‘Coaching legend’ ready to lead Hotchkiss
A little after 5 a.m., Mike Sirko leaves his home in Aspen and drives over McClure Pass. At 6:45 a.m., he’s opening the weight room at Hotchkiss High School.
Sirko said he gladly makes the commute — a trip that measures 96 miles, one way — to a blue-collar high school with a winning tradition.
He drives the sometimes treacherous pass because his wife, Diana, is the Roaring Fork School District superintendent.
But he’s also heading back to his roots.
After serving as an assistant coach in Montrose in the 1970s, Sirko got his head coaching start with the Bulldogs.
Since then, he’s jumped from team to team to team, rebuilding programs along the way. He’s racked up more than 200 wins and is currently the sixth-winningest coach in Colorado prep football history.
He won a state title at Rampart in 1998, which had been Colorado Springs’ most recent football championship until last year, when Pine Creek won the Class 4A championship and Coronado claimed the Class 3A title.
At Rampart, Doherty and Aspen, Sirko had 17 consecutive winning seasons. When he took over at Aspen in 2007, Sirko led Aspen to its first winning season in 22 years. He had seven consecutive winning seasons and led Aspen to its first playoff win in four decades before resigning after the 2013 season.
Paonia coach Brent McRae called Sirko “a coaching legend.”
Sirko’s just glad to be in a coaching job that “feels right.”
“I was thinking, ‘Why not?’ more than anything, when I took this job,” Sirko said. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to come back to a great community, and it really does, in a way, feel like going back home.”
Hotchkiss, this time around, is the first program Sirko hasn’t had to rebuild. The Bulldogs haven’t had a losing season since 2006. Former coach Zac Lemon, who is now the football coach at Eaton, left the stable full for Sirko.
Devan Rupe, an athletic quarterback, and Alex Smith, a shifty running back, return for their senior seasons.
Rupe threw for eight touchdowns and ran for five more in 2013 with more than 1,000 total yards. Smith averaged just less than seven yards per carry, rushing for 914 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns.
“This is a team that has had some success,” Sirko said. “A lot of these other programs we’ve had to change nearly every facet of the way they operated. Here, we’ve adjusted some of the blocking schemes and some of the things we do defensively, but not a whole lot. We’re even using some of the same terminology they’ve used in the past.”
The adjustment has been easy because of the senior leadership Rupe and Smith provide.
Rupe said Sirko has brought a different tempo to practice, and the high intensity Sirko is known for has made practice more fun.
“We’re flying around,” Rupe said. “Offense, defense, we’re all over the place. That’s the main difference. We’re working at such a high tempo that it put a new dimension on how we practice.”
Although Rupe and Sirko agreed there haven’t been many scheme changes, Sirko said the Bulldogs moved from an option attack to an I-formation to simplify his new system.
“It’s one thing to teach these guys, younger and older guys, all the different terminology that comes with installing a new system,” Sirko said. “Doing that and running a true option offense, I don’t think that could be done with the time that we have.”