan. . . .(We wanted to know) ‘what is your involvement with levels below you, how do you build a program and how do you become a community member and a successful member of the community? Coach Thacker wants to not only involve kids from our school, but kids at all levels.”
Thacker, a former defensive lineman, played football at Sue Bennett College in London before a short playing career overseas. He came back to the United States and began his coaching career with stops at Kentucky Wesleyan and Pikeville. He took over as head coach at Pike County Central prior to the 2014 season.
“After talking to (Caverna Athletic Director) Shelby (Gribbins) and Mr. Phipps about the support of this community (I knew this is where I needed to be),” said Thacker, Caverna’s fourth coach in four years. “If you start with the youth in the community, and they know who you are, they will get excited about playing football. When we start to win, they will get behind the football program and it becomes a rallying point for this community. If you can get the community behind you and you start to change the culture, the kids will believe they can be successful.”
Thacker said the style of offense he runs is based on motion. “I know they’ve got athletes here and we’ve got kids that can run here, and you can’t coach speed,” Thacker said. “If we can get our athletes in space, we’re going to win some football games.
“We will have a lot of misdirection, a lot of motion and it all centers on a lot of reads. It is very much like the offense they run at (the University of) Auburn. When it is all said and done, it should look like organized chaos. We will line up in the shotgun (a lot) and we’re going to go no-huddle. We can go as fast or as slow as we want to.”
Thacker was 9-14 over the last two seasons at Pike Central. The Hawks were 6-6 in 2014 and reached the second round of the playoffs. Pike Central scored a lot of points under Thacker, averaging over 25 points a game, but the Hawks struggled on defense. Thacker knows that will be a focal point for his squads at Caverna.
“You have to be able to play defense and we’re going to bring a lot of pressure on defense,” Thacker explained. “Last season, I would bet I brought pressure on 80-85 percent of the snaps.”
Thacker said he is ready for challenge ahead of him and the work it’s going to take to turn the Caverna football program around. The Colonels were 9-35 over the last four years, but Thacker believes the potential for success is there.
“The kids have to believe they can win,” Thacker said. “One of the quotes I really like is, ‘You’re always going to be in a crisis, so you have to make one of two choices. You can stand there and let it beat you down or you can come out fighting.”