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South Western High School looks for head football coach after Chris Heilman's resignation

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
Chris Heilman, Southwestern
Football Media Day, Thursday August 1, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo
  • Chris Heilman has resigned as South Western's head football coach.
  • In four seasons, Heilman compiled a 10-27 record.
  • Heilman played at South Western and coached in the program for nearly 20 years.

Chris Heilman knew this day was coming for years.

Still, it didn't make the decision any easier.

Becoming the head football coach at South Western High School was something he spent years working toward. That made the decision to leave the program that he was connected to for more than two decades so tough.

Heilman resigned as the Mustangs' head coach last week. He and his family are preparing for a move to the West Coast to be closer to the family of his wife, Sara. After helping build the program for 20 years, Heilman wanted to be part of what he believes will be a successful Mustangs campaign this fall, but he had to put his family first.

“I wanted to stay to see us have that winning season, but I knew it was the best thing knowing that I have to focus my time on our family and our move out west over the next year,” Heilman said.

Long connection to Mustangs: In his four seasons as head coach with the Mustangs, South Western compiled a 10-27 record. Before he took over in 2017, Heilman served as defensive coordinator after he spent years coaching the middle school and junior varsity teams.

Heilman also played at South Western. He graduated in 1995 and went on to play at Shippensburg University, where won several awards as a defensive lineman. Despite his college success, Heilman didn't earn varsity playing time until his junior year in high school and believed the work ethic he developed at South Western made him a better leader.

“Learning that firsthand as a player allowed me to apply it as a coach,” Heilman said. “It’s about teaching the life lessons — working hard, dedication and all the stuff you need to do in life.”

Praise from AD: South Western athletic director Stephen Speck said a job posting for the position will be online   soon and will be open for a few weeks before he hopes to have the position filled in March.

Speck is looking for a candidate that can match the passion for the program that Heilman brought for the past 20 years.

“His devotion to his alma mater is unquestioned, and I am grateful for the commitment he has made to both South Western football and our Mustang community,” Speck said. “I sincerely wish him nothing but the best in his future pursuits.”

His dream job: Heilman said that plans for a move out west were being made before the Mustangs' head-coaching position opened in 2017. He and Sara consulted, and the pair decided to delay their dream of moving the family because of the pride Heilman would take in leading the team he once played for.

First-year South Western head coach Chris Heilman.

“It was euphoria. It was joy that I was able to finally attain that position,” Heilman said. “I never thought that was going to happen.”

Future plans: When the family moves later this year, Heilman is going to consider coaching, teaching business, like he does now, or working in finance, which has always been an interest of his.

Before the 2020 season, multiple York-Adams League Division I coaches picked South Western as a team to watch after the Mustangs beat Red Lion in 2019. The Lions finished 2-5 in 2020.

Although Heilman won't be on the sidelines for what he believes will be a winning season in 2021, he is comforted by the growth he has seen at the youth level. He believes the program is in a healthy spot to succeed going forward.

Success not measured in just wins: While the win-loss record isn't what he imagined when he became head coach, the success of his two-decade run won't be measured by just the scoreboard for Heilman. It's more about the young men he helped mold. That is something he will cherish forever.

“You have seasons where you win and seasons where you lose, but the biggest thing is the relationships you develop with your players and their families,” Heilman said. “That’s the biggest thing for me. That’s what touches you — teaching those kids life skills and watching them grow. Not what they do on the football field, but the father they become and always having that bond that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.”

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.