Mike Byus has a rebuilding job on his hands, and it’s not just any rebuilding job.
Byus takes over as coach at Parkersburg, which isn’t called TitleTown for nothing. The Big Reds have captured 16 West Virginia football championships, the most of any current school in the state.
However, the Big Reds have made the Class AAA playoffs just once in the past five years and have not won a single playoff game since securing their last state title in 2007.
Enter Byus, a Madison native and Scott High graduate who knew nothing but success the past 12 years coaching East Lincoln High in Denver, North Carolina. The Mustangs won a pair of 2-AA state championships and 133 games under Byus, posting eight 10-win seasons and never finishing below .500.
The 56-year-old Byus, who attended college at both West Virginia University and WVU Tech, graduating from Tech in 1984, coached a total of 30 seasons in North Carolina, including 13 years in Wake County.
He’s the lone first-year coach in the Mountain State Athletic Conference, and faces an uphill climb to get the Big Reds back to their preferred perch.
“They’ve fallen on hard times a little bit,’’ Byus said, “and there’s no shortcut answer to that. We’ve got to recruit our own building and get the kids playing that are in our school. All we can do is coach the kids in our schools. We want to keep these kids in our system.
“I like our kids. They’re great. They work hard, the coaches work hard. We’re just going to try and be positive and work hard and control the things we can control. We’re working on getting better and we can’t worry about everything else. I enjoy working with our kids and watching them develop from day to day.’’
Byus had a proven system at East Lincoln, taking state titles in 2012 and 2014. Even last year, his Mustangs were 11-3 and reached the third round of the North Carolina playoffs.
And they did it with flair, many times throwing the ball all over the lot. Chazz Surratt, quarterback of the 2014 title team, finished the season with 53 touchdown passes and 19 TD runs as the Mustangs went 16-0, cranking out 42 points per game. Surratt is now a freshman QB at the University of North Carolina.
“We’re going to install our basic offense,’’ Byus said. “Our biggest thing is to take what they’re giving us on defense. We’ve got two [ideas]: take what they give you, and find things your kids can do well. We’re still working through that process to see what we do best.’’
Byus inherits some talent from a squad that finished 4-6 in Don Reeves’ final season as coach, most notably junior receiver Brenton Strange (6-foot-5, 212 pounds). Strange hauled in 45 passes last year for 489 yards and four TDs, making him a possible prime target.
Two more Parkersburg basketball players have come out for football and could help at wideout — junior Kionte Peacock (6-1, 151) and senior Seth Dailey (6-0, 148). They join hoops teammate and junior Jake Johnson (6-1, 170), who was already playing football as a backup quarterback, receiver and defensive back.
Byus said senior Kam Mace (6-1, 175) is leading the pack at quarterback so far.
“He’s probably got as good a grasp on the offense,’’ Byus said, “as anybody’s ever had in this short amount of time.’’
Byus also singled out junior running back Tyler Moler (6-0, 185) as one of the team’s strong points, along with a pair of tackles — senior A.J. Nolan (6-0, 265) and junior Ryan Creech (6-3, 275).
“We’re not very deep on the offensive line, but we’re pretty good,’’ Byus said. “We’ve got a nice set of wide receivers and the defensive backs are not bad. On the defensive line, we’re looking for folks who can get the job done.
“For a 3-A program, we’re having to play too many kids on both sides of the ball. That hurts us some in the fourth quarter, so we want to work into better condition so we can still be effective in the fourth quarter.’’
In the near future, Byus plans on familiarizing himself with teams and tendencies in the MSAC, but hasn’t had the chance yet.
“We want to watch last year and see what we’re up against,’’ he said. “We’ve had a limited amount of time since we’ve been here. We’re really trying to get our stuff right, and then we will start looking at [opponents].
“We know we have one of the toughest schedules in the state, and we’d like to be ready for that the best we can. Right now, we’re learning, developing, working. Trying to learn to put two consistent practices together and work hard all the way through.’’
The Big Reds work out Saturday in his former back yard, as they venture to Madison to scrimmage Scott and Chapmanville.
Byus said getting back to family ties in West Virginia played a role in his taking the position at Parkersburg. In fact, his brother-in-law was the one who informed him of the Big Reds opening.
“Partly, I wanted to get close to mom,’’ he said, “because we lost dad this spring. I just spent a weekend with my mom, and it’s always good to do that. I look forward to being able to do that more often.’’