Mike Popovich, who has experience at the high school and college levels, was hired Monday night as the Collinsville Kahoks’ new football coach.
Popovich, 35, replaces Rick Reinhart, who resigned at the end of last season. Reinhart was 6-21 in three years, including 1-8 in 2017.
Popovich coached from 2013-15 at Mount Zion High, near Decatur, finishing 15-14 with back-to-back appearances in the Class 4A playoffs. He was the coach at Morthland College in West Frankfort, whose athletic department has been shuttered, in 2016 before serving as an assistant on coach Josh Lee’s staff at Mascoutah High last year.
“I loved it (at Mascoutah),” Popovich said. “I can’t say enough about Josh Lee. I developed as a coach so much in the last year working with him. A big thing is culture. You want to talk about a positive culture with 100 percent buy-in, Josh has that at Mascoutah. It was a tough decision to leave the program just because I thought so highly of him and so highly of that community and the kids there.”
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Before going to Mount Zion, Popovich spent three years as the offensive coordinator for the Army Sprint football team, and was there for its national-championship season of 2012.
Popovich, a native of Staunton, interviewed for the Collinsville job that went to John Blaylock in 2013. He will be the Kahoks’ seventh coach since 1984, following Bob Hollingshead (1984-93), John Jackson (1994-96), Tim Kane (1997-2002), Mike Liljegren (2003-2012), Blaylock (2013-14) and Reinhart.
Collinsville never has found traction in football. The Kahoks haven’t had a winning season since 1998 and have made just three winless appearances in the playoffs – 1996, 1998 and 2010.
“This is a job that’s interesting,” Popovich said. “The school (Collinsville) itself had always intrigued me just because I know they’ve had a tradition in basketball. They’ve had success in other sports, as well.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of the (football) history, because I am. But I think there’s something about that. I look at it and say, ‘This is going to be a challenge.’ This is like the ultimate challenge. But I have the opportunity to come in and do this, to change the culture. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. I’m excited to tackle it.”
Jackson perhaps came the closest to turning around the program. He led the Kahoks to their first postseason berth in 1996, but resigned after the season to take the coaching job at his alma mater, Plainfield.
Popovich said the process will be more important than wins and losses.
“We won’t be fixated on outcomes,” he said. “I’m not an outcome-oriented person. I think that sets yourself up for disappointment. Then what? So I’m a process-oriented guy. First and foremost, it starts with the culture. That has to change, the way I see it. ... We’ve got to find a way to get kids excited, because right now, they’re not.
“There’s a specific way I want our players to carry themselves, both on and off the field. We want to approach every day like it’s the most important day. That’s not just in the weight room. It’s not just on the game field. It’s in the classroom. I want to win in the classroom, too. You want your kids to expect to win in the classroom and in life.”
The Collinsville football team will compete in the Southwestern Conference for one more year, although the Kahoks will remain in the SWC in other sports. Collinsville has not yet found a new league affiliation in football and could face independent status in 2019.
Popovich doesn’t know how everything will play out as far as conference membership versus competing as an independent, but either way, he’s heading in the same direction.
“I promise you this: We will be prepared and our kids will be confident. They will love this game and we’ll change the culture,” said Popovich, who will meet his prospective players for the first time Wednesday. “I’m not for everybody. I’m an energetic guy. I expect you to give me your best and do everything you possibly can. You’ve got to be willing to put in the time. You can change.”
Popovich is a teacher at Grant Middle School in Fairview Heights. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Mascoutah with their three children: son Britton, 10, and daughters Wrigley, 6, and Finley, 2. Amanda Popovich is a teacher at Mascoutah Middle School.