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Don Owen: Lesson learned from Highlands football history; patience is virtue, supercedes overreaction

At most high schools, a 51-point loss on the football field will result in the typical groans and bellyaching from the diehard fans. It’s only normal.
Such a setback usually reinforces the need for patience with the players and the coaching staff, whether the team is in the rebuilding mode, or just had one of those nights everyone wants to forget.
But Highlands High School is not like most when it comes to its storied football program. The Bluebirds have won 23 state championships on the gridiron, second only to Louisville Trinity’s 24 titles. In fact, Highlands captured seven state championships during a recent eight-year period, including six straight titles from 2007-2012.
Given those facts, it’s somewhat understandable that last Thursday night’s 71-20 loss at 6A powerhouse Scott County made a few folks in Ft. Thomas a bit unhappy. No one really expected Highlands to defeat Scott County. Not this season. But most diehards probably imagined a score in the vicinity of around 42-21, or something similar in margin.
Instead, Scott County used its superior speed and size to bulldoze past Highlands and sent the Bluebirds home with a 51-point loss.
The 51-point margin stoked plenty of heated discussions in chat rooms, bars and restaurants. Many fans — already impatient with the past two seasons (8-6 record in 2015, 3-8 in 2016) of Highlands football — quickly cast the blame on head coach Brian Weinrich and his staff. The same Brian Weinrich, by the way, who led Highlands to the 4A state championship in 2014.

Highlands Coach Brian Weinrich

While some levelheaded followers of Bluebird football attempted to point out Scott County simply had more talent and fewer injuries, others scoffed and predictably called for change. They want a new defensive coordinator or a different offensive scheme. And, of course, some want a new head coach.
There’s nothing like overreacting to an early-season loss, especially to a setback against a talented opponent from a larger classification.
The best strategy, then, if you are a Highlands fan? Remain calm and let the season play out. Your team is 2-1 and already owns a victory against a solid 6A team in Campbell County. Also, consider how good Scott County is this season. The Cardinals, who face Ohio powerhouse Moeller this week, could make a run at the 6A state championship.
And since this is the 40th anniversary of Highlands winning the 1977 state championship in unlikely fashion, think back to former head coach Bill Herrmann’s reward for guiding the Bluebirds to that particular 3A state title at Richmond.
He was asked to resign.
Yes, less than a week after Highlands posted a 6-0 win over Shelby County in the 3A championship game in 1977, Ft. Thomas schools superintendent Dr. Fred. D. Williams asked Herrmann if he was ready to step down from his position at Highlands. According to the story written in The Kentucky Post, Williams — apparently under pressure from boosters despite the state title — told Herrmann “this might be the time to step down if he wanted to.”
No talk of a raise. Not even a pat on the back for a job well done. Just a cryptic suggestion that the time was perfect for Herrmann to step down — even though he had only been head coach at Highlands for two years.
Herrmann, understandably shocked by the offer to resign, refused to step down. “After thinking about it, it just tore up my family and me,” Herrmann said. “I’m just going to inform them (the school board) that if they want my job, they’ll have to take it away from me.”
Williams had made the suggestion to Herrmann during a special meeting on Dec. 1, 1977, which also happened to be a special night for the football head coach and his wife for other reasons. “It was our 16th wedding anniversary,” Herrmann said. “It sure wasn’t much of a fun evening.”
When asked about the situation by The Kentucky Post, Williams said, “Under no circumstances was he told to retire. We held the meeting for one purpose, to look ahead in terms of the future of Highlands football. I pointed out to Bill that he was on top now after winning the state championship in his second year. I did mention that this might be the time to step down if he wanted to.”
But that does not answer the question. Why was a coach who just won the state championship given such an option?
While Williams refused to share any rationale to the strange situation, Herrmann quickly pointed to the answers. “You can limit it down to a few things,” he told The Kentucky Post. “It may be the man’s personal feelings. It could be pressure he’s gotten through phone calls from the community at-large. ‘You only beat Lloyd by one point.’ Things like this.”

Bill Herrmann, 1977 (Photo provided)

Two regular-season games in 1977 might have caused the rift between Herrmann and school board. Highlands lost a shocker to Newport, 10-7, and also dropped a 22-19 decision at home to Holmes. According to Herrmann, those two losses turned the Highlands boosters against him and they began questioning his ability to coach.
“The whole key to why there’s so many disgruntled people is not so much the number of losses (Highlands finished 10-4 en route to the state title), but ‘you lost to Newport and Holmes.’ That, I really believe in my mind, is why this has come up,” Herrmann said.
Herrmann refused to resign and said, “My decision is that I’m going to remain. I’m not resigning. I don’t know whether we can win another state championship in the next 10 years, but by God, I’m going to try.”
Fortunately, Herrmann and Williams met again the next week and agreed no change was necessary. Common sense had prevailed over the illogical outcries of entitled boosters. Compare it to today’s world of social media, when the keyboard warriors go into battle in either chat rooms or comments section and call for the coach’s job. Logical school administrators don’t listen to the whining of disgruntled fans over a loss or two.
It’s a good thing for Highlands football that Herrmann did remain as head coach following the squabble with the school board in 1977. In both 1981 and ’82, Herrmann guided the Bluebirds to state championships. Those two Highlands teams combined for a 28-2 record under Herrmann, whose 1982 squad finished with a 15-0 mark.
The lesson here? Patience trumps overreaction every time. It can be more than simply a virtue. It can also be the path to state championships in the near future.

Don Owen is a Fort Thomas resident and former newspaper reporter. He served as Northern Kentucky University’s sports information director for 21 years before retiring in 2014.

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