Sports

Georgetown’s Chris Oliver explains his surprise career move

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New Georgetown College head football coach Chris Oliver went 105-34 in 12 seasons as Lindsey Wilson head man and was 35-2 with one NAIA national championship over his final three seasons (2019-21) with the Blue Raiders.

Photo submitted by Chris Oliver

When Chris Oliver broke the news to Lindsey Wilson College last December that he was leaving the football program he had taken from rebirth to a national championship to become Georgetown College head coach, he sensed that one thing befuddled his soon-to-be former colleagues.

“I think there was some surprise there that I was choosing to go to another school in-state (that was) of similar size and level (to Lindsey Wilson),” Oliver said last week. “I think that was probably the surprise.”

In 13 years, Oliver had constructed Lindsey Wilson College football into something special. He had started at LWC in 2009 when the college, located in the Adair County seat of Columbia, made the decision to relaunch a football program that had been dormant for 75 years.

From scratch, Oliver (105-34 overall at Lindsey) built the Blue Raiders into one of the premier NAIA football programs in the nation. Over the past three seasons, Oliver coached Lindsey Wilson to a 35-2 mark that included winning the COVID-19-delayed 2020 national championship in the spring of 2021.

“We did have it going,” Oliver says. “Lindsey is a good place. (Leaving) was very hard. It was something we put a lot of thought and prayer into.”

When a successful coach makes a career move, it understandably tends to be viewed through a sports prism. Sometimes, however, a coach making a change has motivations that run much deeper than the games.

Oliver says family considerations loomed large in his decision to leave Lindsey Wilson for Georgetown.

“In so many ways, where we were (living) was a great place to raise kids,” Oliver says. “It was a very challenging decision to leave a place where we had been for 13 years and where people were good to us and we had good relationships.”

Yet Oliver, 41, says as he and his wife, Wendy, weighed the decision of whether or not to take the Georgetown coaching position vacated by Bill Cronin’s retirement, they kept coming back to the opportunities that would exist for their children, Samantha, 13, and Patrick, 11, to expand their horizons if the family relocated.

Columbia is a small town (population of some 4,748) in a county, Adair (19,366), that is located in south-central Kentucky far from the commonwealth’s population centers.

Conversely, Georgetown (34,362) is a far-bigger town that sits in a larger county, Scott (55,961), that is centrally located. In Georgetown, one is 15.4 miles from Lexington, 69.2 miles from Cincinnati and 72.9 miles from Louisville.

“After 13 years in a town of (fewer) than 5,000 people, I think my wife and I were ready for some new opportunities for our kids,” Oliver says. “We are blessed that both (of the children) are super-smart — like their mom. I think some of the academic opportunities here in the Scott County (public) schools were really attractive to us.”

Also appealing was moving closer to the Ohio state line. Both Chris and Wendy Oliver are natives of southwest Ohio, from Wilmington and Eldorado, respectively. The move north from Columbia to Georgetown took roughly two hours off the trip time between Samantha and Patrick Oliver and both sets of their grandparents.

“The other thing, after 13 years, you get tired of driving 70 minutes just to go to a mall,” Chris Oliver says of the required trip to Bowling Green from Columbia for mall shopping. “Those things weigh on you after a while.”

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Chris Oliver celebrated Lindsey Wilson’s 45-13 2020 NAIA national championship game victory over Northwestern College with his family, wife Wendy; daughter Samantha; and son Patrick. Kyle Jackson Lindsey Wilson College Athletics

In its entire college football history, the state of Kentucky has had five coaches win national championships that were decided on the field via playoffs.

When Georgetown College opens its 2022 season Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. on the road at Kentucky Christian, Oliver will become the third national-title-winning coach to have led the Tigers.

Kevin Donley coached Georgetown to the 1991 NAIA Division II national crown. Cronin directed the Tigers to the 2000 and 2001 NAIA championships. In the NCAA, Eastern Kentucky’s Roy Kidd (1979, 1982) and Western Kentucky’s Jack Harbaugh (2002) both won FCS playoff titles.

Oliver says the biggest difference fans will see in the new era of Georgetown Tigers football from previous seasons will be on offense.

Out will be Georgetown’s traditional run-and-shoot attack.

In will be a no-huddle, up-tempo approach that emphasizes spreading the ball around “maybe a little more than what has happened in the past number of years,” Oliver says.

The goal, Oliver says, is to restore Georgetown to the level Donley and Cronin had the Tigers program running at when at its peak.

In the meantime, if one is looking for the most intense college football game that will be played in the commonwealth in 2022, it likely will not be the Governor’s Cup between Kentucky and Louisville at Kroger Field on Nov. 26.

Two weeks earlier, Oliver will take his new program back to Lindsey Wilson to face his old one. Coaching the Blue Raiders on the opposite sideline will be Oliver’s former defensive coordinator, Phil Kleckler.

“I am sure,” Chris Oliver says, “they will be extra-motivated to play against us on that end by the fact I made the decision I did.”

This story was originally published July 28, 2022 2:13 PM.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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