PLAYGROUND NOTES: Hilltoppers make swell choice in ‘good ole boy’ with Western ties

J. Michael Moore

Mary Taylor Cowles speaks of Western basketball as if it was one of her children.

In fact, her real kids are often part of post-game interviews, bounding and playing in the back of the media room or simply snuggled in their mother’s arms.

Cowles incorporates family and work because, in many ways, they’re the same.

Her Western family is a major part of her life.

As a former player, she was the perfect candidate to take over a shattered Lady Topper basketball team.

She brought loyalty and passion and a broken-in red towel.

The Lady Toppers responded by defying the odds, finishing 22-9 with their first NCAA tournament bid since 2000.

David Elson spent seven years as an assistant coach for the Hilltopper football team before being named head coach last month.

During that time, he improved his resume, built a defense, won a national championship and started a family.

He left for West Virginia after the season.

A few weeks later, Elson was back in Bowling Green with his wife and two children, ripping the “For Sale” sign out of his front yard.

The young coach has been all smiles ever since.

Enter Darrin Horn.

A male Mary?

An Elson clone?

No.

But they have similarities.

Horn, another former Hilltopper, took over the men’s basketball program Tuesday night.

His wife Carla is also a Western graduate. They have one daughter, two-year-old Caroline.

Including Elson and Cowles, Horn is the third major coaching hire in the last year.

He’s also the third major hire with what some consider to be a deeper loyalty: a love of both Bowling Green and Topper red.

Horn, 30, brings something more to the Hill than a play book and a suitcase.

He brings history.

“Good to be home,” Horn said in his first comments to Topper faculty and staff as coach.

“Being here tonight is an absolute dream come true for me,” he said. “This is where my pride is. This is where my passion is.”

He is just the third player in Western history to return as head coach, joining John Oldham and Clem Haskins, legends in their own right.

Will Horn be as successful?

He’ll likely stick around to at least try.

“I know Darrin truly believes in Western Kentucky,” Cowles said, saying he and she have a similar attachment to the program.

In a world motivated by money, Western seems to be making economical hires.

Horn and the Toppers’ other rookie coaches are young but experienced.

But they all have a reason to coach at Western other than their paycheck.

They have family.

They have connections.

Don’t think for a second Horn was hired simply on his experience.

Athletic Director Wood Selig and other administrators were hiring loyalty – a coach who will stay and watch his program succeed.

The sting of Dennis Felton’s exodus was from a sense of abandonment. The Hill has been nothing more than an over-sized stepping stone for decades.

How else do you break the chain?

Horn, Cowles and Elson are the first steps toward Wood Selig’s Hilltopper utopia.

Selig said Horn’s history with the program was a major reason for his hire, beating out former Hilltopper coach Ralph Willard.

“We asked Darrin,” Selig said. “And he said, knowing what he knows, he felt very confident that in five years, he would not be looking to leave.”

Youthful exuberance and coaching experience may have gotten Horn in the door.

But his “Old Kentucky Home” will make him stay.

J. Michael Moore is a sports reporter for the Herald. He can be reached at [email protected]