By Brian Paglia
Union Grove has hired Luella head coach Paul Burgdorf as its new football coach, replacing Steven Collins.
Burgdorf has coached in Henry County for 15 seasons, most recently when he began Luella's football program in 2003. Burgdorf built the Lions program from scratch, highlighted by Luella's first winning season and state playoff appearance in 2008.
"I'm excited about the opportunity," Burgdorf said. "For me, it'll be another challenge. I'm just excited to get over there and get started as soon as I can."
Burgdorf will remain in his teaching position at Luella for the duration of the school year, but the transition for Union Grove's fifth football coach in 11 years begins immediately. He met with Union Grove's coaching staff last night. He'll start participating in morning conditioning with the players next week. He'll begin the organization process with Union Grove's staff leading up to spring practice, which starts May 11.
Burgdorf takes over at Union Grove as the program appears to be reaching its strongest state since opening in 2000. Collins came to Union Grove from Stockbridge in 2008 and went 17-6 in two years. The Wolverines reached the playoffs both seasons. They won a first-round game last year for the first time since 2006. Coveted Division I prospects continue to blossom through the ranks of the program.
Burgdorf said he hopes to keep the program at status quo, which is to say he hopes to maintain the Wolverines' recent success.
"With the success that they've had for the last two years, my plan is to go in there and continue that success," Burgdorf said. "They've done a lot of good things the last few years with a strong coaching staff and a lot of good players. I think it's obvious, too, that they've got a good support structure from the administration to the community."
Burgdorf will be quite familiar with Union Grove's present staff, which athletic director Ralph Neeley said was a critical factor in whoever became the Wolverines next coach.
"It was very important for us," Neeley said, "whether we hired from within our school or outside of the school, to be able to find a head coach that was going to be able to work with the staff, because we were dedicated to keeping the staff together as best we could.
"We were able to do that, and Coach Burgdorf is familiar with the majority of them. That was a good piece of the puzzle."
Indeed, much of Union Grove's staff is comprised of coaches Burgdorf either once knew as his players (ninth grade head coach Ben Martin, running backs coach Jarvis Tarplin and defensive coordinator Jeremy Ross) or colleagues (offensive coordinator Russ Atkins) while at Stockbridge from 1991-98, or as contemporaries while the Lions and Wolverines engaged in a healthy rivalry as members of the same region the past five years.
But Neeley also looked at the character of Burgdorf, who also made coaching stops at his alma mater Cook County, Northgate (1999) and Morgan County (2000-02).
"He's a great coach and he's an even better person," Neeley said. "I think you can ask anybody in the community and they'll talk about how he signifies strong faith, he's a great role model for the kids, he understands community involvement and he's very involved. He lives here, and that's important.