Coach Morgan Shinlever became the 13th football coach at Bearden High School when he was promoted in January of 2014. Through three years as the head coach at Bearden, Coach Shinlever has built a supporting staff around him that complements his coaching style and personality well.
It is more than football; that was the narrative when Bearden Principal Dr. John Bartlett began his search for a new head football coach following the 2013 season.
Following a seven-year tenure in which Coach Brad Taylor posted a 54-28 overall record, Coach Taylor resigned in December of 2013.
Dr. Bartlett was then faced with making his first foot- ball head coaching hire in his time at Bearden.
After roughly a month searching and careful consideration, Dr. Bartlett made the decision to promote then assistant coach Morgan Shinlever to head coach.
From there, Coach Shinlever has molded what is the current image of Bearden football.
When Coach Taylor resigned, Dr. Bartlett was looking for a candidate with character, high energy, and someone that was looking to invest in his players’ lives.
“But we also wanted someone who had a vision for our football program, how to make it better, how to change the culture in a way that we needed some culture changes, hold some students accountable,” Dr. Bartlett says.
Prior to taking over as head coach, Coach Shinlever had served as Bearden’s athletic director and as running backs coach under Coach Taylor.
“We had a lot of people interested in the position, and we narrowed it down and it was really a tough choice,” Dr. Bartlett says. “It was one of those things where I looked for the same heartbeat I have, someone who puts kids first, who believes in developing young people as people, not only as students and athletes, but as people.”
Dr. Bartlett found exactly what he was looking for in the man that Coach Shinlever is.
Coach Shinlever made it clear from the beginning of his tenure that he was more focused on his players as people, rather than just as football players.
“Coach Shinlever is not only a coach, but we always looked to him as a second dad,” says Cole Phillips, who played at Bearden from 2012-2015 and now provides color commentary for live streams of the games. “He does a great job of making sure we stay focused on and off the field.
“Now being a former player and watching what he is doing with all of this, and just observing how they all play for each other is truly amazing.”
Not only has Coach Shinlever put an emphasis on the men of Bearden football, but he has also built a strong football team and staff as well.
Coach Shinlever currently has two, strong coaches on each side of the ball in Coach Paul Shelton and Coach Brian Milan.
Coach Shelton has served as the offensive coordinator since 2015 and Coach Milan has occupied the defensive coordinator role since midway through the 2015 season.
“You want the coordinators to be the head coaches for that side of the ball, so I needed to find two individuals that were really going to take charge because the kids on that side of the ball will mimic the personality, the drive, and the daily effort and attitude that that individual brings to their specific side of the football,” Coach Shinlever says. “So I wanted very capable guys that were specifically focused on coaching their particular side of the ball that our kids would emulate with how they go about preparing for a game.
“I definitely wanted guys that could really handle all of the schematics and would take ownership of their sides of the ball.”
Though neither of Bearden’s current coordinators was working in those roles during Coach Shinlever’s first season, one of them – Coach Shelton – was on staff for the 2014 season as the defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator.
From 2011-2013, Coach Shelton had served as Unicoi County’s offensive coordinator, but just as Coach Shinlever was being hired at Bearden, Coach Shelton was looking to make a move.
“Coach Shelton sent me an email about a month after I was named head coach,” Coach Shinlever says. “He and I had a brief year as teammates in college at Maryville College, so we kind of knew each other in a roundabout way.
Though Coach Shelton had an offensive background, Coach Shinlever had already put an offensive coordinator in place.
Coach Shelton was brought aboard at Bearden as the defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator.
“It really wasn’t as big of a transition as people may think [to coach defense rather than offense] because the school that I had coached at before, we had to coach both sides of the ball,” Coach Shelton says. “If you’re a good coach, you can coach any position on the field. If you can coach, you can coach.”
Following Coach Shinlever’s first season, Coach Shelton made the transition from the defensive side of the ball back to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, where he has been ever since.
Along with him, Coach Shelton brought the precise Xs and Os, and mental sharpness to the offensive side of the ball.
“Coach Shelton’s biggest priority is the mental game,” Phillips says. “He’s always [prepared] from that stand- point, and he always wants you to be mentally ready.”
After the 2014 season in which Bearden averaged just 13.5 points per game, Coach Shelton was tasked with a renovation project of the Bulldog offense.
“Before Coach Shelton was named offensive coordinator, Bearden’s offense was extremely slow-paced,” Phillips says. “Since Coach Shelton was named offensive coordinator, he’s changed the pace tremendously. … When
I was a player, Coach Shelton was extremely good at recognizing his offense’s problems and fixing them.”
“After interviewing him, I realized he was exactly what we wanted on staff at the time. Within the first month or so of watching him coach, we knew we had picked up something special.”
Coach Shelton’s detail-oriented mindset has paid dividends over the course of his time as offensive coordinator. In just one season with Coach Shelton as the offensive coordinator, the Bearden offense improved its output by nearly 12 points per game.
“He brings a policy everyday, he doesn’t change it up, he sticks with the same rules, and we have to abide by the same things everyday no matter who we’re playing,” senior running back Ty Warren says. “We always have to mind our Ps and Qs with him.
“More than anything, you can definitely tell that he cares to coach us. He knows that we can get the job done.”
But despite being Bearden’s offensive coordinator, Coach Shelton brings his expertise and acute football knowledge to not only the offense, but also the defensive side of the ball.
“I typically have my hands full offensively, but sometimes I will drift over and help out defensively,” Coach Shelton says. “We’re very open as a coaching staff in trusting each other and believing we’re good coaches.”
Interestingly enough, Coach Shelton and Coach Milan shared a classroom up until the 2016-17 school year. This is especially unique, even for high school football, as football crept into the classroom.
“Coach Milan would never have a problem with me saying ‘the corners should do this,’ or ‘the secondary should do this,’” Coach Shelton says. “I talk to those safeties all the time about different techniques they can use, and I look to Coach Milan for passing concepts and pick his brain all day long.”
The last piece of the puzzle for Coach Shinlever’s newly assembled staff at Bearden was defensive coordinator.
Coach Milan, who had coached with Coach Shelton at Unicoi County, was coaching wide receivers for Farragut during Coach Shinlever’s inaugural campaign with the Bulldogs.
Coach Milan still had a good relationship with Coach Shelton, which initially led to Coach Milan filling the need for a special teams coordinator and secondary coach.
“Coach Shelton and I stayed in pretty frequent contact with each other and had really enjoyed coaching together,” Coach Milan says. “While at Farragut, I kind of got to see the athletes that Bearden had and the potential that was here with Bearden.
“When I met Coach Shinlever, it just seemed like a really good fit.”
Five games into the 2015 season, Coach Shinlever’s second as Bearden’s head coach, Coach Milan made the transition to defensive coordinator, eventually leading the Bulldogs to a third place finish in Region 1-6A.
Coach Milan brings much more than just defensive schemes and coaching to the Bulldogs.
“Coach Milan is extremely passionate, and he just loves us so much and he is so committed to Bearden football and getting us better everyday,” senior linebacker Cam- eron Miller says. “He cares a lot about us, and he wants the best for us and the team.”
That energy doesn’t stop with the players, but extends to the coaching staff as well. Given the trust and close relationships among the staff, that passion is displayed in many different ways.
“I trust Coach Milan as much as any coach I’ve ever worked with,” Coach Shelton says. “So I think we have a pretty open relationship on every part of the field as far as coaching.”
Adds Coach Milan: “The difference between this coach- ing staff and some others that I’ve been on is that we aren’t afraid to tell each other what we need to hear.
We don’t sugarcoat things, we aren’t sensitive, and if we need to have a screaming match after a game or on a practice field or during the game, we will do that be- cause we all know that at the end of the day we’re trying to do what’s best for Bearden football.”
Putting Bearden football and the people within the program before themselves is exactly what Dr. Bartlett was aiming for when he hired Coach Shinlever in 2014.
Coach Milan and Coach Shelton fit that mold.
“It’s definitely a good fit because we all three balance each other out well based off of what our strengths and weaknesses are,” Coach Shinlever says. “You have to hire people who don’t have the same strengths as you, and you have to hire people that make up areas that your staff might be weak in.
“And I feel like between the three of us, we are a good balance for each other, and we all have the same common goal in mind for our football program.”