What perhaps has been the worst-kept secret in Lawrence County athletics is finally out.
Brandon Phillian has been named the new head coach of the Wilmington High football program, succeeding longtime coach Terry Verrelli.
Phillian, 31, has been a member of the Wilmington staff since 2007 and the defensive coordinator since 2012. For the last few years, he unofficially had been deemed the "head-coach-in-waiting" as Verrelli neared retirement.
"He came in maybe 10 years ago and took a job here because he wanted to coach for me and learn from me and hopefully become a head coach here," Verrelli said. "He’s a very bright kid and he has excellent work habits and learned everything I could teach him."
Verrelli went 314-130-3 over his 40-year career. He won a state title in 2008 and played for two others, including this past season. Verrelli said one of the most important elements of his decision to step down was because he believed Phillian would do well in the job and he wanted to leave him in a position to have immediate success. Wilmington had five players who gained all-state honors in 2017 and three of those — Cameron Marett, Colton Richards and Jimmy Reed — return.
After graduating from Wilmington in 2005, Phillian attended Westminster College, where he played football for two seasons.
"After two years of playing, knowing I was going to be a teacher, I decided I wanted to get into coaching," he said. "So I came up and asked coach Verrelli is he had a spot for me and he did."
Phillian, who says he always aspired to be a head coach, started as a volunteer coach at the junior high level before working his way up through the system and becoming Verrelli's hand-picked successor.
"I feel very fortunate that I was able to coach under Terry Verrelli," Phillian said. "He did a great job working with me teaching me the Xs and the Os of the game, but not only the Xs the Os and the scheme and the strategy, he really taught me a lot about how to run a successful program."
Phillian also was effusive in his praise of longtime Verrelli assistant Bob Mitcheltree, who worked hand-in-hand with Phillian when he was coaching the junior varsity team.
"Coach Mitch has coached football for upward of 40 years," he said. "As I served as the head coach for the JV, coach Mitcheltree would actually come to the games with me and let me call all three phases and he would help me do that as a young coach. Then after the game he would talk to me about how it went and different learning opportunities."
While Phillian knew prior to Monday's confirmation that he was likely to be the Greyhounds' next head coach, the moment wasn't any less special for him when it came.
"Really, I feel blessed whenever I hear it," he said of how it sounds to be the head football coach at Wilmington. "I feel blessed to have the opportunity to live out a dream. I knew I wanted to be a head coach. That was something I shared very early on with coach Verrelli.
"I wasn't sure if that opportunity would happen here or happen somewhere else, but the fact that it's happening at Wilmington, a place where I wore these same helmets, I put on the same shoulder pads, I put on that jersey. I've walked these halls here as a student, as a teacher, I've lived in this community. I plan to raise my family in this community, I'm very invested in this community. For it to happen here, it's really the opportunity to truly live out a dream."
Much will remained unchanged as Phillian takes the reigns. He plans to continue to run the triple-option offense and a 4-3 front defensively. The coaching staff under Phillian will remain the same. As the defensive coordinator, he called the plays defensively while Verrelli handled the offense. Phillian now plans to take over the offensive play calling and Robb Shimrack will take over the defensive coordinator and defensive play-calling duties.
"You know, we've been very successful here doing what we do," Phillian said. "So there's no reason to make any big changes or anything. We have a great group of coaches who know what they're doing."
Phillian, who is a math teacher at Wilmington High, also thanked Principal Michael Wright, Athletic Director Brandy Sanford and Superintendent Jeffrey Matty for their support for him throughout the process.
He currently lives in New Wilmington with his wife, Chelsea, and their daughter Braelyn.