High School Football

Mark Story: Eviston fills legend's shoes at NewCath

Eddie Eviston doesn't lack for self-confidence. With the former Georgetown College football star's background, why would he?

Still, the daunting challenge he was taking on this autumn might have made even the Dos Equis guy quaver.

It wasn't just that Eviston had his first high school head coaching job this year at the age of 31.

It wasn't just that he was breaking in at the school where he played.

It wasn't just that Newport Central Catholic is a tradition-rich program in a football-mad part of Kentucky.

It WAS that Eviston was facing all that while also replacing one of the commonwealth's genuine high school coaching icons.

Bob Schneider's first year as head man at NewCath came in 1966. Before Schneider's coaching days at the Northern Kentucky school ended, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the elder, Clinton, Bush the younger and Obama had all called the White House home.

When Schneider, battling health issues, retired from coaching after the 2009 season, he left with a state-record 345 wins (subsequently tied by Bell County's Dudley Hilton), three state championships and a spot in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame

Schneider did all that while conducting himself with a class and modesty all too missing in modern sports.

That's all Eviston had to replace.

Newport Catholic Principal Bob Noll likens Eviston's task, at the high school level, to that Joe B. Hall faced when he followed Adolph Rupp.

"It's been interesting," Eviston said Wednesday. "With all Coach Schneider meant to this school, it's obviously a challenge to be the next guy. But what's helped me a lot is I did have familiarity with this program. And I did have confidence that this was a situation where I could do the job."

So far Eviston has done the job. Friday at 3 p.m., the Thoroughbreds (12-2) will be in Bowling Green to face Owensboro Catholic (13-1) for the Class 2A state title.

A championship game is a familiar place for Eviston. After graduating from Newport Catholic as a three-sport standout in 1997, he was recruited to play defensive back by Georgetown football coach Bill Cronin.

"When we got him, we knew he was a good athlete," Cronin said. "One day after practice, he was just throwing the ball around and we were like, 'maybe we should give him a shot at quarterback.' "

Few better decisions have ever been made in the history of Kentucky college football. Eviston started 42 games at quarterback for Georgetown. The Tigers won 41 of them, including two NAIA national championship contests.

By the end of his Georgetown career, Eviston had been named NAIA National Player of the Year three times and the 2001 Herald-Leader Kentucky Sportsman of the Year.

Some nine years later, Eviston's past as a decorated college quarterback helped him land the Newport Catholic head coaching job.

This was after Eviston had tried out in the Kansas City Chiefs camp; become an arena football standout with Lexington's Kentucky Horsemen; and launched a football coaching career.

He started as a high school assistant in Ohio at Norwood, then spent a year coaching at Thomas More College. Five years ago, he came home to NewCath, working for Schneider as an assistant and taking a job in the school's development office.

When Schneider stepped down after having open heart surgery last December, three members of his coaching staff, including Eviston and Schneider's son, Dave, applied for the job.

"I'm an old offensive lineman, so I'm loyal to the linemen," Noll, the NewCath Principal, said. "But I understand the leadership value of a quarterback. I don't care what level it was, Eddie had led a team in huddles in big games, been a national player of the year, had gotten up before large banquets and spoken. All of that was good preparation for following (Schneider)."

The last time Newport Catholic had a new football coach, The Beatles were touring. When camp began this summer it was downright weird to see the Thoroughbreds with a head coach other than Bob Schneider.

"It was different. (Eviston) is a lot more active, because he's younger, and he gets in practices and demonstrates," says senior running back Chris Kelly. "It's a different coaching style. It's pretty much been a blast."

Noll says that before the school hired Schneider's replacement, all three internal candidates for the top job agreed they would stay on the school's staff. Eviston says one reason his first team has reached the state finals is "because the staff pretty much stayed and we've had a lot of continuity in the program."

His health better, Schneider came to some Newport Catholic games this fall. When he did, he walked the sidelines, but he says he tried to stay out of the team box.

Says junior quarterback Brady Hightchew. "We feel our tradition when Coach Schneider comes around."

Schneider says the new coach at Newport Central Catholic "is doing great. They've played real well, especially in the playoffs."

With the state championship looming, Eviston is still weighing one question. What produced the greater buzz, winning national championships as a quarterback at Georgetown or coaching your high school alma mater to the state finals in your very first year?

"Very tough call. Both are a great thrill," he said. "Sometimes, as a player, you have direct control on some of the things out on the field, especially as a quarterback. As a coach, you are responsible for more, but you have to teach others to do the right thing and they have control of whether it gets done. In that way, coaching is more challenging."

If nothing else, we know Eddie Eviston does not fear challenges.