By Rob Kiser
COVINGTON — One knows first hand all about the Covington traditions of excellence on the diamond — the other is well aware of them.
Which made it easy decisions for Andy Johnson and Phil Smith to take over the Covington baseball and softball programs this season.
Johnson is not a new face on the Covington baseball diamond.
The Covington native — who is also the Piqua boys golf coach — is a former standout for the Buccs, has coached the Covington Acme team and was a longtime assistant for Mitch Hirsch — who resigned recently.
“I always hoped this opportunity (to be Covington head coach) would come,” Johnson said. “Mitch (Hirsch) was a great coach (to be an assistant). He knew the game and did an outstanding job. I just want to build on what he did here.”
The transition should be a smooth one, with Johnson knowing all the players.
“I think it will be a smooth transition,” he said. “I know the players. They understand the expectations we have of them. We are getting more every day.
“Basketball is over and wrestling will be in another week or two. We are hoping to get the numbers up in the 20s. That is important, because it would allow us to have a JV team. That is something we didn’t have last year.”
Johnson is not without head coaching experience.
“I coach golf at Piqua,” he said. “I coached the Covington Acme team when I was in college. I took over a couple times when Mitch (Hirsch) couldn’t be at the game.”
And Johnson couldn’t ask for a much better staff.
That includes his uncle, Steve Johnson and Nate Lavey.
Steve Johnson was a Covington standout who went on to a successful coaching career at Eaton, while Lavey went on to play at Wittenberg University after playing at Covington.
“It is great to have a great player like Steve who went on to be the coach that he was,” Andy Johnson said. “And I feel really fortunate to have Nate on staff. He was one of Covington’s best players and there is a lot he can use that he learned at Wittenberg.”
Smith, who replaces Mechelle Heitkamp after one season, didn’t have to be told about the success of the Covington softball program, which includes three trips to the final four as well as numerous league, sectional and district titles.
“The heritage and the tradition of the program,” Smith said about what attracted him to the program. “We want to continue that success.”
And Smith, a longtime travel coach in the summer, is familiar with a lot of the Covington players.
“I have coached several of them in travel ball,” Smith said. “And over the years, I have had to go up against a few of them as well. So, I think it has been a pretty smooth transition.”
And what he didn’t know, he has picked up on pretty quickly.
“The seniors have really been a big help, pointing out things to me about the younger players,” he said. “Everything has gone real well so far. The kids have come in and worked out. We have found a few things we need to work on before the season starts.”
And both can’t wait to get started on adding to the Covington tradition.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.