MOUNT VERNON -- Mike Kerr has stepped down from his position as Mount Vernon's head football coach after six years at the helm.
Kerr told Knox Pages on Wednesday that he has accepted an offer to become Bexley's next head football coach, following in the footsteps of longtime mentor Mike Golden, who announced his retirement in November.
“This was my first head coaching job. I will forever be grateful for Mount Vernon, and this community, for giving me a start," Kerr said.
"When I came in, I was Mount Vernon’s third head coach in three years. So it was quite a challenge. But I think over time we built something that we could really be proud of here, having back-to-back winning seasons. I’m really proud of what the kids did.
"I think we had a lot of highlights. And I know that this season didn’t turn out quite the way we hoped (it would), but I was proud of our kids and the effort and time they put into it, and their attitude in general. I think we were able to build a culture here that we could all be proud of.”
Kerr went 22-37 during his time in Mount Vernon. The Yellow Jackets went 6-4 in 2019, marking the program's first winning season since 2013. They placed fourth in the Ohio Cardinal Conference that year and finished 13th in Division II Region 7 (the top eight teams from each region qualified for the playoffs).
Mount Vernon went 5-4 in 2020, and through an OHSAA decision to expand the postseason, competed in the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The 16th-seeded Jackets fell to the 17th-seeded Canal Winchester Indians, 45-7, at Energy Field.
The Yellow Jackets finished 2-8 last fall. They struggled defensively, surrendering 32 points per game, while scoring just 20 points per game. Their wins came against Newark (0-10) and Madison Comprehensive (0-8).
Kerr described the 2021 season as disappointing. But he said he had no plans of leaving until Golden gave him a call in early December.
"It really wasn't an opportunity that I was looking for – I wasn’t trying to leave Mount Vernon – but Mike Golden, who I coached with at Upper Arlington and Delaware Hayes, was down at Bexley," Kerr recalled.
"And we were on the phone, and he told me he was retiring, and he asked me about whether I would be interested in looking into Bexley and following him there. So that started the conversation."
Kerr said he visited Bexley, a Division IV school located just east of Columbus, later that month. He connected instantly with Jason Fine, the district's new superintendent, who he worked with at Upper Arlington less than a decade ago.
"He's just a fantastic guy," Kerr said.
There was also a family connection for Kerr. His wife, Kim, is a Bexley native, and still has family in the city of 13,000.
"With all of those things in consideration, the more we talked, it just felt like the right fit for me and my family," Kerr said.
Kerr submitted his letter of resignation to Mount Vernon athletic director Justin Sanford on Tuesday, and later that night, Bexley's school board approved his contract.
Sanford praised Kerr for his leadership over the last six years, and said Mount Vernon's next head coach will have big shoes to fill. Kerr ushered Mount Vernon football into a new era, transitioning from the Ohio Capital Conference to the Ohio Cardinal Conference in 2017.
"Mike is a true professional, a great man, and this I believe is a great opportunity for him down in Bexley. ..." Sanford said.
"It’s just a great opportunity for Mike and we’re certainly gonna miss him. What Mike did for our kids and our boys in our program – from his leadership and just teaching life lessons through the game of football – was just awesome."
Despite the disappointing 2021 finish, Sanford said he had "full confidence" in Kerr moving forward. He believed the Jackets had the ability to regroup and reload in 2022.
"Mike and I had conversations about the 2022 season and I felt great confidence that, despite this little blip he had this past year with the 2-8 season, we were gonna be right back on track," Kerr said. "I had full confidence in Mike. (But this is) a great opportunity for him."
Sanford said the deadline to apply for Mount Vernon's head coaching position will be Jan. 26. The school district will then assemble a committee to review all applications and complete the interview process.
The goal, Sanford said, is to have a new coach in-place by mid-February. Mount Vernon's school board meets Feb. 14, and Sanford hopes to have a recommendation ready by then.
"We want to make sure (the new hire) has time to get acclimated with the kids, get their lifting program in-place, and start the process of putting their staff together, so they can hit the ground running in the summer," Sanford explained.
But Sanford said he isn't married to that timeline. If it takes a little bit longer to lock down the desired candidate, he is willing to wait.
“We’ll move as expeditiously as we can," Sanford said. "But at the same time, we want to make sure we get the right fit for Mount Vernon.”
Kerr currently teaches career-based intervention at Mount Vernon High School, overseeing a program that helps connect at-risk students with education and employment resources in the community. He plans to continue teaching at MVHS through the end of the school year, then shift to a teaching position at Bexley in the fall, although his exact role is yet to be determined.
“We’re figuring out what that looks like right now," said Kerr, who is also certified to teach history.
Bexley will be Kerr's seventh coaching stop in central Ohio. The Georgia native was hired by Upper Arlington in 1999 after graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
He coached the Golden Bears for six years, then spent two years coaching wide receivers at nearby Otterbein University. Kerr worked as the defensive coordinator at Mechanicsburg High School for one year, then came back to Upper Arlington, where he served as Golden's defensive coordinator for three seasons.
When Golden accepted the head job at Delaware Hayes in 2014, Kerr followed, and he served as the Pacers' defensive coordinator for two seasons. Mount Vernon offered Kerr his first head coaching job in 2016, and he took it – guiding the Yellow Jackets into a new conference and a new era.
Kerr said he is excited about the new challenges that lay ahead at Bexley. The Lions finished 3-7 last year, and have not had a winning season since 2016, when they finished 11-1 and lost to Hamilton Township in the regional semifinals.
“I’m just excited about the opportunity to come in and build on what Coach Golden’s done – build on the foundation he’s put in, and continue to create the culture that we created here," Kerr said.
"I think there’s a lot of potential there. It’s a different league and a different challenge, (so) it’s definitely going to be very different. I’m just excited about the new challenges – going to a new school, and all the new teams we’ll play.”
Sanford said he's excited for Mount Vernon's football program as well. 2022 will bring new faces, new ideas and another opportunity to compete for a conference title. Although the process of finding a new coach is never easy, Sanford noted.
"Sometimes when you go through these processes of looking for a coach, it can seem daunting. ... But at the same time, I’m excited for the kids," he said.
"Those that are returners, anticipating that (Kerr) was gonna be there, hopefully they’re excited as well, to get a new voice and a new face to come in and lead them for the coming years. So it’s daunting, (but) I’m excited for Mike, and I’m excited for our kids at the same time.”