INDIAN ROCKS — After the 2014 football season, when Indian Rocks Christian went 12-1 and finished second in Class 2A, head coach Mark Buchanan should have been riding high. But secretly, he was thinking about turning in his whistle.
The demands of being a small-school coach were starting to wear on Buchanan. There was the normal stress of being the head coach/offensive coordinator/secretary coupled with some physical problems in his back.
He talked himself through the next two years, but after May's spring game — and 12 seasons — Buchanan, 45, felt he couldn't give it his all.
"I told myself I was going to try it out in the spring to see how it goes and it was difficult," Buchanan said. "I told the administrators my thoughts and they finally came back and asked me, 'If we get you some help will you stay?' That would take the pressure off of coaching the Xs and Os. I told them I thought I could do that."
So he got the help. IRC hired Jason Stokes as offensive coordinator and brought in three other assistants.
Stokes is a familiar name in high school coaching circles. He coached at Gaither from 2011 until last season. He was forced to resign as a teacher and coach during the season after it was discovered the Cowboys used two ineligible players.
Temporarily banned from coaching at a Hillsborough public school, Stokes hooked on as an assistant coach at Dixie Hollins in the spring under new head coach Dale Caparaso. But when IRC advertised for an offensive coordinator, Stokes applied.
He'll be a teacher and get to coach his son, Eli, who is a junior wide receiver.
"The biggest benefit is to get into a Christian setting and to be able to coach my son again," Stokes said. "When I left Gaither he had to go to his home school and I couldn't coach in the county. That was tough."
While it's not official, Stokes is basically a head coach in waiting. Buchanan is fully committed to the fall season, especially now that he has delegated some responsibilities.
"We wanted to bring in a guy who was good enough to take over the program at any point," Buchanan said. "If I needed to step away during the season or at the end of the season or three years from now, then we needed that guy who could step in."
IRC was 3-6 last season and is 5-12 since 2014. This year's team returns some key starters, including quarterback Andrew Roberts, running back Darius Collins and a big offensive line anchored by Gage King and Collin and Cade Wunsch, sons of former Buccaneer offensive lineman and IRC assistant Jerry Wunsch.
Also, Eli Stokes should bolster both the receiving corps and the secondary. The problem may be depth. There are about 30 players on the varsity roster.
"From what I've seen so far, I love it," Jason Stokes said. "I'm still trying to get used to small ball, having 30-35 kids on the team instead of 70. There's some good to that.
"I'm still learning the players but so far these kids have worked hard. They have great attitudes and they push each other."
Buchanan joked that they just have to prop him up at practice now and let the assistants take over. As head coach, he'll still have final say on all decisions on and off the field. But he admitted it will be nice to have Stokes around to help out.
"He's been a godsend for us," Buchanan said. "He's still learning his way around, but so far he has been awesome. He'll relieve me of a lot of things. I don't have to worry about the stress of calling plays and being on all the time. He's bringing in a fresh attitude, which is probably something we needed around here."