Ashland is ready to begin its Love story.
The school introduced Tony Love as its 23rd head football coach since 1919 on Friday night at halftime of the Ashland-Johnson Central boys basketball game.
The announcement came just a little more than a month after former coach Leon Hart declared his retirement.
Love has served the past 19 years as an assistant on staff, including spending the last 10 as the Tomcats’ defensive coordinator under Hart.
“I feel like I’m in an exclusive fraternity now,” Love said.
Love emerged from a “deep and talented pool of applicants,” according to Mark Swift, Ashland’s athletic director.
“As we went through the process it became obvious that Tony Love was absolutely the best fit,” Swift said in an email. “We owe it to our players and the community to get the best coach possible and we’ve done that with Tony Love.”
Almost every bit of the 45-year-old’s coaching experience has taken place at Ashland. He served on Greenup County’s staff for one season. As a player, Love was a linebacker and defensive lineman at Meadowbrook High School in Byesville, Ohio, and then at Morehead State University, from where he graduated in 1990.
Ashland’s defense has been fairly steady with Love in control. The Tomcats allowed just 18.3 and 13.8 points per game in the last two seasons, respectively.
Love looks forward to the challenge of helping carry forward Ashland’s rich tradition.
“It’s so different here ... it’s a blessing and a curse at times,” Love said with a laugh. “You have to be spot on, week in and week out. Most teams have one or two rivals. For us, it’s week after week after week. You have to have thick skin, strong shoulders, and be committed to what you believe in.”
None of the current assistant coaches applied for the job, which spoke volumes for Love.
“It showed they were in complete support of me,” he said. “We have a staff in place that’s second to none.”
When Hart took the position in 2003, Love wanted it. Hart’s powerful resume filled with college experience was too much with which to compete.
Looking back, Love is thankful everything worked out the way it did.
“Mentally, at this point, I’m a lot different than I was 10 years ago,” Love said. “Working with coach Hart, you can do nothing but get better. I think, with what I gained from him, I’m going to have a lot more success than I would have 10 years ago.
“I want to thank our administration for seeing the same thing.”
Love outlined three keys to winning: “Run the ball, play great defense and be a disciplined team.”
And a fourth: “I want the kids to have a great attitude.”
Love’s already seen promising signs with the current crop of returning players this offseason.
“Even without a head coach, we had great numbers in the weight room,” he said.
The head wrestling coach for the past 12 seasons, Love is approaching that position status as a “wait-and-see” situation. In any case, he wants to see the program continue to prosper. He’s taking his wrestlers to regional competition at Sheldon Clark today.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.