EAGLE LAKE — Lake Region introduced its new head football coach on Friday, naming Leesburg offensive coordinator Ryan Mills as the 11th coach in school history.
Mills replaces Geoff Bangley, who stepped down after three seasons.
An Iowa native, Mills brings experience as a coach at both the college and high school level, and that wide range of experience is one of the traits that appealed to Lake Region, athletic director Bill Bullock said.
Mills played high school football in Iowa and college football at Waldorf College (junior college) in Iowa and finished his undergraduate degree at the University of Dubuque. He earned his Master's degree while coaching at Saint Cloud State in Minnesota. Most of his coaching has been as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Mills, who will turn 42 next week, takes over a team that finished 2-6 last year after a 2-1 start and has just four seasons with a record of .500 or better and two district runner-up finishes in 27 seasons of football.
Through the hiring process and talking to Bullock, Mills, who was head coach at Umatilla for three years, said he's aware of the challenge in front of him.
"Obviously, it's a football program that is looking for some stability and looking for a guy to build it into, I'm just going to call it, an elite level football program," Mills said.
He acknowledged that with open enrollment that allows students to easily change schools, it makes the job even more challenging.
"That's a challenge for any program, even your well-established programs," Mills said. "There's nothing that anybody can do about that, and that's way above my pay grade. The thing that I would I would say as far as that being a challenge for Lake Region, or maybe any school in general that doesn't have a strong tradition of football but it's obviously looking to build something, you kind of got to go out and sell the program, where we're at now and where we're going to be. That goes for everything from bringing in a staff that can coach our kids up but also hold the kids to a standard every day. Obviously, its helps with getting a schedule where you can get some wins and teach your kids how to compete."
Mills is starting at Lake Region on Tuesday and said this is an important time of year for the football program.
"How you run your offseason program (is important), and the things you can do like taking kids to camps just to get them to be competitive," he said. "I also think that with the opportunities we have here at Lake Region, sometimes change is good. Sometimes change can attract people who have left and people who have stood around."
Mills said he's focused on establishing his program and is looking forward. He said more than 60 players have already signed up for spring football.
"I wasn't here in the past and I have nothing to do with last year," he said. "So all I'm concerned about right now is what we're doing today to be better and moving forward. I think if we do our job as a staff and you're establishing standards and expectations and those kids know what that is, but you're also doing a great job of a building relationships with those kids, then I think word gets out. What I've done since I've been down here is kids just want to be coached. If they're getting an opportunity to be coached and they know that they're getting judged on the same thing that anybody else is getting judged on and if they put the work in, they're going to get an opportunity to get out and play. Then I think that kind of answers the question about kids looking for a greener pasture."
Mills said it's important to have the support of the administration and getting parents and the community involved in supporting the program.
"There seems to be a lot of excitement with the change and the direction of the vision right now with where I want to be and where I see the program, it seems like there's a lot of buy-in, and we're here to work together to get that done," he said. "And that's that excites me."
Mills said for now, Lake Region might stay as an independent until he sees what the FHSAA decides for reclassification. Once the FHSAA makes the decision at its next board meeting, the school will decide what to do.
If Lake Region does stay independent, Mills said it will go back into a district sooner rather than later.
Roy Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Lake Region tabs Ryan Mills as new head football coach