Photo from CV&T Archives
Mike Jones is pictured at left in 2001 during his first season as the Engineer’s head coach. Matt Richardson, also pictured, was one of his star players.
By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
Mike Jones, head coach of the Estill County High School football team, is retiring after 18 years in that role.
Jones’ first became an Engineer when he played for Estill County himself under the coaching of Hoover Niece. He graduated in 1983, and went on to play at Union College, where he was named an Academic All American and was later inducted into their Hall of Fame with the reputation of being a very fast wide receiver. Jones eventually helped coach the team there for two years.
From 1991 to 2001, Jones was assistant coach, then head coach, of the high school football team in Hazard.
In 2001, he was hired as head coach in Estill County. Jones says he remembers it well, because it was the year of the terrorist attacks on September 11. He remembers walking into a fellow teacher’s classroom and seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
Jones was also coaching when the new football fieldhouse was built in 2002 with the financial help of Kevin Richardson, who is one of the Backstreet Boys and a former Engineer himself.
Looking back, there are a few seasons that stick out in Coach Jone’s mind.
In 2003, the Engineers beat the Russell Independent Red Devils, a team that was ranked number three in the state.
“…We beat them pretty bad,” Jones said. It was a huge upset for Russell Independent and their first district loss, 35-14. The win was also great jump start for the Estill County program during the Jones era.
The Engineers made it to the play-offs that year, going on to defeat the West Carter Comets, 49-36. They tied for second place in the district with East Carter, and finished that season, 8-2.
Jones recalls that Matt Richardson, the team’s top runner and one of the best players he coached at Estill County, was part of that team.
That was also the year they beat Powell County, 77-6.
Lloyd Memorial, later to become Erlanger, beat the Engineers soundly in the play-off, 62-28. Lloyd Memorial went all the way to the state finals that year before losing. The Engineers ended the season with an overall record of 8-3, with 5-3 region and 5-2 district records.
At the end of the season, they were the top rushing team in the state, gaining 4,027 yards in 10 regular season games.
Matt Richardson finished the season number three in the state in rushing, with 2,144 yards in ten games, and he was fifth in the state in scoring.
In 2008, the Engineers experienced another memorable year, as they defeated Knott County Central 62-20 to finish district play with a record of 9-1.
They went on to beat the Somerset Briar Jumpers in the first round of the 2008 KHSAA Class 3A football playoffs, by a score of 31-6.
Running back Ben Benedict contributed four touchdowns to that win.
The Engineers later beat Taylor County, 73-28, to secure a record 11 wins in a single season. In the first round of the play-offs the Engineers had to face Breathitt County again, the same team that handed them a bitter 7-6 loss early in the season. It was the Engineer’s first-ever post season win over Taylor County.
Breathitt won again, 39-7, but the season was one of their very best, with records broken. Breathitt went on to play in the state championship that year.
In 2014, Coach Jones was honored to be named 3A Coach of the Year the same year that his son Trevor was named 3A Player of the Year.
Trevor graduated in 2015 and went on to play at Morehead, where he set the all-time single game rushing record.
In 2016, the Engineer’s won their first and only district championship with a team that Jones says he wouldn’t consider the best team he’s ever coached, but it was a team for which “everything fell into place.” They beat every team in their district that year, and he was also named Coach of the Year in his district in 2016.
Jones says he’s proud of the fact that his teams made it to the play-offs 11 of the 18 years he coached, and that they won six play-off games, the most in school history.
Former high school principal Blain Click remembers Jones was known in football circles for his unique double wing offense. He also recalls how well thought of he was by his players.
“The players loved Jones,” Click said.
ECHS teacher Austin Moore played for Jones in high school from 2002 to 2005, then he served as his assistant coach from 2006 until Jone’s last season in 2018.
“Since 2002, I’ve been blessed to have been led by Mike, both as a player and assistant coach,” said Moore. “When I think back to the impressive run he’s had at Estill County, I’m reminded of how Mike was a perfect fit for the students athletes of Estill County. I am reminded of the funny and witty quotes and stories he has used over the years.
Moore said he will always be thankful that Jones prepared his players for more than just football and says he always put them first.
“As I think of all of the teams over the years, I am overjoyed at the number of young men who have had the opportunity to gain wisdom under Mike’s tutelage,” said Moore.
“Although Mike’s time on the sidelines of Estill County may be through, the impact Coach Jones has left on the young men of Estill County has just begun. Regardless of the amount of wins each particular player experienced under Coach Jones, they are assured to have left his program with an increased skillset to help them navigate through life,” Moore said.
“I am proud of the man who has led our program for the majority of my life, and as a citizen of Estill County, I am proud of his accomplishments, and even more grateful for the influence he provided to the young men of our county.”