Aaron Makelky, who spent the past eight years at Big Piney, is the new head football coach at Kelly Walsh. Makelky confirmed the news with the Star-Tribune on Monday. Kelly Walsh plans to make a formal announcement of the hire later this week.
Makelky takes over the Kelly Walsh football program as its 11th coach, 2 months after former head coach Jon Vance was quietly and unceremoniously relieved of duties. Vance was the programs' second-winningest coach in history, accruing a 32-43 record. The Trojans made the playoffs in the last seven of Vance's eight seasons, including last year's 3-7 campaign.
“Honestly, I saw the opening, talked to coaches around the state outside of Kelly Walsh and tried to get some outside perspective, and a pretty unanimous perception of Kelly Walsh football is the potential is phenomenal,” Makelky told the Star-Tribune. “People inside say it will be really challenging and I tend to agree with that, but if things are done right with the right people it’ll be one of the best jobs there is.”
Makelky coached the Punchers for the past seven seasons, leading them to consecutive playoff appearances and accruing a 22-37 record as head coach. He oversaw the Punchers’ 7-3 season in 2017, the school’s first seven-win season in over a decade. That season ended with a 30-27 loss to Glenrock in the Class 2A semifinals, just shy of the school's first championship appearance in a decade.
The Montana native previously served as an assistant in Big Piney along with stops at Bozeman (Montana) and Timber Lake (South Dakota) high schools before arriving in Wyoming.
In January it was announced that Makelky will serve as South head coach in the 2019 Wyoming Shrine Bowl Game, which will be played on June 8 at Natrona County’s Cheney Alumni Field. He will still coach the South, against the North team, which includes players from Kelly Walsh.
Makelky, also a history teacher at Big Piney, said it was difficult decision to move on. He started looking for other opportunities because his wife plans to be a nurse practitioner and healthcare opportunities in Casper are better than those in Sublette County.
“Having two working parents,” Makelky said, “it’s been difficult to manage that and be a great dad.”
Makelky made the "tough" announcement to his final class of Big Piney players after school on Monday that he won't be returning as their head coach. He won’t formally be involved in the hiring of his successor, but his input will likely be considered. The search for his replacement at Big Piney will begin shortly. After that final meeting with his former players, Makelky took to Twitter to once again thank the Big Piney community for its support.
Makelky was one of six finalists who underwent an interview process that lasted over an hour per candidate. Among the candidates were two other coaches from Wyoming, two candidates from Nebraska and one holdover assistant from previous head coach Jon Vance’s coaching staff.
Interviews with each ended with a tour of the Kelly Walsh facilities, which consist of a practice indoor track, weight room, new green track surrounding Harry Geldien Stadium and renovations to the gym. Makelky downplayed those facilities but did note the benefit of having lights surround Harry Geldien Stadium. Big Piney's Puncher Stadium does not have lights, causing home games to be played in the afternoon.
The Kelly Walsh hiring committee debated over the candidates for a few days before offering Makelky the job on Friday evening. Makelky, who was at a coaching clinic in Deadwood, South Dakota, returned to Wyoming on Sunday and confirmed the news on Monday.
He stated that he’s hoping to reach out to former Kelly Walsh assistant coaches and gauge interest for which ones will remain on staff. He’s also hopeful to build relationships with other coaches at Kelly Walsh and, ideally, share assistant coaches. Makelky previously served as middle school wrestling coach at Big Piney.
“To me it’s really important for kids to see we care about you, not your jersey number,” Makelky said. “We want to reach out to (boys basketball coach Randy) Roden and (wrestling coach Travis) Peak and build a good relationship there. Having a good relationship there is a big thing that could help our kids.”
Makelky said he hoped to begin introductions with possible assistants within 2 to 3 weeks. The process to schedule summer camps and activities has already begun.
Makelky told the Star-Tribune the first thing he plans to tell every student at Kelly Walsh is: “We’re going to coach you as hard as we love you.”
It’s through that building of relationships and rekindling of excitement for the Kelly Walsh football program where he hopes to make the difference. Winning games, he said, comes along with it.
“You’re not going to be the little brother of somebody across town,” Makelky said. “You’ll have a great opportunity to do something and you won’t want to trade anything about it when you’re done with Kelly Walsh High School.”