Andrew Phillips is ready to take a shot at rebuilding a Linden-McKinley High School football program that hasn’t had a winning season in nearly two decades after being named coach May 4.
It won’t be the first time he’s been a part of a reclamation project.
During one of his first coaching ventures, Phillips was an assistant at Millersport in 2002 when the Lakers made their only playoff appearance in program history.
He spent the past two seasons as an assistant under Mark Solis at Olentangy, which went 15-8 with Phillips on staff and has made four consecutive playoff appearances.
“I’m really excited to take over the Linden-McKinley football team,” Phillips said. “The athletics director (Walter Dudley) really backed me and I’ve met with the kids twice now, and they’re really excited for a new change and a new look.”
Linden has proven to be a tough place to build a program. The Panthers’ last winning season was 2001, when they finished 6-4. They went 7-23 under former coach Eric Stone from 2006-08, 11-49 in six seasons under Aaron Owens from 2009-14 and 5-25 the past three seasons under Jason Ryan.
Ryan, a former St. Charles assistant who utilized a run-based offense that sometimes featured the option, stepped down over the winter.
The Panthers went 2-8 overall and 0-6 in the City League-North Division last fall, with wins over Columbus South (12-6 on Sept. 8) and the Reigning Sports Academy club team (20-6 on Sept. 15).
Phillips is a 1993 Lakewood graduate who went on to play for East Carolina before completing his collegiate career at Heidelberg. In addition to Millersport and Olentangy, he also had tenures as an assistant coach at Harvest Prep, Lakewood, Northridge and Westerville North.
Phillips has been a special education teacher at Olentangy Berkshire Middle School the last two years but could end up on the teaching staff at Linden.
Jamal Luke, who was a member of Ohio State’s 2002 national championship team, and former East head coach and Reynoldsburg assistant Eric Smith are expected to be among those on Phillips’ coaching staff.
At Olentangy, Phillips coached the defensive line and was one of the defensive coordinators.
Linden’s participation numbers last fall were in the 20s, but Phillips had 62 potential players come out for an interest meeting earlier this month and is hoping that’s a positive sign.
“I know it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before,” said Phillips, who plans to run a spread offense. “Right now, I’m going to try to get numbers. With (Berkshire) being out of school two weeks earlier (than Columbus City Schools), I’m going to recruit (at Linden). With the juniors coming back, they wanted more of a family environment. I told them that the coaches are going to lift with you. When I was at Harvest Prep, (former coach) Jack (Johnson) made us lift with the kids and the kids trusted us. I think I’ve put together a pretty good staff.”