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Legendary coach Bill Baldridge goes from Friday Night Lights to a full life as mentor to young boys

By Rick Elmore
The Greenup Beacon

The Friday Night Lights no longer shine on Bill Baldridge.

The legendary Kentucky high school coach and former leader of the Morehead State Eagles finds himself still coaching these days, although not on the athletic fields.

Baldridge is the director of the Eastern Kentucky chapter of Team Focus, an organization founded by his long-time friend and former MSU teammate, Mike Gottfried.

Gottfried, who played quarterback for the Eagles’ only Ohio Valley Conference championship team in 1966, became close friends with Baldridge and introduced him to a life of mentorship.

Friends and mentors: Mike Gottfried and Bill Baldridge

Baldridge, now 76, stepped down from his last football coaching job — and stepped into a life of providing boys ages 10-18 a positive male role-model.

“Mike is like a brother to me,” said Baldridge who said he speaks with Gottfried every day. “He helped me with my school scheduling and with my football. We came up with playbooks together.”

Gottfried became a mentor to Baldridge whose father became absent in his life following the divorce of his parents. Baldridge’s mother moved the family to Shelby, Ohio, where he went to school.

There, a 12-year-old Baldridge was caught by the high school football coach, Bill Wilkins, sneaking under a fence to see a football practice. Instead of punishing the intruder, Wilkins taught Baldridge how to keep football statistics and how different formations worked.

Baldridge was hooked. Other mentors came in the form of a preacher and a teacher in Shelby.

While he played baseball and basketball too, Baldridge was good enough as a tackle and defensive end to return to Morehead where he lettered all four years he was on the football team and earned second-team all-OVC honors following his junior and senior years.

After graduation, Baldridge said he intended to enlist in the Marines however, shoulder and wrist injuries led to a failed physical. That prevented a likely trip to Vietnam and instead led Baldridge down the road to a coaching career on and off the field.

Bath County was the first stop along Baldridge’s coaching and educational career. In 1968, Baldridge took the head coaching job of the football team but didn’t stop there. He was also named to the assistant head coach of the boys’ basketball team and the head coach of the track team.

As football coach at Bath County, Baldridge led the team to the Cave Run Athletic Conference title and earned Coach of the Year honors at 24-years-old.

Mike Baldridge coaching his last game at Morehead State University

In 1970, Baldridge went to Harrodsburg High and stayed through the 1972 season. In 1973, he got his first head coaching job at Georgetown College but returned to Harrodsburg the following year.

Baldridge returned to Morehead State in 1975 where he coached the defense. At Bellevue High the following season, Baldridge coached the football team to a state runner-up appearance then won the state championship in 1977.

“I went with Mike to Murray State and then I followed him to Cincinnati, Kansas and Morehead,” Baldridge recalled.

In the OVC, Baldridge rubbed elbows with the likes of future Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel who coached Youngstown State in those days. He also coached against the likes of Gary Foust at Akron and Roy Kidd who led NCAA I-AA (now FCS) power Eastern Kentucky.

Baldridge’s first two seasons at the helm at MSU did not go well, but in 1986 the Eagles had a break-out year.

“I got my players in there,” Baldridge said. “When I took over, I tried to work with the kids we had here. Eventually, we got them all turned around.”

Baldridge led MSU to six consecutive wins and the Eagles were, “the No. 1 team in I-AA,” he said.

The hot start included wins over James Madison and Marshall, the final win the school had over its I-64 rival. After the hot start, Morehead lost four of its final five games and finished 7-4, but it was the MSU’s first winning season since 1979. It wouldn’t have another until 1996.
The Eagles finished 3-4 in the OVC but the turnaround from a 1-10 campaign in 1985 earned Baldridge numerous honors.

He earned OVC coach of the year, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year and was named one of the top of coaches of the year by Athletes in Action.

Health problems forced Baldridge out of Morehead after the 1989 season and he moved to Tampa, Florida in 1991.

He and his wife of 51 years, Janie, returned to Kentucky and Baldridge returned to coaching in 1994 when he took the head football coaching job at Bath County.

Baldridge’s return to coaching high school football in Kentucky even led him to Greenup County High where he coached the Musketeers. He returned for a stint at Harrodsburg one last time and then took over for two years at Rowan County.

While he took volunteer coaching jobs at various middle schools, Baldridge focused his efforts on following Gottfried one more time into mentoring with Team Focus.

“I watch kids play football, basketball, play in the band and on special occasions if they need a father to walk with them on senior night then I do that,” Baldridge said. “I see some of my former kids now and they come up and thank me for helping them out. They talk to me on the sidelines.”

A faith-based mentor program started by Gottfried in 2000, Team Focus needed a director for its Kentucky chapter. Gottfried tapped Baldridge to do that.

“It’s all young men without fathers,” Baldridge said. “The only thing I’ve taught them is what a great God I have.”

Baldridge credits his faith keeping him from suffering two massive heart attacks. Health issues have slowed him down however the only thing slowing him down was the coronavirus which halted Team Focus events, and as a person considered at-risk, kept him away from doing what he loves.

Baldridge still lives in Morehead. He’s a father of two daughters and grandfather to five, including a grandson who is also a member of Team Focus, a graduate of Morehead State and has become a civil engineer.

Yet another young man mentored and coached by Baldridge who calls every person he’s coached or taught “a success story.”

“I never had to work a day in my life,” Baldridge said. “I’ve got to know people all across the country.”

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