Left his mark

Paul Rains leads the Great Crossing football team in prayer after a game against Montgomery County in October 2019. Rains, who was hired on short notice to guide the Warhawks in their first season as a program, has announced his retirement from both teaching and coaching. Great Crossing was the eighth different school at which Rains served as a head coach since his debut at Hazard in 1988. He led Lexington Christian to a state championship in 2009.

Paul Rains was a week away from retirement as a teacher last spring when he was lured back to the sideline and into the hallway one final time at Great Crossing High School.

While it was an emergency situation without an official “interim” tag, Rains acknowledged all along that his return could be a one-and-done scenario.

The long goodbye is now complete: Rains indeed will retire June 1, ending a career that spanned portions of five different decades.

Prior to helping GC get off the ground, Rains, who will turn 58 in August, was head coach at Hazard, Montgomery County, Madison Central, Lexington Christian, Mercer County, Letcher Central and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“Eight schools,” Rains said. “I don’t know if I own many state records, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got that one.”

Great Crossing promoted Rains from Jason Chappell’s staff last May after Chappell, hired four months earlier to guide the first-year program, stepped away due to difficulties selling his house in Eastern Kentucky.

It was a natural choice: Rains was a veteran coach with ties to the school district, having spent the previous two seasons helping Jim McKee with the Scott County freshman and junior varsity squads.

Rains said the decision was made easier by a new Kentucky law that took effect in January, requiring anyone drawing state teacher’s retirement to step away for 90 days before returning to any part-time duties such as coaching.

He spent this past year workig with Great Crossing homebound students in addition to his gridiron duties.

Great Crossing now must hire its third head coach before the Warhawks take the field for their second season. While confirming Rains’ resignation Friday, GCHS athletic director Austin Haywood said a committee that includes himself, principal Joy Lusby and district athletic administrator Daniel-Taylor Wells has posted the position and will conduct interviews shortly.

“We were hopeful that it might work out for two or three years, to give everyone some experience, but we certainly understand the situation,” Haywood said. “Coach Rains helped put together a great staff, and that will help ease the transition.”

Win No. 209 of Rains’ storied career came last October, when GC scored a touchdown in the final seconds to win 28-20 at Grant County, breaking into the win column and clinching a playoff berth for the highlight of a trying maiden voyage.

Rising junior quarterback and defensive back Kalib Perry, who has already received Division I offers from Cincinnati and Boston College, wrote on Twitter that Rains “will be in my coaching hall of fame for sure.”

“He was a great coach, coaching for 30 years or something insane,” Perry added. “Winning state titles for schools, even coming out of retirement for Great Crossing, making history for the first-ever win.”

That was familiar territory to Rains.

“Of the programs I’ve taken on in 28 years as a head coach, five or six of them were either upstarts or rebuilding. Both LCA and Great Crossing were basically starting from scratch.”

Rains enjoyed his greatest success at LCA, where he “retired” in 2009 after guiding the Eagles to a state championship.

He said that experience probably stands out in the long coaching journey, as the early stages foreshadowed his time at Great Crossing.

“They had only had varsity football for a year or two with only a couple of wins,” Rains said. “They didn’t really have a home field yet. To go from not having football to state runner-up in five years and state champion in seven years was pretty special.”

It also gave Rains a chance to celebrate at the mountaintop with his son, Austin, who was a sophomore on the 2009 LCA team that mauled Mayfield, 55-19, for the Class 1A title.

Dad kept a promise made two years earlier, when the Eagles fell just shy of the KHSAA’s top prize.

“We were riding in the truck and I said, ‘I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna be doing this,’” Rains recalled. “He was in junior high at the time, and he said, ‘But Dad, you have to keep doing it so you can coach me.’ So I did that.”

Coaching opportunities continued to knock for Rains.

In addition to his state titles and two semi-state crowns, his coaching resume includes five region and 10 district championships.

Few emotions, however, can compare to the exultation after last season’s sole win with Great Crossing.

The Warhawks started spring and summer workouts without a field, a fieldhouse, or even a complete storage facility at their disposal.

A vast majority of Rains’ roster was freshmen and sophomores. The ballyhooed “Battle of the Birds” against Scott County, held dubiously on opening night, was a 72-7 thrashing.

The team showed measurable improvement each week against a brutal schedule, although GC had lost eight consecutive games and scored only 41 total points when it headed north to Dry Ridge on Oct. 25.

Great Crossing punched in the first 20 points, then gradually gave away that lead before driving to the game-winning touchdown in dramatic fashion.

“Being able to get that first win with them, both the game itself and the celebration afterwards, those are things I’ll remember for the rest of my life.,” Rains said.

Rains was reluctant when Lusby approached him with the offer around this time last spring.

“When you coach as long as I have, it starts to wear on you,” he said. “I told Mrs. Lusby when they came to me after Chappell left that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to do this again. I always said it would have be the right situation with the right relationships. Well, the relationships we built with our staff and the players here were just special.”

That one cheerful and tearful post-game celebration included a police escort from the Interstate 75 exit, down Main Street and back to the high school.

Losses to two then-undefeated teams, Franklin County and Frederick Douglass, to close out the season didn’t diminish what will linger as one of Rains’ proudest moments.

“It was a tough year. Everybody knows that. It’s been fairly well-documented,” Rains said. “We faced a lot of challenges starting a brand new program, from not even having a place to deliver our equipment when it started, but all the coaches and players stuck together and made it something to remember.”

Rains’ first head job was in 1988 at Hazard, more than half a lifetime ago. 

Coaching a hard habit to break, and he said he hasn’t ruled out being a familiar face at GC practice, helping out when Sept. 1 rolls around.

“But we never really know,” he added. “I may have stepped off a football field for the last time.”

Rains said it will be “a completely different lifestyle” and isn’t sure what it will entail aside from a lot more leisure time.

“I don’t fish like (former Scott County baskeball coach) Billy Hicks, so I’m not sure,” he quipped. “I enjoy woodworking. I used to play a little golf. Maybe it will be time to get the clubs back out. We have a camper, so I think (wife) Linda and I will take a few trips. We’re probably going to spend the winters in Florida.”

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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