Ethan McBride had been serving as interim football coach at Montgomery Academy for a little more than six weeks when he was notified on Thursday afternoon that school officials were removing the interim tag.
McBride will replace his longtime boss, Robert Johnson, following Johnson’s abrupt resignation from the school as athletic director and head football coach on March 31. McBride said he was so focused on running the program in Johnson’s absence that he didn’t feel any different on Thursday when he was told he had been hired as a head football coach for the first time.
“We felt we owed it to these kids to get it back going and get them focused in,” McBride said. “Once we made it official, it’s not that the emotions really changed much. It was, like, ‘All right, cool,’ that all those big plans we had long term, now those can come to fruition.”
A quick focus for McBride in the wake of Johnson’s decision to step away from the program was to put some excitement in the program with more accountability and leadership from the players. Another focal point had to be to restore some stability after the loss of two coaches from the staff.
“The past is the past, not just in the sense of a head coaching change but we’re not that team that went to the (2021) championship (game),” McBride said he told the players. “That team’s gone, that team’s graduated, this is your team now. You have the opportunity to take your program back. For a second, there were a lot of people saying a lot of things about us. It was their opportunity to say this is our program. I really think they owned it. Through this, we’ve had so many more kids step up into leadership-type roles.”
The football program has reached the state playoffs for a school-record 10 consecutive seasons, but it will be difficult to extend that streak after getting elevated last season to Class 4A by Competitive Balance Factor. Of the 40 players on the roster who made the trip to Sylacauga for a spring game on Friday night, 18 are freshmen.
After learning of his new position on Thursday, McBride told the players the news on Friday before taking the trip to Sylacauga.
“We didn’t have practice (on Thursday) because of exams, so I thought when was the next time we were going to get the team together,” he said. “It’ll be a nice pick-me-up on the way to the game, to go ahead and announce it.”
While McBride attended Alabama Christian Academy, some of his youngest memories were built watching John Tatum-coached Montgomery Academy teams playing at McLemore Field.
“I grew up across the street from Coach Tatum and my oldest brother (Bart), who’s 10 years older than me, went to MA,” McBride said. “It’s part of the reason I ended up back here. Coach Tatum is really the person that convinced me to go into high school coaching. It’s a really cool thing that now I’m getting my first opportunity as a head coach at the place that him and Spence (McCracken) and Robert and Gary (Nelson) and all these people have built.”
McBride played for three different coaches at Alabama Christian Academy -- Dirk Strunk in 2005, Gregg Baker in 2006-07 and Kenny Simpson in 2008 -- so he feels he identifies with players who have been shuffled around at various positions in the wake of coaching changes or a change in the offensive or defensive scheme.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree at Alabama, he remained in Tuscaloosa as a defensive backs coach for Johnson at Tuscaloosa Academy, winning the state championship in 2012. Five years later, he branched out on his own, taking a job coaching linebackers and quarterbacks at Childersburg in 2017, defensive backs at Shades Valley in 2018 and 2019 and as the quarterbacks coach for Helena in the spring of 2020 before getting a call from Johnson and rejoining him at Montgomery Academy in March, 2020.
“I went (to Tuscaloosa Academy) about as green as you could get, eager to learn,” McBride said. “He was the person that taught me so much of what I know.”
The Eagles reached the 3A semifinals in 2020 and the 3A finals in 2021 under McBride’s defensive scheme and Johnson’s wing-T offense. McBride will continue to serve as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, while Jeremy Arant will serve as the offensive coordinator, a position he held under Nelson.
“Obviously, the offense is changing with Coach Johnson no longer being here,” McBride said. “So that was an opportunity, with only five days of practice, to really see what we’ve got. I think all the kids are excited about the potential we’ve got for the future, moving forward.
“You’ve got to fit what you’ve got and unfortunately we don’t have a lot of Jashawn Coopers coming down the line, so there’s not a lot of 6-foot, 230-pound fullbacks. But what we do have are some talented receivers, really fast kids. The offense, obviously, will look a little different. It’ll take into account what we’ve got.”
McBride also plans to remain as the head track coach, where he led both the boys and the girls outdoor track teams to a third-place finish in 4A track.