While out of coaching for three years, the coaching bug never left Karl Bledsoe.
The former Elba head boys basketball coach who guided the Tigers to a state title in 2014 and a state runner-up finish in 2015 is coming out of retirement to return to the sidelines. A two-time Dothan Eagle Coach of the Year winner, Bledsoe has agreed to lead the Kinston boys basketball program, pending Coffee County School Board approval Thursday night.
A 28-year coaching veteran, Bledsoe directed Elba’s varsity program from 2000-05 and again from the 2010-11 season to 2015-16. He coached the junior high team in between.
In his 11 years as varsity coach, he had a 185-93 record, capped by three straight state tournament appearances from the 2012-13 to 2014-15 seasons when Elba went 73-14, including 33-0 in regular-season area, area tournament, sub-region and regional tournament games. As the junior high coach, he had a 39-4 record over five seasons.
He left coaching in 2016 to concentrate on his role as Elba Elementary School principal, a post he held one more year before retiring in June of 2017.
“Once a coach always a coach,” Bledsoe said. “I enjoyed my retirement, but administration is really the reason I got out of coaching. I was trying to juggle two things and it was too much.
“The idea of being a coach without administration responsibilities was very enticing. I never quit enjoying coaching and I had opportunities from other schools and I appreciate those opportunities, but the timing wasn’t right. This was a good situation at the right time.”
The plan is for Bledsoe to be hired on a contract basis, meaning his sole focus will be on the basketball team with no teaching assignments. It frees him up to attend to family matters during the day if needed.
Bledsoe said Kinston principal Danny Branch reached out to him several months ago, but he didn’t commit to the Bulldogs, citing a need to be with his ailing mom. As his mom’s health improved, the timing became right, said Bledsoe.
“I met with Mr. Branch and Coach (Rudy) Free, the football coach, and I liked what they had to say,” Bledsoe said. “I actually went to a couple of workouts before I actually committed to the job and I liked the work ethic of the kids and the attitude of the kids.
“It was a combination of Mr. Branch, coach Free and the hard work of the kids that convinced me that it would be a good time for me to do this.”
Bledsoe said he was more than “impressed” with the Bulldog athletes.
“They are an eager bunch and want to work,” Bledsoe said. “They are a very respectful bunch.”
A native of Andalusia who played under AHSAA and Wiregrass Hall of Fame coach Richard Robertson, Bledsoe began his coaching career at Monroe Academy in 1987-88 before coaching in Georgia at Stewart-Quitman (1988-89) and Echols County (1989-90).
He returned to Alabama and led Geneva’s basketball program for six seasons and Greenville for three seasons before becoming part of Elba’s staff in 2000. He was out of coaching for one year, but taught at Geneva after guiding the Panther program.
Bledsoe also served as assistant principal at Elba High School from 2009-10 to 2013-14 and was the high school interim principal for one year (2014-15).
His basketball tenure at Elba was highlighted by the 2013-14 state title team which finished 27-2 and captured the state crown with a 66-61 win over rival Luverne. Elba also reached the state finals in 2014-15, finishing as state runner-ups before losing to LaFayette. That Elba team finished with a 21-7 record.
His 2012-13 team finished 25-5 and reached the state semifinals, losing to LaFayette 39-37.
Bledsoe was named the Dothan Eagle Coach of the Year in both 2012-13 and 2013-14
His final Tiger team in 2015-16 finished 13-11, losing to St. Luke’s in the sub-regional round.
Interestingly, Bledsoe’s new team is now in the same classification and area as his old program, Elba, now led by his former assistant coach, William Moguel. Both are members of Class 1A, Area 3 and will face each other at least twice this upcoming season.
“I hadn’t really thought about it really, but I am sure it will be special deep down (to play them), but once it tips off, it will be business as usual,” Bledsoe said.
The Kinston boys basketball program finished 10-14 last year, its first double-digit win season since the same record in 2014-15. The Bulldogs’ last winning season came in 2010-11 when they finished 22-9 and reached the Class 1A regional tournament.