'BEST CITY IN AMERICA'

Newly hired Cullman football coach Matt Plunkett talks at the Cullman City Board of Education on Friday.

With a smile on his face and a vision in his eyes, Matt Plunkett spoke from the heart.

The new Cullman High School football coach, whose hire was approved by the City Schools Board of Education on Friday, choked back raw emotion as he took to the podium to address those in attendance.

His message?

One of commitment and understanding.

"First off, it's an honor," Plunkett said. "Growing up in south Joppa and the New Harmony community and east Cullman County ... as a young boy, coming to Cullman was a big deal for our family. And today's a big deal. It's an honor to follow a legendary football coach like Mark Britton. I've known coach Britton for a long time, and I really respect the job he's done. There will be no one that has to explain to me how important this job is at Cullman High School. I understand that, and I embrace that, and I look forward to it, and I'll lead the charge in that direction. We'll represent this thing from Day 1 the right way."

A 1998 Arab graduate, Plunkett attended the University of North Alabama and the University of Alabama, where he served as a student assistant coach for both football programs. 

He went on to garner valuable experience as an assistant with Pittsburg State University (Kan.), Carson-Newman College (Tenn.) and Missouri Southern State University, serving a multitude of roles such as offensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator, wide receivers coach and tight ends coach.

In 2010, Plunkett accepted a position at Magnolia West High School in Texas, where he began double duty as the team's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Plunkett took over at Gardendale in 2013 and led the Class 6A Rockets to a 37-22 record in five seasons.

During his time atop the program, Plunkett's teams won five playoff outings, set school records for scoring in 2014 and 2015, corralled a 10-win season for the first time since 2002 and developed 18 players who eventually signed college scholarships following high school.

Definitely an impressive résumé, and one that caught the eye of Principal Kim Hall.

"His experience at both the high school and collegiate level made him a very appealing candidate," she said. "He had a great knowledge and background. When we were looking at portfolios, it became evident we were seeking someone focused on student-athletes. And it became clear that was coach Plunkett. He simply had everything in place. We're excited to get him and excited for the future."

And though Plunkett knows he has big shoes to fill, he's not shying away from the challenge.

"We'll move forward, but we'll remember coach Britton in everything we do," he said. "It's a new day. Our program is going to be about toughness, discipline and detail. We're going to be a classy program and represent the city of Cullman with pride. There's a fantastic coaching staff in place. I'm excited about implementing a plan to build up a Cullman football program into something even bigger than where it's at now. Nothing will happen overnight, but I'll want to create that fear and respect when the Bearcats get off the bus. My goal is that people don't like playing us, and they walk away with hurt feelings."

Britton, who scored a 134-63 record, three region crowns and zero losing campaigns in 17 seasons with the Black and Gold knows his former team is in good hands moving forward.

"It's a new beginning," he said. "I think Mrs. Hall, along with her committee, did an outstanding job. It's been a true blessing for me to take care of this program, but I'm just thrilled to be a fan now. I wish nothing but the best for our kids and coach Plunkett."

As for the aforementioned Plunkett, he can't wait to get started.

He toured the high school on Thursday and planned to meet with staff and players on Friday.

And though the allure of coaching at Cullman played a huge role in his departure from Gardendale, it was the city itself that made the ultimate decision for him.

"I don't know if there's a better city in America to raise a family," he said. "That was the deciding factor. Getting my family in the best city in America. High academics, great leaders. This country needs great leaders, and I certainly feel like that's my mission ... creating great leaders."

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.​

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I'm an Auburn University graduate with a passion for sports, reading and diet Mountain Dew.