As part of a series of interviews that BluegrassPreps.com is conducting in 2018 with coaches around the Commonwealth, BGP had a chance to talk with Wes Arnold, head football coach of the 1A Fort Knox Eagles.
BGP: Tell us a little about your coaching background - which schools you've been at as a head coach or as an assistant before you started at Fort Knox? Which positions have you had personal experience coaching?
Coach Arnold: I actually started at Fort Knox in 2010 as assistant coach. I spent 5 years there as an assistant and was the defensive coordinator there from 2012-2014. I coached running backs and linebackers for most of my time there. In 2015 I joined the Central Hardin Staff as a freshman coach. In 2016 I moved to the varsity as assistant offensive line coach and inside linebackers. In 2017 I became the varsity offensive line coach and helped with the defensive line.
BGP: What was it that made you realize you wanted to be a coach? It's obviously not as easy a job to do in this day and age as it may have been in the past. Are there any particular individuals or coaches who pushed you to realize that it's what you wanted to do?
Coach Arnold: I loved the game of football growing up and playing in high school gave me some of my best moments and memories of high school. My head coach Shawn Rodman is someone who had a huge impact on me, wanting to become a coach. The positive relationships he developed with so many players and the impact he had on us, made me want to do the same thing. Brandon Combs was the first head coach I worked for he gave me a chance as a 22 year fresh old out of college and got me started he had a big impact on me. Shawn Thompson another head coach I worked for, I learned a lot from him and he became a great friend that I still consider one of my best friends today. Finally Tim Mattingly at Central Hardin has had the biggest impact on me, he is such a great coach and person. I loved working for him, I had so much fun and I got to be a part of some huge games and great times. He taught me so much not only X and O wise but also how to be a better coach.
BGP: Are there any games in your coaching career, or even as a player or spectator of a high school game, that you look back at and think, 'Man…now THAT was a memorable game' ?
Coach Arnold: A few come to mind. At Fort Knox in 2010 when we were a 4 seed and beat 1 seed Glasgow, that was wild, even though I didn't have much to do with the varsity that year just being on the sideline and witnessing that was amazing. In my 2nd year at Fort Knox our first game of the year we beat Elizabethtown - that was big as we hadn't beaten them in a long time. At Central Hardin last year against Meade County that game went to overtime, that is already an intense rivalry and that game was crazy back and forth. Also last year at Central Hardin winning the region championship was an amazing game with Daviess County that went right down to the end. I was just so thankful I got to be a part of regional championship as many never get to win something like that.
BGP: A lot of teams adopt some sort of motto or a mission statement for the program, or even for the individual program year? Does your team have one right now? Do you have a different motto for yourself as a coach?
Coach Arnold: We do not have a team motto this year since we have so much going on and learning to do, that is something I will focus more on next season. My personal motto as a coach is that I want kids to have a positive experience playing football. I want them to look back and remember the good times and have great memories from playing football.
BGP: If I were to ask your players - past or present - if there's one thing they hear you say the most, what do you think it would be?
Coach Arnold: I am not sure, haven't coached long enough I guess to have my saying or phrase that I go to all the time!
BGP: By coaching a team on a working military base, you’re going to have kids coming in to your football program from all different parts of the country. What is your approach to coaching your team knowing that you may have players walking onto the practice field who may not have any prior football experience at the same time as players who may have 7 or 8 years of football experience under a varying array of coaches in multiple different places?
Coach Arnold: It's a real challenge, you said it perfectly we have kids of all different levels. On top of that they move in at all different times, so you never know what you have until late July early August. I take the approach that we have to be fundamental. Nobody is perfect at fundamentals no matter how long you play. So weather you have played before or not, we spend a lot of time working fundamentals. Good stances, no false steps, doing all the little things that it takes to be a football player.
BGP: Fort Knox’s football program has had a tough go of things in the last 10 or 15 years. What were the first 2 or 3 steps you decided needed to be taken when you took over the program?
Coach Arnold: First I had to hit the hallways and recruit some kids. There are still good athletes here, see our track team has won state twice in last 4 years. I benefited in that I was already teaching on base at the middle school, so I had some credibility and prior relationships with kids. We have several kids out who hadn't been playing football before, a few track kids and some basketball players I convinced to come out.
Secondly we had to get some excitement and fun into the program. I knew when I got introduced to the team it was important to get them excited and "sell" them on it. I talked about all the new things we were going to do, showed them some highlights of what our offense would look like. I have to keep them interested and engaged, when your trying to start over you have to sacrifice the X and O part a little to break up the grind of football. One day we finished lifting and instead of running, we went and broke the kids up into teams and played basketball. We played dodgeball one day at the end of practice. Things that are fun and create that environment to where they want to keep coming back each day. So far it's worked and the kids seem to be enjoying themselves.
BGP: Fort Knox is a little unique in that practice and conditioning is extremely limited for the football program previous to mid-summer. That’s obviously a big challenge for you as the football coach. What are you doing to try and work with that scenario? And have you had a chance to observe any particular strengths that the team has as you’re preparing for the season to start in a little under 2 months from now?
Coach Arnold: It's a challenge that only Fort Knox and Fort Campbell have to deal with, and it is very challenging. Not only do kids move or transfer in, but no one on our roster is from Kentucky. So when they go on Block Leave, they are heading to another state for several weeks. Also we have kids that are from out of state, and they often have to go visit another parent for the summer. To work with this, we spent June working on fundamentals. We ran no plays or formations, and never lined up a defense because we would have to go back over it all in July as they start coming back. We taught them how to lift properly, and as I said, we worked basic fundamentals. That's it.
One strength I have noticed is the kids have had great attitudes and effort so far. I asked them to give us a chance and trust what we are doing here and they have fully bought in right now with what we are doing. Also we have a lot of team speed and athleticism which is a great strength.
BGP: If you could pare down all of the qualities that you look for in a player, and get down to just one or two top qualities that you like to see the most, what would they be?
Coach Arnold: Effort and Commitment. If a kid gives me great effort I can run with that because I know I can count on them. Commitment is another one, be a practice every day on time, don't make excuses on why you can't be here or can't do something.
BGP: Is there anything new that the Fort Knox fans can expect to see on the football field this season? And coming from the Central Hardin staff, is there anything familiar you would think the Bruins fans might recognize if they came and watched the Eagles play in 2018?
Coach Arnold: I think you will see us use our athleticism and speed more to get outside. We also are going to try to throw it more than they have been recently. Central Hardin fans will recognize a lot of what we do from the Wing-T offense to the 4x4 defense.
BGP: Who are some of the players on your team this year that we should expect to see a lot out of?
Coach Arnold: We are still figuring out who can play and where the best fit will be for our team. But a few early standout are RB/LB Jerome Jones, RB/LB TJ Pittman, OL/DL Javon Scott and new transfer OL/LB Devon Portis will have a big impact on the field this year.
BGP: Are there any teams that you would like to look at getting onto Fort Knox's schedule within the next handful of years?
Coach Arnold: We just need to keep scheduling teams that we can compete with.
BGP: What are some of your favorite things to do when you have a little time in the off-season and you're not in football coaching mode?
Coach Arnold: I have two boys one is 2 and the other is 4 months old, so I love spending time with them. I love watching college football and other sports on TV, grilling out and hanging out with friends.
BGP: Which college / NFL teams do you root for the most?
Coach Arnold: I'm from Pittsburgh so I love University of Pittsburgh Football. Since I've lived here for 8 years I have come to like watching UofL a lot too. NFL is, of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
BluegrassPreps.com would like to give a big thank you to Coach Arnold for offering us some of his valuable time to answer our questions!