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Eastern hires Western alum, asst. coach Mitch Mitchener as new football coach – to take over for legend John Kirby

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By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Eastern Alamance’s new football coach will be Mitch Mitchener, who’ll join the Eagles off the staff from rival Western Alamance.

Mitchener takes the spot vacated by the retirement of John Kirby, who was in the position for 32 years and collected more than 290 victories.

Eastern’s new football coach Mitch Mitchener

“I know there were people over there (at Western) that were surprised that I took the job. Here, this is the new home for me. . .

“I keep pinching myself a little bit, it’s such a storied tradition. To follow [retiring eastern coach john kirby] is not something that’s lost on me.”

– Eastern’s new football coach Mitch Mitchener

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“A tough act to follow,” Mitchener said Wednesday. “I’ve been entrusted to lead such a storied program. As I step into this role, I’m acutely aware of the responsibility that goes with it.”

Mitchener is a 2005 Western alum, playing as a standout linebacker for the Warriors. He went on to join the team at Appalachian State before beginning stints as an assistant coach at three schools.

Kirby knew Mitchener since before his high school playing days.

“We don’t consider it a Western guy,” Kirby said. “We consider it the next guy to step up. He has paid his dues and earned it.”

Kirby told Mitchener, 37, that he’ll learn that Mebane is a special community.

“Please continue to give him the support you’ve given me,” Kirby said of his message to diehard Eastern supporters.

Mitchener was at Western Alamance, Topsail, and Eastern Guilford before returning to Western’s staff last year. He was defensive coordinator for four seasons (2019-2022) at Eastern Guilford under coach Tony Aguilar, who had been Eastern Alamance’s offensive coordinator.

The hiring seemed to catch some by surprise.

[Story continues below quotes from other coaches.]


“He’s a hard-working guy. A lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that head coaches do, he has been doing some of that. He’s definitely ready for it.”

– Mitchener’s former coach, Western football coach Jeff Snuffer

 

“I think a lot of people in the community are shocked. If they get to know him and give him a chance, I think they’ll be impressed.”

– Southeast coach Tony Aguilar, who once had Mitchener on his staff at Eastern Guilford


“Kind of wild, isn’t it?” said Aguilar, who became the first head coach at Southeast Alamance last fall. “I think a lot of people in the community are shocked. If they get to know him and give him a chance, I think they’ll be impressed.”

Mitchener played and, for one season, coached under former Western coach Hal Capps, then later was an assistant coach for two stints under current Warriors coach Jeff Snuffer. This was a natural next opportunity.

“Something I’ve wanted to do since I was about 8 years old,” he said.

Snuffer offered an endorsement.

“He has wanted to be a head coach for a while,” he said. “He’s a hard-working guy. A lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that head coaches do, he has been doing some of that. He’s definitely ready for it.”

Jake Christman, now a Western assistant coach after playing collegiately at Elon, was a colleague with Mitchener in 2023 after playing three seasons several years ago with Mitchener as an assistant coach at Western.

“I loved playing for Mitch,” Christman said. “His intensity and passion, he’s a great dude. He deserves it.”

Eastern and Western have developed a high-level rivalry for about two decades. Southern Alamance often was in a different classification, while Williams was assigned to different conferences, and Cummings and Graham had fluctuating fortunes in smaller divisions. But Eastern and Western clashed for championships, even meeting in state-playoff showdowns.

The new head coach is well aware of the history.

“I keep pinching myself a little bit, it’s such a storied tradition,” he said. “To follow (Kirby) is not something that’s lost on me.”

Snuffer said Mitchener, who’s the son of Mike and Stephanie Mitchener, has good connections in coaching.

“Mitch is familiar with the county and he has a lot of contacts,” Snuffer said. “He’s going to do the things to be successful. He’s more than ready and this will be his shot.”

Mitchener was a student teacher at Eastern in the fall of 2009, when he returned daily to Western as part of the coaching staff there that season.

On Wednesday after school, he met with the Eastern football team prior to a community meet-and-greet in the school’s gym. Some Western colleagues attended the session in support.

Aguilar said Mitchener probably has toned down from his early years on the field.

“He was nuts when he was younger. He was an intense dude,” Aguilar said. “We had a good little run there (with Eastern Guilford). He can get intense.”

Mitchener began this school year working at the Alamance-Burlington School System’s virtual school before an assignment back to Western as a history teacher. At Eastern Alamance, he’ll teach a leadership class and weight training beginning in August, though he’ll be with the football team for May’s spring work.

That will be part of the transition, with building new relationships identified as his top priority.

“I know there were people over there (at Western) that were surprised that I took the job,” Mitchener said. “Here, this is the new home for me.”

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