The era of high school coaches lasting for decades seems to be waning, but, unfortunately for teams facing Bellwood-Antis on the football field, John Hayes still might be around for a while.
"I've already talked to the [assistant] coaches about things we want to do over the winter in preparation for next year. So, it seems like, in my mind, that's what I want to do," Hayes said. "The reason is that I just really enjoy it."
He's really good at it, too, and shows few signs of slowing down.
In his 33rd year guiding the Blue Devils, Hayes took the team as deep as it's ever been in the state playoffs by reaching the PIAA Class A semifinals, tied a school record with 13 wins and captured the program's sixth District 6 championship.
In recognition, Hayes has been selected a runaway winner for Altoona Mirror High School Football Coach of the Year through a vote of area coaches and Mirror writers. Hayes had 68 votes. Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic's Justin Wheeler was second with 39.
"This was a year we fulfilled most of the goals we set out to do," Hayes, who has a 279-90-2 career record, said. "I often tell [the players] when you look at yourself in the mirror next morning and you like what you see, then you've done your job. When I looked at how hard they played and how disappointed they were after we lost [to Dunmore in the state semis], it was a good feeling, because I knew they cared. That's when you know they got something out of the experience."
1, John Hayes, Bellwood-Antis, 68; 2, Justin Wheeler, Bishop Guilfoyle, 39; 3, Gary Gouse, Portage, 11; 4 (tie), Jarrod Lewis, Cambria Heights, and Mike Smith, Juniata Valley, 9; 6, John Franco, Altoona, 7; 7 (tie), Dave Baker, Central, Jeff Batzel, Northern Bedford, and Max Shoemaker, Chestnut Ridge, 6; 10, Steve Guthoff, Tyrone, 5; 11, Matt Irvine, Glendale, 2; 12, Paul Taranto, Northern Cambria, 1
Bellwood typically enters the year as one of the favorites for the 6-A title, and this year was no different. However, the Blue Devils weren't guaranteed to win it by any stretch of the imagination. There were some major question marks - a new starting quarterback, inexperience on the offensive line - and a plethora of other teams like Guilfoyle, Bishop McCort, Northern Cambria and defending PIAA semifinalist Penns Manor that looked like strong contenders, too.
Hayes knew he had some talented skill players, but even that was a double-edged sword.
"One of the difficulties when you have a number of talented people is keeping everybody on-task and keeping them happy. When you have kids who know they're pretty good, there's a certain amount of ego that they have that they want to perform," Hayes said.
Hayes and his staff found a way to fit all the sparkling parts together while keeping the grinders grinding. While he said during the season he coached the same way he always did, nuances that came from experience were apparent to those that had worked with him before.
"I think he changed his play-calling a little bit, and I think it must have worked," senior guard Keith Shawley said.
Of course, with Hayes' resume, it's easy to get the attention of the players.
"You know from talking to him that he knows what he's talking about. He has a lot of wins because he knows how to make a good football team," Shawley said. "Honestly, he's like a celebrity in Bellwood."
Hayes admits, though, that the time has come when he is beginning to think about passing the torch.
"I'm in that window where evaluation is going on in my mind about the future," Hayes said. "Everybody knows when it's time. I think I'll know."