WARSAW – Bart Curtis should be very familiar with the personnel of his newly inherited Warsaw football team.
The new Tiger boss definitely has a great inside source of knowledge to give him the take on his players.
Curtis, who has spent the last 10 seasons of a Hall of Fame high school coaching career at Mishawaka High School, was introduced Tuesday night at WCHS at the new Warsaw football coach.
Curtis, whose son Michael was the offensive line coach last fall for the Tigers and is a teacher in the Warsaw schools system, replaces Phil Jensen. Jensen stepped down back on Dec. 4 after 18 seasons over two stints as Warsaw coach. He finished as the all-time winningest coach in program history with a mark of 104-85.
Curtis, whose hiring was approved by the WCS School Board 7-0 Tuesday, definitely flashed his humorous side in meeting the media for the first time during a press conference Tuesday night.
When asked about his son, who played for him at Mishawaka, remaining on the staff, the elder Curtis had a witty replay ready.
“You know what? I’ll tell you after game three,” joked Curtis in front of a laughing auditorium. “First of all he hasn’t interviewed yet so…”
In all seriousness though, Curtis is focused firmly on family first and then football. He was flanked at the table by his wife Sara and children Michael and Hannah Tuesday night. Son Brian could not attend as he is in college.
“It was definitely a factor,” said Curtis of the opportunity to coach with his son. “It’s an opportunity to do something special. This game has meant a lot to me, but this family has meant even more to me.”
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Michael. “We’re going to have our ups and downs but I’m really excited to grow as a person, grow as a coach and grow as a man.”
Curtis has fashioned an overall coaching mark of 201-102 in his 27 seasons on the sidelines. He began his coaching career in 1985 as an assistant coach at South Bend LaSalle. He landed his first head coaching job in 1991 at Maconaquah, where he spent six seasons. Curtis then was at New Prairie for 11 years before spinning the last decade in charge of the Cavemen. He’s had just three losing seasons in his illustrious prep career.
“Everything just kept pointing me to here,” said Curtis. “I’m thrilled to be here. I understand the grandness of this and I understand that it’s a big deal. I’m up to the challenge. It’s full speed ahead from here. It started two hours ago when the Board approved me.”
“We got a Hall of Fame coach, but we got an even better person in coach Curtis,” noted WCHS principal Troy Akers, himself a former football coach for the Tigers. “He has his priorities in check. He is the best person to move this program forward and I believe that in the coming years that you will see him move the program here to unchartered territory.”
Curtis is no stranger to the Northern Lakes Conference either. He was a tight end on the 1980 NorthWood team that finished as Class 2-A state runner-up under Hall of Fame coach Jim Andrews. Curtis graduated from NorthWood in 1982 and then attended Manchester University and Bethel College.
Curtis is the owner of five conference titles, to go with eight sectional championships and two regional crowns. He guided the Cavemen to the Class 4-A state-runner up finish in 2012. He also guided the Cavemen to a 26-10 win over rival Penn during his second season at MHS in 2009, snapping a 35-game losing streak to the Kingsmen. The huge victory over the then Class 5-A No. 1 ranked Kingsmen also put an end to an incredible 153-game winning streak in the Northern Indiana Conference by Penn. Curtis directed his Cavemen to four straight wins over powerhouse Penn during the 2009 and 2010 seasons as Mishawaka won both conference and sectional championships.
Mishawaka has posted a 90-35 mark the past 10 seasons under Curtis with 10 winning seasons, including four with 10 or more wins to go with six sectional titles during his tenure. The Cavemen went 6-5 overall and 3-2 in the North Division of the Northern Indiana Conference last fall. Curtis notched his 200th coaching win in October with a 38-14 victory over Mishawaka Marian.
“We were truly fortunate to have an amazing field of candidates for this position and it is not often someone of coach Curtis’ experience and stature knocks on your door,” said WCHS Athletic Director Dave Anson. “Coach Curtis has truly established himself as one of the state’s top coaches. We are excited to have him leading our program and we look forward to the future of Tiger football.”
Curtis inherits a Warsaw program that has never won a sectional championship. The Class 6-A Tigers are 13-33 all-time in postseason play, including 0-5 in sectional title games.
Warsaw posted a 6-5 overall mark, including a 4-3 finish in the Northern Lakes Conference in 2017. The Tigers lost 40-0 to Penn in a Class 6-A sectional finale. Warsaw is 0-11 all-time versus the Kingsmen.
“There’s going to be a learning curve any time there’s something new,” said Curtis of the transition. “We will focus on taking the next day and trying to be better each day. I’m concerned with us doing things the right way and that starts with me. It’s about how we go about our business day to day.
“I think that the community here will be proud of our players. It’s not just about what they do during the day or on Friday nights. It’s about how they treat people and about doing things the right way.”
Curtis, who will turn 55 in March, and his wife Sara have three children in Michael, Hannah and Brian. Curtis is currently an assistant principal at Mishawaka High School.
Curtis’ role at WCHS will be an administrative one as well, according to Akers.