Feature Mark Britton: in his own words | CullmanSense

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Mark Britton: in his own words

Longtime Cullman coach sits down with The Tribune to talk memories and what’s ahead

Coach Mark Britton, pictured here on Jan. 1, 2018, led the Cullman High School football program for 17 years. / Nick Griffin

CULLMAN - The 2017 football season was an emotional one for the Cullman Bearcats. After 17 years as head coach, Mark Britton announced his retirement on Sept. 22. That would’ve been a tough blow on its own, but shortly after announcing his retirement, Britton was diagnosed with renal cancer on Sept. 27. Britton underwent surgery on Oct. 27 to have the cancer removed and is happy to report that his recovery is going “outstanding.” He and his family recently got a good report back from the doctor and it appears that all the cancer has been removed from his kidney and he’s starting to “feel like his old self again.”

Britton has been teaching and coaching since 1988 when he was hired to teach history, coach baseball and be an assistant football coach at Cullman High School. In their 10 years under Britton, the baseball team made it to the final four of the state playoffs and racked up 199 wins. Two of Britton’s former players, Brian Bowen and Brent Patterson, went on to become head baseball coaches at Cullman and won multiple state championships. Brent Patterson is the current head baseball coach for the Bearcats.

Britton left Cullman in 1998 to be the Fairview Aggies head football coach and posted a 17-15 record there before accepting the Bearcats’ head coaching job in 2001. Britton’s Aggies made the playoffs two out of his three years there and he credits his success to the administration and coaches around him.

“I had a great experience at Fairview. Keith Patilla was my principal, he made things very easy for me and I had a great group of coaches. George Redding is still out there, Marty Hardiman, and I just had a lot of guys on staff that were Fairview graduates, and that makes a huge difference,” Britton shared. “They’ll work over and above for their home school and I was very fortunate to come in there; the timing was good and the team prior to that was 1-9 and my first year we went 7-4 and made the playoffs. We had a lot of young people playing at the time that kind of had a bad taste in their mouth as far as wins and losses, but they enjoyed the game. I got a group with experience and even though they hadn’t had a lot of success they were hungry. So, with that we were able to have some successful years there and I still have players that are extremely close to me from those teams and I see some of them on a daily basis, so I have nothing but fond memories of those days.”

In the 17 years since taking the Cullman job, Britton led the Bearcats to a record 151 wins in his tenure, with zero losing seasons during that stretch, before coaching his last game on Oct. 6. He will be a fixture in Cullman football record books forever after filling it up with wins and playoff appearances. Britton and his staff coached the Bearcats through two out of Cullman’s four undefeated seasons in school history and coached for 31 of Cullman’s 50 playoff appearances. Britton is happy to have been able to spend such a long tenure coaching for his alma mater despite a changing culture in the coaching business.

“I didn’t think the tenure would be that long. The coaching business is tough, very tough. I think in the last 17-20 years things have changed. You see a trickle down into the coaching business in high schools where more changes are made than how it was in the past. You have them in college now and that trickles down to your local sports and I don’t know if that’s always good,” Britton said. “The pros and the colleges can go out recruiting and you still have accountability whereas in high school you may get some groups that are small in numbers as far as boys in that class. You may have a group that are great kids and they just don’t like football or don’t want to participate so you’re kind of at the mercy of these classes when it comes to a lot of factors.”

He continued, “I think some of the best coaching jobs that my staff did came in years that we probably weren’t as productive in the wins and losses column. They’d do twice the work to try and be creative and find a way to get a win. Then you also have injuries that nobody can account for and you have to have a plan for that. This job was something that we were very excited to get in 2001. There was no way we could’ve seen the journey that we’ve had coming, and it’s been really great but there’s no way to predict that. We were just always trying to win the next ball game.”

One of the things that Britton will remember most fondly is how involved his family has been in the football program. Both of his sons, Patrick and Matthew, played football during his tenure as head coach and his daughter Meaghan was a water girl and a trainer.

“There were a lot of great moments in my three years at Fairview and my 17 years coaching here at Cullman and there was a lot of change as the boys got older,” Britton said. “They were the two oldest and they both played for me. Both of them were defensive guys and what’s good about football opposed to other sports is that you have a lot of assistants so you’re not always the guy that’s correcting your son. We also didn’t want a lot of carry-over at the house because all players need to get away from the game, so we had a few rules about that. If the boys brought it up that would kind of open the door and we’d go from there, but it was great, I really enjoyed coaching the boys. In later years Meaghan came along and when she was real young she was a water girl and then she worked with Scott Lochridge’s group as a trainer so the whole family was involved during my time at Cullman High School.”

So what are Britton’s favorite moments?

Britton has a lot of great memories from his time coaching the Bearcats. He has plenty of wins and plays to choose from over 17 years, but Britton reflected on some of the more human moments he experienced and his relationships with former players.

“There’s a lot of memories that stick out to me,” Britton smiled. “We used to play the opening football game against West Point a lot and usually on a Thursday night. It was always a big game regardless of whether it was in Cullman or West Point and Coach Simmons was the head coach at West Point at the time. We were at Cullman getting ready to play and his wife went into labor just a few minutes before kickoff. We had a quick discussion about delaying the game, but the stadium was packed full and there was no doubt he was going to be with his wife, so he just turned everything over to his assistants. I see Coach Simmons from time to time and his son so that’s a memory from early in my career that sticks out.

“Players stick out to me too. We had Andrew Winfrey a few years ago get in a terrible car accident and I got to see the courage of that young man battling back. We’ve had several kids go on to play at major universities and that’s rewarding for us. Spencer Region played in the Under Armour All American Game and now many of those kids in that game he played with are in the pros now.”

Britton said one of the things he is most proud of during his time coaching at Cullman is the consistency he’s been able to provide his family. Some coaches find themselves moving around a lot, but he was happy to be able to keep his family in one place, so they could grow within the community.

“It’s just been amazing, I’ve been on a great ride, but I think the thing I’ve been most proud of and excited about is my children were able to go to Cullman City Schools from K-12,” Britton shared. “We were not nomadic, and I’m just blessed that when my kids got ready to go to college they had a home and a community they could call home to leave from, so I’m blessed in that way and that’s just one of the things off the field and in my private life that I’m more excited about than the numbers that we were able to put up.”

Britton shared a little bit of advice that he has for his eventual successor as he or she steps into the role he’s filled for the better part of two decades. He said he is proud of the program that he and his assistants have put together and is excited to see what the next coach will be able to accomplish at CHS.

“I think it’s a great job, I really do; I think it’s a difficult job as well,” Britton said “There are a lot of things that you need to juggle around. You’re working with teenagers who are living their lives day to day at this point, but my advice would be to just be flexible. Don’t take too much too seriously and just try to enjoy it. I know from my coaching experience I felt like as soon as we won a ball game it was very difficult to enjoy because you’re worrying about the game next week and injuries and so many things that you cannot control. I think the last few years I took time to enjoy the games and for me personally it was a lot more rewarding, so I think taking time to smell the roses a little bit would be good advice. You have to keep your priorities in order like faith and family, and those things can take a hit if you’re not careful.”

He smiled, “I think we’ve got great kids on the horizon and we’re leaving an outstanding staff; I can’t talk enough about my coaching staff. You get credit for a lot of things as a head coach, but you can’t coach football by yourself, you have to have guys that can help you and the trust factor and relationships that I’ve had with my coaching staff over the years is probably one the things I’m going to miss the most.”

Britton hasn’t come to a decision about when he will retire from teaching history but is excited for what life has in store for him now that his coaching career has wrapped up.

“Leaving the way we are, you’re not going away mad. You’re not angry at anyone, it’s just a good time to make this move I think for all parties involved,” Britton said. “It’ll be an exciting time for the kids at Cullman High School to work for somebody new. You know the only constant in this world is change so its just another chapter in the book for us. I’m looking forward to seeing what its like not to be coaching. I can’t remember the last time I watched a Cullman football game that I wasn’t coaching football somewhere so that’s going to be new. I know there will be a lot of parts that I miss about it, but there’s also going to be some exciting things too. Personally, I’m leaving this job knowing that we did a good job and that’s what you want to do, you want to leave something better than you found it and I think we have. We had a good run. I’m very satisfied and I look back with no regrets.”

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  • Nick Griffin
    Coach Mark Britton, pictured here on Jan. 1, 2018, led the Cullman High School football program for 17 years.