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New coaches, old hands take reins at pressure-packed programs PRP & Scott County

December 19, 2019 FieldsColumn

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Larry Kihnley was a PRP assistant for 36 years before succeeding Dale Mabrey as head coach this season. (Photo by Mike Fields)

BY MIKE FIELDS (Dec. 19, 2019)

When Billy Hicks and Dale Mabrey – the two winningest coaches in the history of Kentucky high school basketball – retired after last season, they left high-profile but pressure-packed positions to fill at Scott County and Pleasure Ridge Park.

In 25 years at Scott County, Hicks guided the Cardinals to two state championships, five state runners-up, and 13 region titles. (Overall, in 37 years as a head coach, he won 1,013 games.)

In 38 years at PRP, Mabrey’s Panthers won a state championship, were state runners-up twice, claimed 13 region titles, and won 937 games.

Talk about tough acts to follow.

But long-time assistants Tim Glenn and Larry Kihnley were willing and able to step into the breach. One jumped at the chance while the other balked at first.

Glenn, who has been in the Scott County system since 1995 and joined Hicks’ varsity staff in 2001, didn’t hesitate to apply for the top job. He wasn’t dissuaded by people who warned him about the challenges of succeeding a legend.

Tim Glenn was on Billy Hicks’ staff at Scott County since 2001 before taking the reins this season. (Photo by Mike Fields)

“I heard it 100,000 times, even from buddies of mine. I said heck, who else you going to put in here? It might as well be me.

“I know it’s a heavy task. I know I can’t be Billy Hicks. But I think the blessing of being able to follow him, to coach basketball in a place I love, outweighs all that by a long shot.”

Kihnley was on the PRP bench the past 36 years, but when Mabrey stepped down in April, Kihnley had no interest in taking the reins.

“I’ve never, ever, in my whole life had any desire at all to be a head coach,” he said.

“You know when you start your first job and you have all these great ideas of everything you want to accomplish? Well, we accomplished everything.

“We won a state championship. We had great players. We went to the state tournament multiple times. We won the LIT (Louisville Invitational Tournament). We won more games than anybody in Louisville.

“The way I looked at it, there was nothing left to do. My dream was fulfilled.”

Mike Baxter, Kihnley’s close friend and a PRP assistant for 35 years, shared those sentiments. They told athletic director Nick Waddell their coaching days were done.

A couple of days later, however, Waddell called Kihnley and told him that Baxter had intimated that maybe, just maybe, the door wasn’t shut.

After talking with Baxter again, Kihnley took a weekend to mull it over. He went to church on Sunday, prayed about it, and felt God’s guidance.

Mike Baxter

“I came in Monday and told (Waddell) I’d take the job. Me and Mike have been running with it ever since.

“We’re the most experienced inexperienced staff in the world,” he added with a laugh. “But it’s been really fun. Mike and I have been rejuvenated.”

Obviously, Kihnley (PRP Class of 1981) and Baxter (Class of ’84) have a deep allegiance to their alma mater.

Ditto for Glenn (Scott County Class of 1989) and his top assistant, Chris Wilhite (Class of ’92). “Chris was a freshman when I was a senior, and he took over point guard after I graduated,” Glenn said. “This is where we want to be.”

Wilhite was an assistant at Tates Creek before leaving to join Glenn on Hicks’ staff in 2003. 

“In my opinion, Chris has one of the best basketball minds in Kentucky,” Glenn said. “He always did the offense for Billy. And he does a lot for our program organization-wise. He’s irreplaceable. It’s a blessing he was able to stay.”

Glenn, whose dad Sam is the pastor of Central Church of God in Georgetown, feels like he was called to be a teacher and a coach. “I knew it in the eighth grade,” he said.

He got his first taste of coaching during his senior year at Asbury College when he did his student teaching at Scott County. That also happened to be Hicks’ first season (1994-95) with the Cardinals.

The next school year Glenn got a job as a teacher and coach at Scott County Middle School. “The Lord worked it out for me to be back in my home county and getting to do what I really, really wanted to do.”

A few years later he joined Hicks’ varsity staff and was part of Scott County’s 2007 Sweet Sixteen title. “I’d never been a part of a championship of that magnitude,” he said. “It was so special.”

Glenn said the two most important things he learned from Hicks were the value of players’ individual improvement and hard work. And that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Chris Wilhite

“The way Billy set things up in practice, there was always competition, and he made it fun to work hard.”

While Glenn is just now learning all the intricacies of planning practices and developing game strategies, that’s old stuff for Kihnley. He’s been doing that at PRP since the mid-1980s.

“Basketball-wise, this is nothing new for me,” Kihnley said. “But I don’t know any of the other stuff. Heck, I don’t know what day it is half the time. I don’t know when the bus leaves. My job is between those four lines; that’s what I’ve always done. That’s why I hired a guy (Jason White) specifically to do all that other stuff.”

When it comes to PRP’s basketball past, Kihnley remembers everything. He can tell you in minute detail how a certain play unfolded in a region final three decades ago.

And he can still feel the thrill of the Panthers’ 1989 state title.

“Did we think we’d win a state championship, or even get to the finals?” he said. “Those were pipe dreams. We had only been to the state tournament once before that. So to actually achieve something you dream about was amazing. It was a wonderful ride.”

Kihnley and Glenn both feel as if their basketball programs are an extended family.

As assistant coaches, they always connected with their players beyond basketball, and they will continue to do so as head coaches.

“The most important thing isn’t winning or losing; it’s the relationships with the kids,” Kihnley said. “And that keeps you young.”

The coaches’ immediate families have always been involved, too.

Glenn’s wife Tricia is his rock of support. Their 21-year-old daughter Addie is a former Cardinals cheerleader. Their 15-year-old son Micah is a sophomore guard for Scott County. 

“Basketball has been a big part of our lives, and I couldn’t do this without them,” Glenn said.

Kihnley’s wife Robin has been part of PRP hoops for almost four decades in any number of ways, including helping out with concessions and washing uniforms. Their daughter, Madison Yochum, has been attending practices, going on scouting trips, and keeping the clock since she was a little girl. She’s now a teacher at PRP, and is also an assistant on her dad’s staff.

“My family has molded their life to my basketball,” Kihnley said. “They love it, and that’s the big thing.”

Glenn and Kihnley are both self-confessed basketball junkies, so it’s understandable why they were willing to work in the shadows of the legacies left by Hicks and Mabrey.

As Glenn put it: “Hey, it’s the game of basketball in Kentucky. There’s nothing else like it.”

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