WARSAW — If anyone was going to cook up a recipe for delivering Warsaw its first-ever football sectional championship, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that that someone was Bart Curtis.
Already an Indiana Football Coaches Hall of Famer when he arrived at Warsaw, Curtis’ hiring was considered a coup for Tiger football, and there was buzz aplenty already in the air when he was officially announced as the program’s new skipper in February of 2018.
“We got a Hall of Fame coach, but we got an even better person in Coach Curtis,” said WCHS principal Troy Akers — a 220-win coach himself who stepped away from the helm of the Tigers in 2007 — at the time of the announcement. “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 uncharted territory.”
At the time of his hire, Curtis already owned an overall coaching mark of 201-102 over 27 seasons and has since improved that mark with a sterling 16-5 mark over two years with the Tigers, his 217 wins tying him for 16th place among all active coaches in the state of Indiana. His triple option run game has helped reenergize a program that had seen its trophy case gather dust too long prior to Friday’s thrilling, 35-18 win over Penn.
Curtis is old school, and his is an old-school approach to the game. “Bart Ball” is a run-heavy style that has propelled the Tigers to single-season program rushing records this fall both in total yardage with 3,629 and in per-game average with 329.9 as of Friday night’s 426-yard performance. Both those records eclipse the previous program high points set in the 1973 season, and the Tigers are still going.
His approach has paid dividends in the win/ loss columns, too, with Ws against a number of quality opponents.
Curtis was named the Colts/NFL Coach of the Week after Warsaw’s win at then-Class 5A, No. 4 Michigan City, a 20-19 affair back in Week 2. After a narrow, 24-19 loss to eventual Northern Lakes co-champion Plymouth in Week 3, the Tigers went on a five-game tear through the conference, coming up a little short in a 34-28 comeback at Concord that would have left the team in a tie for NLC championship honors with the Rockies.
A wily coaching veteran, Curtis is also a good steward of his players off the field, a fact that has helped earn him as much respect as his on-field savvy.
“As soon as he walks in the room, everybody knows who he is,” said Warsaw senior quarterback Wyatt Amiss. “He’s a phenomenal coach. He doesn’t just want us to be better football players. He wants us to be better men, and he does that the best of anybody in the state, I think.”
Curtis has a history of success against Penn in particular.
In his second season at Mishawaka in 2009, he guided the Cavemen to a 26-10 win over then 5A, No. 1-ranked Penn, snapping a 35-game losing streak by Mishawaka at the hands of the Kingsmen and putting an end to an unbelievable 153-game Northern Indiana Conference win streak by Penn in the process. He went on to coach the Cavemen to four straight wins over the Kingsmen in 2009 and 2010 on the way to back-to-back NIC and sectional titles. In addition to winning Warsaw its first-ever sectional title, Friday’s championship victory also represented the Tigers’ first over Penn — they were 0-12 against the Kingsmen headed into the Sectional 2 finale.
But Curtis demurred when asked about his history with the Kingsmen. After his Tigers’ historic win, the Hall of Fame coach expressed nothing but admiration for his opponents.
“No, Mishawaka has history with Penn, and I was just fortunate enough to be the head coach during that time,” said Curtis, clothed in his trademark athletic shorts despite below-freezing temperatures at Fisher Field. “We’re trying to develop our program into what Penn has, and we’re trying to get ourselves in a position where we’re playing great football all of the time and we’re mentioned with people that are of that caliber.”
Time will tell. But if it does happen on Curtis’ watch, it likely won’t surprise anyone.