This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on June 29, 2022.
By Malcolm Butler
The 2021 Lincoln Parish Journal Coach of the Year Matt Middleton has returned to Cedar Creek in the same role he left in January.
One day after a joint announcement that the school and Steven Ensminger, Jr., had mutually decided to part ways, Cedar Creek announced that Middleton was returning.
“Cedar Creek School is excited to announce that it has partnered with Coach Matt Middleton to serve in the capacity as athletic director and head football coach,” said the release from the school. “Coach Middleton has a long history of molding young student athletes into well-rounded individuals. The school and Coach Middleton have made a multi-year commitment to each other and look forward to many years of success, both on the field and inside the classroom.”
Middleton was introduced as the Cougars head coach in April of 2021 and guided the Cougars to a 6-5 record, which including a historic win over Oak Grove, a near-miss against OCS and a berth in the Division IV playoffs.
Following the season he resigned from Cedar Creek in mid-January to accept the offensive coordinator position at Southern Arkansas University. His new contract with Cedar Creek is a multi-year deal.
“I am extremely excited,” said Middleton. “I didn’t foresee this happening but I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to be back with those kids. And with a great school. It’s even more exciting for me because my entire family will be there too. I couldn’t ask for anything better. I’m ready to get rolling.
“Their commitment to me and to the program is huge. And my commitment back benefits both parties and puts us in a situation to be in a longstanding relationship for years to come. That’s what I want.
“A lot of people might think this is just about (my son Caden’s senior year), but this is so much more than that. I have a 5-year old starting kindergarten, and I hope and pray we will be here (for him to finish at Cedar Creek). I am excited about the long-term part of it. I have bounced around some in my career, but I want to plant some roots and look forward to a bright future.”
Middleton told the Lincoln Parish Journal in January that the decision to leave Creek and return to college coaching wasn’t an easy one.
“Probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had,” said Middleton in January. “I am leaving what I consider a loaded team. I think they could possibly play for a Division IV championship next year. I still think they have a great opportunity.”
Now it will be the veteran, highly-emotional Middleton who will be guiding the veteran group into action this fall.
A team meeting is set for Thursday morning as Middleton will address his Cougar players for the first time since last January when he informed them he was departing. Creek’s decision to lure Middleton back has drawn early rave reviews.
“What Matt did in his six months with the program when he came to Creek was really revolutionary for the school,” said Scott Hill, Creek alum and father of Cougar multi-sport star Carter Hill. “From upgrading facilities to consistency and structure and to very high expectations, the kids bought into the program.
“Matt has fun, but when it’s time to work he expects high level commitment. He drives them hard, but he celebrates the victories with them. He is right there with them through thick and thin. He returns an (enjoyable) style of football (on both sides of the ball). They know he is a winner. The kids are familiar with him and had bought into his coaching style.”
The West Monroe native began is coaching career as a graduate assistant at Louisiana Tech in 2002 before serving as the wide receivers coach at Grand Valley State in Michigan in 2004. He was the offensive coordinator for two different stints at Arkansas-Monticello in 2007-08 and again in 2011 through 2013.
Middleton was also the offensive coordinator for former Tech assistant coach Clint Conque at Central Arkansas in 2009 and 2010.
On the prep level he served as assistant head and JV coach at Evangel Christian Academy (2003-04), head coach and athletics director at Caldwell Parish High School (2005-06), head coach and AD at CENLA Christian School (2007), and as head coach at Prairie View (2014-16.)
His first head coaching opportunity came in 2015, when he was hired by Prairie View Academy, before taking the West Ouachita head coaching job in 2017 where he spent four years before coming to Cedar Creek.
Middleton was named the District 2-1A Coach of the Year and the Lincoln Parish Journal All-Parish Team Coach of the Year in 2021 after guiding the Cougars to a successful season. He won Coach of the Year honors in 2015 and 2016 at Prairie View Academy.