Lafayette hires proven program builder Ethan Atchley as new head football coach

·5 min read

Lafayette High School’s wish list for a new head football coach probably looked a lot like Ethan Atchley.

A young coach with family ties to the community? Check.

A history with the program? Check.

A proven ability to develop a winner with whatever he’s given? Check.

Lafayette ticked a lot of boxes for Atchley and his family, too. And strangely enough, the challenge of turning around a program that’s had some hard times, was one of them.

“‘Fixer’ is a bad word. I don’t like it, but I like the challenge,” Atchley said after his introduction in the school’s cafeteria Thursday afternoon. “I really do like seeing the belief that you can win manifest itself in kids.”

In five seasons with Lexington Christian, Atchley’s record of 48-16 included a 12-1 mark in 2016 derailed only by an eventual state finalist. The season before his arrival, LCA went 1-10 in 2013.

In his last of three seasons at Bullitt East, Atchley led the Chargers to an 8-4 record in a district that includes Class 6A monstrosity Male. It was Bullitt East’s first winning season since 2014 and included its first playoff win since 2013.

Ethan Atchley coached Lexington Christian to a 48-16 record over five seasons before leaving for Bullitt East. He’s returning to Lexington to become the head coach at Lafayette.
Ethan Atchley coached Lexington Christian to a 48-16 record over five seasons before leaving for Bullitt East. He’s returning to Lexington to become the head coach at Lafayette.

At Lafayette, Atchley takes over a team that hasn’t won more than three games a year over the past five seasons and went 2-9 last fall. But Lafayette is also a school that has the largest enrollment in the state at around 2,400 students and it has been to two Class 6A state finals in the last decade under Coach Eric Shaw, who stepped down at last season’s end.

“Some of the best coaches in the state reached out to us and talked to us about this position. There was no shortage of quality coaches out there. … Mr. Atchley came up pretty early in that process,” said Lafayette Principal Bryne Jacobs. “Once we brought him in and sat him down in front of the (hiring) committee, the parents on the committee and all of the leaders knew he was the right person for the job.”

Lafayette is a homecoming of sorts for Atchley, he was a teacher and defensive coordinator for the Generals in 2013 on Shaw’s staff. He got his first head coaching job a year later at LCA at the age of 24.

“The ability to coach under Coach Shaw was invaluable,” Atchley said. “He’s made as much of an impact on me from a variety of things, but most importantly how much he loved these boys.”

Atchley is a Cleveland native who graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2011 with a marketing degree, but also a burning desire to coach football. He spent two seasons on staff at LCA before getting the Lafayette assistant role.

Now 32, Atchley and his wife, Emily, have four small children whose grandparents, her parents, live in nearby Georgetown. Emily Atchley graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and was an assistant coach on the Bulldogs’ volleyball team.

Their mutual connection, Louise Gash, a Lafayette teacher whose daughters played for Emily at Dunbar, got credit for the initial nudge toward possibly returning to Lexington.

“The first kicker for me was Mrs. Gash, who saw me at a wedding and she told me that I needed to come home,” Atchley said. “The job was open. And it got the ball rolling.”

A call from Lafayette girls’ basketball coach Allison Denton followed. And the number of familiar faces he’s seen in the halls at Lafayette even from his short time there factored in as well, he said.

“Just knowing what is here and what’s been here, the continuity, it’s something where this place can easily be turned around fairly quickly,” Atchley said. “It’s not as far gone as people make it out to be. We’re all bad football coaches when you have a rash of injuries like I witnessed looking at their film from last year.”

Injuries played a major role in Lafayette’s struggles last season. Four different players took snaps at quarterback.

Among the familiar faces is Lafayette offensive coordinator Alex Matthews, who was the play-caller for both of Lafayette’s state finalists teams before leaving to earn his teaching degree. He returned last fall and will remain on Atchley’s new staff.

“That was one of the things that was pretty high on the list of pros on why to take the job,” Atchley said. “He’s done a phenomenal job. There’s things last year that people look at the win-loss column, and what I really looked at was all the things that they did to try to be creative with a rash of injuries.”

Atchley envisions a high-scoring offense that takes advantage of the personnel on hand to help keep today’s players engaged and put a competitive team on the field. His Bullitt East team produced 38.8 points per game in 2021 nearly doubling its production over the prior year.

“I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had a lot of people buy in for us. We’ll see what I can do here with some new faces and different names,” he said. “There are great kids that are here, there always have been. It’s a historic school that, I think, is the best place in Fayette County, truthfully. We’re going to fix it. It’s going to happen.”