Colonel grad McHale comes back home to take over football program

Posted: March 12, 2013

Newly named James Wood football coach Mark McHale has made coaching stops at Florida State, West Virginia and Southern Mississippi during his career. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Mark McHale cited a desire to be closer to family and friends as one of the reasons he pursued the James Wood High School football coaching job. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Mark McHale could probably use the names of the different coaching stops he’s had in the last 40 years and write his own version of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

His coaching career has rarely taken him very close to home. But now he’s prepared to be closer to the people who are closest to him and end his career in the place where he first made his mark in football.

James Wood High School introduced the 62-year-old McHale as the Colonels new football coach during a press conference in front of a crowd of 150 in the school’s auditorium Monday.

McHale is a 1968 James Wood graduate and a member of the school’s P. Wendell Dick Hall of Fame. McHale — who was coached by and was an assistant coach for area coaching legend Walter Barr — spent the 2012 football season at NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision school Alcorn State.

“I’m excited to be here,” McHale told an audience filled mainly with James Wood football players. “The reason why I’m back here is that it’s home for me.

“I’m excited to work with young men, and I want to say this — I feel confident this will be the best class you take at this school, is football. It will be a class. It isn’t just about football. It’s going to be about your life.”

The Shepherd College graduate has coached at numerous colleges. These include Florida State with Bobby Bowden, the man who gave him a graduate assistant job while he was pursuing his Master’s of Science at West Virginia University, and Southern Mississippi, where he recruited Brett Favre.

McHale also coached professionally in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League, and got his first head coaching job at Warren County High School, spending the 1998 and 1999 seasons there.

“I can’t think it happens very often when a coach with those qualifications comes back to the high school level,” said James Wood activities coordinator Craig Woshner following the press conference. “Especially to the high school that’s he played at.”

McHale takes over for Mike Bolin, who spent five seasons as head coach from 2008-12 before resigning in December in order to spend more time with family — Bolin’s wife is scheduled to have a baby in July — and pursue a Master’s degree. Woshner said James Wood received nearly 25 applications for Bolin’s replacement, and the selection of McHale, one of six finalists, completed a nearly two-month search for a new coach.

As Woshner said during the press conference a big reason why McHale decided to apply for the Colonels job was a desire “to return to his roots.”

McHale still has plenty of family and friends in the area, including a brother, a sister, and his college roommate and teammate at Shepherd, former James Wood wrestling coach Jaye Copp. He also has a son and grandchildren who live within an hour of Winchester. Overall, McHale said he has about 25 family members who live close by.

McHale’s brother Matt, a realtor, passed away last year at the age of 61, and McHale said after Monday’s ceremony that his coaching career up until now didn’t allow him to see Matt or the rest of his family as much as he would have liked.

“[Family and friends] are important,” McHale said. “I’d see [Matt] once in a while. Coaching in college, you don’t ever get home. You may get home at Christmas for two days, then you’re back out recruiting.

“It’s just non-stop. Summertime, you don’t have off. There’s a time you’ve got to sit down [and think about what you want]. [My career’s] been great. I’ve been really blessed. But this is a good opportunity. It all works together. The family, the alma mater, the whole package. It’s hard to resist that.”

And of course, the prospect of taking James Wood’s football players to great heights as individuals and as a team also factors large into McHale’s return to James Wood.

McHale said he first thought about coming back to James Wood when he returned to Winchester in 2007 for his Hall of Fame induction, and Barr — then in the final season of his second stint with James Wood — had McHale speak to his players.

McHale started off by saying to the players in the audience Monday that James Wood had the biggest influence on him of any institution in his career, and how fortunate they were to have the type of leaders that they have at James Wood.

McHale also said they were fortunate to be coached by Bolin and his staff because winning seasons have been rare in James Wood’s 63-season history. Bolin took the Colonels to the Region II, Division 4 playoffs four times and in 2009, he helped the Colonels win their first playoff game since 1970.

The coach who won that game was Barr, who sat in the back of the auditorium Monday.

“He is the only coach to win a state championship here — so far,” said McHale with a smile.

McHale said Barr definitely shaped him during his playing and coaching days. In addition to playing for Barr at James Wood and Shepherd (McHale was a three-year starting linemen there), McHale spent four years as Barr’s offensive coordinator at Shepherd.

“I told [the James Wood] staff earlier, just by osmosis, I’m going to have a lot [of his influence] in me,” said McHale, whose other collegiate coaching stops include Appalachian State, East Carolina, South Carolina, Louisville and Marshall. “He really taught me a lot of things, not just about the X’s and O’s, but how to deal with people and get the most out of them.”

Jaye Copp’s son Josh, an assistant on the James Wood football team, said he’s known McHale as long as he could remember because of McHale’s friendship with his father. On trips with his father to Florida State, Josh Copp saw McHale’s ability to relate to players in action, and that’s something he believes will continue at James Wood.

“We’re excited to be working with someone with his experience,” Copp said.

McHale might never had wound up in Winchester had his job with the Mississippi Bullheads, located in Jackson, Miss., worked out.

The Bullheads were supposed to be in a league called the A1FL in 2012, and he was hired to be the head coach and general manager. He thought that would be his last job, because there was talk he would stay in administration after coaching. But the league folded after four months.

One of the coaches he hired, Jay Hopson — a coach he also worked with at Marshall — wound up taking the head coach at Alcorn State, and he hired McHale.

And then, the James Wood opportunity presented itself. It’s been a long and winding journey to get this point. But judging by the numerous rounds of applause McHale received Monday, a lot of people are glad that he found room for one last coaching stop.

“We’re so excited,” Jaye Copp said. “He’s a great coach who’s had a great career, and it means a lot to have him back at his alma mater.”

“We’ve been blessed over the years to have Walter come back and coach and now Mark,” Woshner said. “That doesn’t happen very often, and that kind of shows you how strong James Wood’s roots are that people like that are willing to come back. I think Mark’s going to do a good job, just like Walter did.”

McHale doesn’t know how many years his time at James Wood will last, but he plans on making it memorable.

“This is going to be it for me,” McHale said. “I’m going to put everything I have into it, and enjoy the process.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at  rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1