Veteran Swain County assistant coach James Phillips is returning to his roots in Smoky Mountain Conference football.
The 1996 Andrews graduate is the Wildcats' new head coach, it was announced Friday.
Phillips had been an assistant with the Maroon Devils for 16 years, a time during which they won three state championships (2001, 2004 and 2011). He specialized in coaching the offensive and defensive lines.
"I have always said it would take a perfect job situation to pull me away from Swain County Schools and I feel like this is it," Phillips said.
"Obviously it's an opportunity to go back and coach where I played. I think if you talk to any football coach, they will tell you it's a dream to go back and work your butt off to make a difference where you played and graduated. But more than that, I believe coaching is about trying to make an impact. There's a group of young men over there (at Andrews) who are waiting for me to come over. I'm going to build relationships, work them hard, and have a level of expectation that we're going to constantly get better."
Phillips, 38, was out of coaching in 2015 due to his role as Principal at Swain County West Elementary. Phillips will leave that administrative position to join the Cherokee County school system.
"This is a real home run for us," Andrews athletic director Lance Bristol said.
"We're excited to say the least. I think it's one of the biggest days for Andrews athletics in the past 50 years that a guy like this agrees to come here."
Phillips replaces former Andrews coach Avery Cutshaw, who was fired on March 2 after going 15-33 in four seasons, including a 6-7 mark last fall. The Wildcats reached the second round of the 2015 NCHSAA 1-A playoffs after a 26-14 win over Cherokee on Nov. 13.
Phillips said that he will expect three core values out of the locker room — hard work, toughness and coachability.
"Those core values have always served me well as a coach," Phillips said.
"It's been a tremendous opportunity to coach here at Swain and be part of three state championships and countless conference titles. When I made my decision, the person most excited for me was our superintendent (former Swain County football coach Sam Pattillo).
This offseason has been an interesting one for Western North Carolina football.
Six other mountain programs have changed coaches since the season ended in December. The new coaches are Asheville High (David Burdette), Hayesville (Kenneth Dockery), McDowell (Andy Morgan), North Henderson (Justin Clark), Roberson (Jason Dinwiddie) and Smoky Mountain (Chris Brookshire).
Madison has not yet named a replacement for Mark Gosnell, who stepped down in late-February.
NCHSAA teams can begin official practice on Aug. 1 and play their first game on Aug. 19.