No stranger to the Leopards

Joe McLain, who used to wrestle for Hernando, now will coach the team.

Published May 12, 2007

Hoping to restore a bit of stability to its program, Hernando hired former Leopards wrestler Joe McLain as coach Friday.

McLain, who graduated from the school in 1986, has a close relationship with two important people in the Leopards' wrestling hierarchy: former coach Ken Pritz and long time assistant Bill Combs. The 38 year-old physical education teacher at Brooksville Elementary has been working with the team for almost two weeks.

For 10 years, the Leopards flourished under the guidance of Combs and coach Matt Smith, producing seven individual state title winners.

Smith stepped down last spring to concentrate on football. Hernando hired a former Key West assistant named Brian Flanigan in August, but parted ways with him soon after the season started because of philosophical differences. Smith returned in December, but left last month to become an assistant football coach at Sunlake High in Pasco County.

McLain said he thought Hernando could get back to where it was during the glory days under Smith, saying the program's tradition will help.

"We've got a ton of experience around us, " he said.

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or 352 848-1407.