Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Paul Rains announced Monday he has retired from coaching. He notified his football players of the decision earlier Monday.
Rains, who will stay on as an instructor at Dunbar, entered last season thinking it or next season would be his last coaching the sport. He decided the time was right now, ending his career after 33 years, the past 27 as a head coach. His career record is 209-98, nearly a 70-percent winning clip. It included two state finals trips, five region titles and numerous district titles. Twelve of his assistants went on to become head coaches.
He guided Lexington Christian to its only football title in 2009. The Eagles went 14-1 that season (the loss a 27-26 decision versus Lexington Catholic), culminating in a 55-19 rout of Mayfield in the finals. Transforming LCA, which had won only four games in its first three seasons as a program before he arrived in 2003, into a powerhouse in the middle part of last decade was “pretty amazing.” The group of seniors who won the state title were entering sixth grade when Rains took over.
“I told those boys at the end of the year, y’all stay together and when you get to be seniors you’ll be champions here. Of course that’s kind of what you tell ’em,” Rains said with a laugh. “To take that program from, it basically didn’t exist, to one of the top programs in the state ... was a very rewarding and wonderful experience.”
Before he arrived in Lexington, Rains coached at Hazard, Montgomery County and Madison Central. After leaving LCA at the end of that title season, he coached at Mercer County and Letcher County Central before ending up at Dunbar in 2013.
Coaching in so many different communities has given Rains “a lot of stories to tell” and helped him form lifelong bonds with people all over the state.
Coaching in the mountains was an experience all in itself. Rains, a native of Williamsburg in Whitley County, was no stranger to the region’s unique conditions — “it wasn’t like I was out of New York City or something.” — but traveling around Eastern Kentucky made for some of his most memorable tales.
“I know one time I had a player hurt in Wheelright and instead of the ambulance coming, a local hearse came to take him to the hospital,” Rains said. “The kid went plumb crazy on me.”
Rains started his career as an assistant, helping at Williamsburg, what was then Cumberland College, Johnson Central and Hazard. He was promoted to be Hazard’s head coach in 1988 when he was 25, then the youngest head coach in Kentucky. Nothing swelled him with more pride than hearing Cawood Ledford talk about him on local TV ahead of his first season.
“I felt so honored and thought I had made it, and hadn’t even won a game yet,” Rains said. “ ... I would have never known at that time that I would be a head coach 27 years and have as much success as I’ve had.”
Picking a favorite or best player he’s ever coached is impossible, Rains said, noting that often some of the most “knuckle-headed” guys end up being the ones who left a lasting, positive impression on him. “That’s like asking who your favorite child is.” In spite of all the on-field success he’s had, Rains said he always measured himself based on the “type of men, fathers and community leaders” his players became 10 years down the road.
“I have so much appreciation for the many players and coaches that I have been blessed to work with,” Rains said. “They were a key part of the many years of success that we were able to enjoy and share together. ...
“The experiences and memories are priceless and I will always cherish them.”