Being a part of a college football program always has been in the back of Tom Phillips’ mind.
Although he wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon, he’s getting his chance with the University of Cincinnati on the staff of new coach Luke Fickell.
Phillips, who has been Pickerington High School North’s coach the past 10 seasons, will start April 3 as the Bearcats’ director of player personnel.
He is in his 30th year as a teacher, including the last six as the coordinator at the district's community school.
“It’s a new challenge,” Phillips said. “It’s one of those things I had been thinking about down the road after (I retired as a teacher). I had a vision of one day doing it … and I’ve always respected coach Fickell. He was always recruiting at the schools I was at.”
Cincinnati hired Fickell, a former Ohio State assistant, in December.
Phillips’ decision to step down was announced on the North football team’s Twitter account March 29 after he shared the news with his team two days earlier.
Phillips led the Panthers to a 70-39 record that included four playoff appearances. He was the second coach in program history after Tim Bahen led North to a 20-20 mark over its first four seasons.
Under Phillips, North produced college standouts such as Michigan’s Jake Butt and Ohio State’s Pat Elflein. Last season, Butt received the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end and Elflein earned the Rimington Award for being the nation’s best center.
“He’s got a great opportunity,” North athletics director Molly Feesler said. “We’re losing a valuable member of our staff and we wish him well.”
Last season, North was the seventh seed for the Division I, Region 3 playoffs but upset second-seeded Hilliard Bradley 49-21 in a first-round game before falling to third-seeded Pickerington Central 38-24 in a regional semifinal to finish 8-4.
The Panthers made their first playoff appearance in 2009. They reached a state semifinal in 2012 and a regional semifinal in 2013.
After going 4-6 in 2014 and 5-5 in 2015, North bounced back last fall behind junior quarterback Jimmy Weirick. He passed for 2,827 yards and 28 touchdowns and was an OCC-Ohio Division co-Player of the Year after missing most of his sophomore season with an injury.
Phillips will join one of his three brothers, Doug Phillips, on the Cincinnati staff. Doug Phillips was named the special teams coordinator and a tight ends coach in January.
“A lot of the team has mixed feelings, but for me, I’m happy for him,” Weirick said. “I’m thankful for what he’s done for me the past couple years. He gave me the opportunity to get where I am now, and to go work at a powerful Division I program with his brother for more money, if I was in his position, I’d take the opportunity as well. I know he’s been looking for a position like this for a while now and I’m glad he’s taking that next step.”
Tom Phillips, a Youngstown native, coached at Boardman from 1987-2000, served as the head coach at Mercer (Pennsylvania) in 2000-01 and was the offensive coordinator at Westerville North in 2002.
He then coached Bexley to a 21-9 mark in three seasons before taking over at Pickerington North.
Another brother, Jeff Phillips, served as one of his assistants at both Bexley and Pickerington North.
Tom Phillips’ son, Eric Phillips, has worked the last two seasons as an assistant with the Panthers.
“I’ll be working out of the recruiting office, and not only that but I’ll work with scouting and in trying to build high school relationships with coaches throughout the state of Ohio,” Tom Phillips said. “Luke has a vision and a plan. I’ll be working with the compliance office to make sure kids are eligible.
“It’s been a great experience at Pickerington North. I’ve met some great players and great families and built some good relationships with kids. But there’s a new challenge, and that’s the exciting part.”