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May 31—WEST PORTSMOUTH — New Portsmouth West football coach Todd Gilliland said his connection with the Senator football community and timing were the driving factors in his desire to take over the head coaching position at PWHS.

And on May 24th, the Washington-Nile Board of Education unanimously approved Gilliland to become the newest head football coach and athletic director, taking over both positions from former head coach Ben Johnson.

“Among 17 applicants, Todd stood out as the clear choice to lead the program,” the West BOE said in a release last week. “For the last four seasons, Todd has been an assistant coach for the Senators who qualified for the playoffs in three of those seasons. As the offensive and defensive line coach at West, he has coached 6 players that have gone on to play at the collegiate level. Todd has also taught for the last five years at West High School and is a great mentor and role model to his students and players. We are excited to have Todd leading our program into the future.”

Gilliland’s family includes his wife Shelby and two daughters — Alexis and Devyn. He takes over for Johnson after joining his staff five seasons ago in the fall of 2016.

The Sciotoville-native is currently a high school social studies teacher at West and will continue teaching a couple of classes during the day while his AD duties become more of a priority.

“Been here since 2016, really fallen in love with the community and the kids — we have a really good connection,” Gilliland said. “When the opportunity arose, it felt like the right time.”

This will be the second head coaching gig for Gilliland in his career at the varsity level, completing a 5-year stint at his alma mater East (Class of ’98) with a 22-29 record from 2010-14.

Before that, he had been an assistant coach at East in the high school and junior high ranks and spent a year at Green before coming to West in his coaching and teaching capacities.

There’s often a learning curve in the transition from assistant-to-head coaching roles, but it’s one that Gilliland feels comfortable in in beginning his new role.

“Until you’re in the fire yourself, you’re not fully prepared. Things like time management, dealing with things outside of football. That really helped me learn and develop as a coach, outside of the X’s and O’s,” Gilliland said. “Had that itch at one point in my life to become a head coach again. With Coach Johnson, he’s left the program in such great shape. Working with these kids like I have for so long, it felt like the right thing.”

Johnson’s 7-year tenure at West saw the Senators go 38-36, make the Division V state playoffs four times including three times with Gilliland as a member of the staff.

Gilliland said in addition to the things he learned from Johnson as his predecessor, he credited him with allowing him to show his personality as West’s offensive and defensive line coach.

“The way he (Johnson) organizes practices, meetings — those are things you can learn from everyone. I’ve been able to pick up things there and add to what I want to do and my personality,” Gilliland said, of Johnson. “When I came on, he allowed me to be myself and coach the way I wanted to to give me the opportunity to build those relationships with kids.”

The new West hire joins a conference of coaches largely with five-or-more seasons of experience coaching in the SOC II.

The Senators will travel to Fairland and Portsmouth and host Adena, Wellston, and KIPP Columbus before getting into their league schedule — one in which Gilliland says there’s no “off week”.

“SOC II is one of the top small-school conferences in the state, I don’t think there’s any question. It’s a battle every week — there isn’t an off week,” Gilliland said. “You have to be prepared day-in, day-out for a battle. And you’re going against the top coaches in the state. All of our coaches are great coaches and have been at it a long time.”

As far as philosophy goes, Gilliland says he wants his offense to remain balanced in their approach.

That means having players and schemes that can speed up the tempo when necessary, or play smash mouth football to get the nitty-gritty yardage.

“We do want to have the ability to spread it out and get the ball to the outside because of the guys that we have, take advantage of their skill-set,” Gilliland said. “And at the same time, if we need to line it up and run it like old school West football, we want to be able to do that too.”

The Senators’ last SOC II football title came in 2008 and is something, along with contending for the Division V state playoffs and and state championship, that Gilliland hopes to achieve during his time at “The Rock”.

“That should be the goal every year. I’m sure every team that’s in the weight room right now has the same goals — challenge for an SOC title, challenge for a trip to the playoffs, and challenge for a state title. That’s the goal for every player, and you want to set your goals lofty. If you set your goals low and reach them, where do you go from there?”

Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved