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As coach or mayor, Bill Mike Runyon has Paintsville at heart

February 7, 2018 FieldsColumn

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Former Paintsville basketball coach Bill MIke Runyon has been serving as mayor of Paintsville since November, 2016.

BY MIKE FIELDS

PAINTSVILLE — Paintsville Mayor Bill Mike Runyon was sitting behind his desk at city hall — which is across the corner from where as a kid he’d set up his shoe-shine kit on Saturdays, and just down the street from Paintsville High School where he played, coached and taught for four decades — and he was talking about what his hometown means to him.

“Paintsville is Bill Mike Runyon’s life,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “I don’t think people realize that no matter what small community you’re from, it’s the people within that community when you were growing up — your parents, your uncles, your aunts, your teachers, your coaches, your friends — those are the people that kicked you in the butt and got you going in the right direction.

“Well, that’s what Paintsville did for me. And now that I’m sitting in this chair, I want to do everything I can to give back to this community because Paintsville is my life.”

Runyon is better known as a basketball coach. In 29 years he led Paintsville High School to 581 victories, including a Sweet Sixteen championship 1996.

Even when he was coaching, Runyon was civic-minded. He served on the city council for 10 years and twice ran (unsuccessfully) for state representative. He took over as mayor in November, 2016, after Bob Porter resigned the position.

“There’s not a whole lot of difference in being mayor and being a coach,” Runyon said. “What you have to do is get everybody working together. The experience I got coaching a basketball team taught me that if you’ve got just one person out there going rogue, you’ve got problems.

“Now, instead of dealing with 15 kids, I’m dealing with different groups, like Trail Town, Main Street, the Chamber of Commerce. If you don’t get them all working together and going in the same direction, you’ve got problems.”

It’s different overseeing a city budget of nearly $8 million rather than a budget for a high school basketball team, but Runyon considers the bottom line the same: do what’s best for your constituents or players.

J.R. VanHoose, a star on Paintsville’s 1996 state title team, isn’t surprised his former coach has successfully reinvented himself.

“If you’re in any type of coaching, there’s always that leadership part of it, so I can see how it was an easy transition for him to get involved in government,” VanHoose said. “I’m sure problems pop up a lot more often when you’re running a city instead of a basketball team, but coaching probably prepared him very well for that.”

Now in public service rather than public education, Runyon is still loyal to his beloved Paintsville Tigers.

He sports a tiger paw tattoo on his left shoulder — it has a “P” in the middle and “Tigers” inked underneath. He wears a (Paintsville) blue elastic wedding band. And his wardrobe has a mostly (Paintsville) blue hue.

A few nights ago he had a prime seat in the PHS gym to watch the basketball Tigers take on Johnson Central. Paintsville, coached by Landon Slone, one of Runyon’s former players, held on for a 56-54 victory.

“You talk about getting your blood flowing again!” Runyon said excitedly. “That place was packed to the rafters. Paintsville and Johnson Central. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s the biggest rivalry up and down the river, bar none.”

Bill Mike Runyon (Herald-Leader photo)

Runyon should know.

He was a three-sport standout for Paintsville in the early 1970s, and got to play for a pair of legends — football coach Walter Brugh and baseball coach Charlie Adkins.

He attended Pikeville College on a baseball/basketball scholarship. (It was there that he got the coaching bug from basketball coach Wayne Martin.)

After graduating from college, Runyon returned home to Paintsville and embarked on his own career in the fall of 1978.

“I was assistant football, baseball and basketball coach, and head track coach,” he said. “I taught six classes a day and made $12,500.”

He was an assistant to Brugh and Adkins for more than 20 years, but got his big break when he was named Tigers’ basketball coach in 1982.

After Paintsville went 8-16 in his first season, Runyon got some advice from Adkins, his assistant coach. He told Runyon he was overcoaching. “Let ’em play,” he said.

In the 1984-85 season, with a group of rising stars that included John Pelphrey, Joey Couch, Mike Minix and Keith Adkins, the Tigers reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 52 years.

“This town went crazy,” Runyon said. “I guess they were just starved to death for success. What made it even better was we went down there and won a game (beating Washington County in the first round).”

Paintsville repeated as 15th Region champ the next two years. In 1986 it lost to Hoptown in the first round of the Sweet Sixteen, and in ’87 it fell to Allan Houston-led Ballard in the state semifinals.

The Tigers resurfaced as a state power a decade later with a talent-stocked roster that included VanHoose, Todd Tackett, Craig Ratliff and Josh McKenzie. They led the way to the 1996 state championship.

After reaching the semifinals in 1997 before losing to Highlands in overtime, Paintsville got a shot at another state title in ’98.

The Tigers led Scott County 49-44 at halftime of those finals. But Tackett, who had 16 points in the first half, suffered back spasms and was ineffective the second half. He sat out the last 11 minutes of the game and Scott County rallied to win 89-78 despite VanHoose’s 36 points and 22 rebounds.

“I do believe if Todd had played the whole game we would have won it,” Runyon said.

Runyon’s concerns have since shifted from strategizing X’s and O’s to managing and revitalizing his hometown.

That’s the mayor’s job, and he relishes the challenge.

Just ask Jayme Runyon, Bill Mike’s wife of nearly 39 years.

“After all the years of coaching, I thought he might want to kick back, kind of relax and play golf,” she said. “But he’s not ready to do that. He still wants to help the community. He’s never been a person out for himself. He wants to serve other people.

“He’s passionate about the town and the school, but more the community in general. He really wants to make it the best that it can be.”

VanHoose gave Runyon a similar endorsement.

“Coach has always been a part of this community, this county,” he said. “That’s what you want in an elected official — someone who’s invested and has been invested for a long time and wants to do good things to help the community grow and prosper.”

Runyon, 62, sounds like he’s in it for the long haul.

“Paintsville is my life,” he said again as he walked the downtown streets of his hometown. “This where I want to be. They couldn’t drag me out of here.”

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