|Submitted Photo. Chris Wolfe, a 1990 Highlands graduate, led the Male Bulldogs to their first state championship since 2000 this past winter. Male finished a perfect 15-0.|
But following the 2007 after completing his third season as head coach of the Pleasure Ridge Park Panthers football team, Wolfe decided to take a break from coaching. The 1990 Highlands graduate helped out former Bluebird Head Coach Tom Duffy for a year at Henderson County before taking his first head coaching job at Hancock County just outside Owensboro.
"I just think it was time because I was a little burnt out," Wolfe said. "It allowed me to regroup and think about why I got into coaching and that kind of thing. Being a head coach at 24 is pretty young. It really has helped me become a better coach."
But when John Kelsey became the Director of Athletics at another Louisville High School in the Male Bulldogs, Wolfe jumped at the chance to coach at the highest Class 6A level. Six years later, the Bulldogs won their first Class 6A state championship and seventh overall with a perfect 15-0 record. But it marked the first time a public high school in Jefferson County won the state's largest class since Male last did it in 2000.
"Six years ago, I hired Coach Wolfe and my opinion has not changed," Kelsey said. "He is the best football coach in the state of Kentucky. It has been a lot of hard work and commitment from a lot of people, but I am certainly proud that Coach Wolfe is the leader of our program. Not only very talented, but a team of many great kids. Chris deserves all the praise he is getting."
That seven state championships in school history is tied with Boyle County for seventh-most in Kentucky history. Male owns 859 wins in school history. That is second-most in Kentucky behind Highlands' 876 victories.
"Just like any school with tradition like Highlands, it's a great opportunity," Wolfe said. "I was familiar with the AD there because we were at Waggener together. Obviously, we had some really good years at Waggener. It seemed like the right time and right opportunity to get back in at a place where we could be successful at the highest level, which is where I wanted to be. It was worth a shot."
The big challenge for Male and every other team in Class 6A stood private school Louisville powers Trinity Shamrocks and St. Xavier Tigers. The teams captured the largest classification between 2001 and 2012 before Scott County ended the run with a state championship over Meade County, 21-14 in the 2013 Class 6A title game.
"The train of thought was Trinity and St. X were going to dominate in 6A for the forseable future," Wolfe said. "There just wasn't much chance for public schools to get back into it. The process to get there didn't happen overnight. It took us three years to get the right system in place and to change the mentality."
It took some time, but Wolfe and staff did reach the level of Trinity and St. Xavier. The Bulldogs went 11-4 losing 38-0 to Trinity in the 2010 6A title game in Wolfe's first season.
Male struggled against its big rivals in Wolfe's first three seasons as head coach. The Bulldogs went a combined 0-8 against Trinity and St. Xavier and lost the first four meetings to arch-rival DuPont Manual during Wolfe's tenure.
But in 2013, Male broke through and beat both Trinity and St. Xavier twice on its way to a Region 2 championship. But Scott County beat Male, 24-10 in the semifinals.
The Bulldogs beat Trinity and St. Xavier in the regular season in 2014 including a double-overtime win over the Shamrocks. But Trinity won the rematch in the second round, 38-31 in overtime on its way to the 23rd state championship in school history.
But that is the lone blemish against either Trinity or St. Xavier in the last 10 meetings. Male has also beaten Manual the last two years.
"The mentality changed to where they expected to win," Wolfe said. "They looked forward to those games. You obviously have to have some talent."
Male beat Trinity, 42-13 in the regular season this past year. The rematch for the Region 2 championship was much closer, but Male prevailed this time, 20-19. Trinity missed an extra-point attempt late in the game, which proved to be the difference.
The Bulldogs were then expected to cruise in the next two rounds and did blow out the opponents. They handled Central Hardin, 50-0 in the semifinals before handling Lexington Lafayette, 41-14 in the 6A title game.
"There wasn't really any change (in approach). I wasn't too worried about it," Wolfe said. "There was no doubt these guys were focused on finishing even after beating Trinity. Whoever was the next opponent. They were going to five their full attention. You learn the lessons from the past. These seniors had been through it two years in a row where we felt we were good enough to win a state championship. We didn't play well enough in the playoffs to finish. They were determined to finish it this year."
Wolfe's success does not surprise former roommate at Campbellsville University and Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich. Wolfe played defensive back and running back at Highlands and Weinrich played wide receiver on the 1989 Class AAA state championship team before they played collegiately at Campbellsville.
"I knew when (Wolfe) got the job at Male it wouldn't take long for them to become the team to beat in Louisville," Weinrich said. "He actually said to me in a conversation this fall, 'How crazy is it that the two of us are head coaches at the top two winningest programs in Kentucky?' There are a large number of guys we played college ball with that are coaches in Kentucky, and that is a special bond for all of us. However, because Chris and I graduated from Highlands together, it is that much more gratifying. It was awesome to watch his team win the state championship this year. I know that neither of us are ever satisfied and will continue to find ways to get better."
Wolfe credited this year's senior class for breaking through. Twenty of the 22 starters this year came from that class. Several even started as sophomores. As freshmen, Male went 9-0. The Bulldogs had one player with a Football Bowl Subdivision offer and more with Division II and Football Championship Subdivision players.
Senior quarterback Hayden Shelton led Male completing 144-of-238 passes for 2,780 yards, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The Bulldogs run a one-back, no-huddle, shotgun spread offense and 4-2-5 defense.
Male likes to be balanced offensively. But that does not mean the Bulldogs look to always rush and pass for the same amount of yards in the game.
"We are a pass-first, spread team. We want to force people to defend the pass first," Wolfe said. "The run comes off the pass for us. We look for balance not necessarily in numbers. It's efficiency to where if they're loading up against the run, we certainly can pass. If they overplay the pass, we can certainly run so we'll have games where we run for 300 and pass just a little bit. We had 341 yards passing and only a little rushing in the state game. That's what happened to be there. They played the run more because we ran well against Central Hardin. We took advantage of the match-ups. It's important to be able to do both when needed."
Wolfe teaches one class at Male. It is on Global Issues.
"I like it because everything is fresh and new," Wolfe said. "I don't like repetitiveness when it comes to teaching history. You can teach things that apply to today and things change on a regular basis. That's something I enjoy quite a bit."
Wolfe's record at Male is 59-21 in six seasons. Prior to that, Wolfe coached PRP to an 18-16 record after going 46-25 in six seasons at Louisville Waggener. The 2000 squad lost in the state semifinals to Owensboro, which lost in the Class AAA title game to Highlands.
In 1998, Hancock County finished with a school-record 10 wins against just three defeats. The Hornets finished state runner-up in Class A the following year.