After 36 years, a state-record 345 wins and three state titles, Dudley Hilton is leaving high school football.
Hilton is stepping down as Bell County coach to take over the Pikeville College program.
"You just live once, and like they say, change and new challenges keep you young," Hilton said. "I've been coaching high school ball for 36 years, so what the heck, let's see what college life is like."
Hilton, 62, said it was an "emotional decision" to leave Bell County, where he coached 24 years and led the Bobcats to state titles in 1991 and 2008.
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"I was content and could've stayed there forever," Hilton said. "They treated me great. But sooner or later, you gotta quit or try something new."
When Bell County beat Knox Central in the Class 4A quarterfinals a few weeks ago, it was Hilton's 345th career victory. That tied the state record held by Newport Central Catholic's Bob Schneider, who retired after the 2009 season.
Bell County lost to Boyle County in the semifinals, which turned out to be Hilton's last game on Log Mountain.
John Dudley Hilton, the coach's son, was a senior star for the Bobcats this season. He will now get the chance to play for his dad at Pikeville.
"That had a big influence on me, being able to be with him four more years," Hilton said. "That's me talking as a parent, not as a coach."
Hilton will take winning credentials to Pikeville.
He has had 34 consecutive winning seasons, starting at Breathitt County in the 1970s, Bell County (1983-1996), Bourbon County (1997-2000) and Bell County (2001-10).
Leading Bourbon County to the state title his first season there ranks as one of the most improbable championships in state history.
"When I got into coaching, I never dreamed I'd do all that I've done," Hilton said. "I'm just an old Springfield boy who came to the mountains and proved I could coach some."
When Hilton was introduced as Pikeville's new coach at a news conference on Wednesday, he said he felt "an electricity in the air.
"These people are excited and hungry about their football program. And I'm excited about seeing what I can do here. It's going to be hard, but I'm ready to go to work."
Hilton will resign from his position at Bell County this month and start as Pikeville's coach on Jan. 1.