A new man will be in charge of the Lewisburg High School football fortunes next fall. Matt Gehrke, an assistant under retiring coach Butch Veazey this past season, has been appointed the Patriots’ new head football coach.
Gehrke will be a head coach for the second time in his high school coaching career, having led Potts Camp for one season in 2014 to a 2-9 record before returning to Lewisburg to teach and be an assistant coach this past season.
Prior to that, the 35-year-old Gehrke was an assistant coach at Horn Lake under Larry Gann, became an assistant coach at Lewisburg under Mark Hogan when the school first opened, then became assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Clarksville, Tenn. Rossview for four years before taking the Potts Camp job in 2014.
Despite a 2-9 season in his only year at Potts Camp, Gehrke felt he left the program in better shape than when he arrived. The MHSAA 2A Cardinals’ football program has only been in existence for six years.
Gehrke’s task at Lewisburg is to match the success of other programs at the school, such as in volleyball and baseball, where state championship banners have been hung for their success.
However, the Patriots were 3-9 this past fall and missed the MHSAA 5A postseason. The last winning season for Lewisburg was in 2012, when the Patriots were 8-5, a season that included a first-round victory over Cleveland before being eliminated by Itawamba Agricultural in the MHSAA 4A playoffs' second round.
Gehrke wants football to join the other sports with winning traditions, but knows success will not come immediately. He said the heart of any winning high school football program starts before the players reach the varsity level.
“We want to be consistent with our success and build it through the middle school and our younger programs,” Gehrke said. “I want us to have a program that can be consistent from year to year with the success because we built it the right way.”
The Patriots’ coach played offensive line in college at Memphis under Rip Scherer and Tommy West, being recruited there from North Mesquite High School in Mesquite, Texas.
Gehrke said he has spoken with the players and they are excited about playing for him.
“Obviously, things are going to change a little bit,” Gehrke said. “We plan on building on the foundation coach Veazey put in place here. Our players know how to work and we just got to be more efficient in what we’re doing as a coaching staff and as a team.”
Cracking the playoffs will still be a tall order for Lewisburg, playing in a district that includes 2015 state runner-up Oxford and an improving Lake Cormorant program that made the postseason last season, along with other traditionally strong programs in West Point and Saltillo.
“It’s going to be tough,” Gehrke said. “We’re going to put in a simple scheme for our kids so they can play fast. We have to do a good job as coaches of putting our players in the best possible situation to be successful.”
Gehrke said at least two new assistants will be hired for his staff, including a defensive coordinator, a position he said would be an important part of his program.
Married for 11 years to his wife Ellen, the Gehrkes are parents to 4-year-old Landon and 1-year old Olivia. Ellen is a third-grade teacher at Chickasaw Elementary School and the family live in the Lewisburg school attendance area.
PREP FOOTBALL NOTES: At least one DeSoto County high school football coaching hire still to be determined is the one at Olive Branch High School. Steve Buckley left the Conquistadors’ position after just one season to become the head football coach at Jones County Junior College. The person filling the vacancy will become the fourth coach of the Olive Branch program in the last four years. Buckley this past fall took the Conquistadors to a 6-6 overall record, 4-3 in MHSAA 6A-1 division play and a spot in the MHSAA 6A playoffs. Olive Branch lost in the first round to eventual state champion Starkville 46-24.