So where does New Prairie go from here?
The school hit it out of the park back in 2010 when it was able to hire Russ Radtke away from Griffith. Now that the Indiana high school football coaching legend and his 368 wins are going to Portage, Cougars Athletics Director Ben Bachmann and a soon-to-be formed selection committee are tasked with finding a successor who can keep the program rolling in the right direction.
“There are so many moving parts,” Bachmann said. “We have to identify candidates, make sure we’re a fit for them and they’re a fit for New Prairie High School community. This isn’t college. There’s a lot more to it than the coaching position. A teaching position comes into play. We’re locked into pay scales. It’s a matter of fitting all those pieces together. That’s not an easy thing to do.”
Save for a few years prior to Radtke’s arrival, New Prairie football has consistently won over the last 20 years, and with strong JV and freshman teams – each lost one game – behind this season’s sectional champions, there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue, at least over the short term.
Keep in mind that much of the winning that was done prior to Radtke was by Bart Curtis, a future hall-of-famer himself, who went on to do more of the same at Mishawaka and Warsaw. It’s not a plug-and-play situation where someone will be able to come in and just roll the footballs out on the field and be successful – the talent level isn’t that elite – but the track record is obviously good enough to draw interest both in quality and quantity.
Add that to a quality strength and conditioning program with recently upgraded facilities and a strong school corporation in a community that supports its teams loyally, and there’s no reason to believe the successor won’t be a good one.
“We feel like we have a lot to offer with our student-athletes, school and community,” Bachmann said.
A potential drawback in the process is the absence of a fieldhouse. The issue was a sticking point for Radtke, who encouraged parents at every football meeting to speak up for a fieldhouse to be a part of the school’s recent renovations. It was also one of the check marks on Portage’s side in his decision to go there. While the topic remains on the table, the blueprints aren’t close to being drawn.
On the field, a core of enormous linemen return, and the trenches are always a good place to start, but New Prairie graduates quarterback/defensive back Chase Ketterer, along with running mate Chris Mays, among some others.
Generational skill position players with elite speed don’t come around every year at New Prairie, where the Cougars have always excelled offensively in a particular system, whether it’s the pure wishbone schemes of Curtis or Radtke, or the basic power running game that carried them to the regional in 2019.
As long as the school has closed enrollment, it stands to reason that this will be the formula for success going forward. It’s not going to bring in somebody known for throwing the ball 40 times a game.
This much is known. The coach won’t be coming from within the 2019 staff. Most of Radtke’s assistants will leave with him – Tyler Radtke, Ted White and Julio Cisneros – and the successor isn’t anyone who is staying. Associate head coach Bill Gumm will be running things in the interim but has already said he isn’t interested in the job.
Nor is Michigan City assistant Roy Richards, an applicant for the Portage position who doesn’t want to move any further east than he already has.
The status of New Prairie’s program merits a coach with a proven resume. If it doesn’t hire someone who is presently a head coach, they would have to be a highly-respected coordinator.
That said, there aren’t many Radtkes around. His preparation, work ethic and football genius are unmatched. If you see the glass as half empty, then there’s no place to go but down. If you see the glass as half full, you see it as an opportunity to bring in an ambitious coach who relishes the challenge of stepping into a legend’s shoes and carving out his own niche.
“It’s disappointing any time you lose a hall-of-famer, but we have no choice but to move forward,” Bachmann said.
The position will be posted next week and the search will go from there. The plan is to have a head coach and staff in place by the spring.
“We want to find a coach who can maintain the program and even take it to a higher level,” Bachmann said.