Kucela returning as PF hoops coach

Led Bears squad over a decade ago
May. 15, 2013 @ 11:27 AM

Pigeon Forge High School has named a new head boys basketball coach, and for fans of county hoops that have been around awhile, he’s a familiar face.

John Kucela, who coached the Sevier County Smoky Bears from 1998-2001, was announced as the new coach Monday evening by PFHS principal Ben Clabo.

“Coach Kucela brings a wealth of experience in coaching knowledge to our boys basketball program. He will be an advocate for our student athletes as well as a staunch promoter of our program.”

Kucela, 57, had some success at SCHS before returning to his home state of Georgia in 2001.

The 1999-2000 Bears finished as District 4-AAA runners-up and advanted to the state seciontals.

In addition to his duties as coach, Kucela was an assistant principal and tennis coach for the Smoky Bears.

“When I was there, I liked (Sevier County),” Kucela said Tuesday. “I didn’t leave because I didn’t like it.”

Kucela said illnesses with his and his wife’s parents led the couple to relocate back to Georgia, where they cared for their health until they passed away.

“It was a blessing to be there and kind of take care of them,” he said. “But I always kind of thought when I did retire from Georgia, I’d like to go back to Tennessee.”

After leaving Sevier County, Kucela went back to Georgia to Butler High School, where he’d coached before SCHS.

From there he spent a season at Grovetown High before his most recent stint at Lakeside High School in Augusta.

At Lakeside, Kucela earned Columbia County coach of the year honors from the Columbia County News-Times for his work in the 2010-2011 season.

Though his team went 12-15 on the year it was better than most expected, as he lost three players over 6-foot-4 before the season even tipped off, including one who died during a pick-up game.

“Despite these losses, the Panthers battled each and every night,” News-Times columnist Ashley Brown wrote. “Their record was only 12-15, but the opposition knew they had been in a fight when they faced Lakeside.”

Prior to his first stint in the county at SCHS, Kucela coached at Butler High School, T.W. Joesey High and Louisville High, all in Georgia. He was also Athletic Director and Health/Physical Education Director at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., from 1994-1995.

When a change in the rules with teacher retirement and retirement plans changed prior to this past season in the Peach State, Kucela retired.

“It was kind of a last-minute decision to do it,” he told the Columbia County News-Times. “I’ve got the time in, 30-something years. It was a decision I had to go ahead and make.”

In the year off, he realized he missed coaching. And, when the two openings in Sevier County (PF and Seymour) came open, he took it as a sign.

“It’s always been kind of dream to come back, kind of permanently,” Kucela said.  His wife Cindy, a pharmacist, even maintained a Tennessee over the years.

At Pigeon Forge, Kucela knows the situation he’s inheriting.

“I talked to (former coach) Jonathan Shultz, and I always pull up the Mountain Press and the Knox News keeping up with the teams,” he said. “I like the community that Pigeon Forge is in, and it’s kind of a dream come true for me. Dr. (Ben) Clabo seems great, and (Athletic Director Jim) Lethco.

“I think it’s a pretty good fit, I felt really good about the interview. I’m looking forward to it.”

Kucela has coached his teams to over 300 wins in his head coaching career, and over 400 if his assistant coaching resume is figured in.

Sevier County coach Ken Wright, who coached against Kucela in Georgia and when both coaches were active here locally, said Kucela is a good coach.

“John and I have known each other for 20 years,” Wright said. “John will do a good job. He’ll will step right in and keep the program going in the right direction, and he’ll do a good job.”

Kucela is a graduate of Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, Ga., with an Associate degree in General Studies. He received the Bachelor of Science degree in health/physical education from the University of South Carolina at Aiken. 

He later received the Master’s and Specialist degrees in both health/physical education and administration/supervision from Augusta College (now Augusta State University).