Mike Kirst had done his homework on Cary High before he was being introduced as the next football coach on Friday. He hunted for a Kelly Green tie for three hours because he wanted to make sure he was wearing the school’s official colors.
Though he came up short in his quest for the right shade of green, his willingness to embrace Cary’s storied football history is part of why he’s been tapped as the man to turn around a program that went 0-11 last season. Cary enjoyed 11 straight years of postseason play before that streak ended in 2013 and it is one of three Wake County schools to win a state title, doing so in 1955.
“This opportunity comes once in a lifetime,” Kirst said. “I’m well aware Cary has a great reputation academically. The tradition, athletically, is hard to match.”
Kirst just wrapped up his eighth season coaching and teaching at Millbrook, where he coached several different units during his team. He coached the offensive line after previously serving as the Wildcats’ head JV coach and special teams coordinator.
Cary was coached by former AD Kurt Glendenning for two seasons before he resigned shortly after the 2014 campaign.
“He was the one coach of the handful that we brought in to interview personally that had never been a head coach before,” Cary AD Mike Dunphy said. “For us, we kind of saw the shifting of the landscape in Wake County football. If you look at the success Wake County football has had at the 4AA, 4A level, it’s been pretty dominant. Having someone who kind of knows the landscape and been a big part of that with Millbrook over in the Cap (Eight Conference) was a big part of it for us.”
Millbrook is 21-7 in the last two seasons but was 3-8 the year prior. Experiencing that turnaround gives Kirst a roadmap to do the same at Cary.
“We went back to work. We didn’t try to make excuses. We identified things we needed to get better at. We need to do that here,” Kirst said. “Those seasons were very valuable. I learned a lot from coach Inscore about how to remain consistent in my message. He did that. That message still remains, whether it’s 11 wins and a third-round appearance or whether it was three wins.”
At Friday’s press conference, Kirst laid out four pillars to building a program: all players give their all on the field and in the classroom, to be physical, upholding Cary’s tradition and building leaders.
Other than being a “run-first” football team, the X’s and O’s, he said, will be secondary to laying the groundwork of the Cary program .
“We’ve got to establish some norms and expectations and bridge the gap between winter, spring and summer,” Kirst said.
He is now one of four former Millbrook assistants serving as a head football coach in Wake County. The others from Wildcats coach Clarence Inscore’s coaching tree are Mike Castellano at Middle Creek, John Poulnott at East Wake and Jermaine Evans at Rolesville. Evans and Poulnott preceded him as offensive coordinator.
Inscore said that when Kirst told Millbrook players earlier in the day that he was leaving for Cary, there were some tears shed.
“He’s a loyal and dedicated worker. He was with me for eight years. Even if we had different opinions, he backed me 100 percent,” Inscore said. “Mike does a great job establishing relationships, not just the coaches but the players as well and parents.”