Matt Reel delayed the best he could.
He’d already broken the news to his North Myrtle Beach football team last week during a meeting. But he wanted to tell them face-to-face it was official. During the back end of the Chiefs’ end-of-season banquet on Tuesday night at the school, the news finally came.
The popular and successful fifth-year Chiefs coach had been approved to take over the same job at Class 5A Boiling Springs during the Spartanburg County School District 2 board meeting, one that was taking place at the same time as the banquet.
The awards and handshakes turned into goodbyes and hugs.
“It’s important to always be honest with your guys,” Reel said. “It’s huge for me for them to be able to hear it from me and not somebody else’s point of view or a report that has no validity to it. You try to take care of the people who have been so good to you.”
Reel would not speak to any details about the Boiling Springs job, citing his new district’s request to wait until next week for his introductory news conference. However, MyHorryNews.com previously reported that he interviewed in December for the position and was pin-pointed early in the process. The delay between that and the full approval was caused only by the lapse in board meetings associated with the winter break.
Why he was so in demand — he’d been pursued by other schools in the last two-three years, as well — was clear.
After joining the North Myrtle Beach staff as its offensive coordinator in 2016, he was promoted to the top job months later when Blair Hardin took over at River Bluff. Reel then led all five of his squads to at least the second round of the playoffs, three of his teams to the lower state semifinals and his 2020 group to Class 4A state championship game Columbia — where the Chiefs fell to A.C. Flora in the Class 4A title game.
Overall, he was 40-16 in his five seasons — the third-most victories of any coach in school history — and 9-5 in the playoffs. His teams were also responsible for three victories against rival Myrtle Beach, including a two-game sweep in 2020.
Reel — who was Horry County’s lowest-paid football coach as recently as March of 2020 — is expected to receive a salary boost of at least $20,000 annually, according to estimates between the districts. What’s more, the job at Boiling Springs will also allow him to live close enough to North Carolina, where his wife, Stacy, is an assistant principal outside Raleigh and is nearing the retirement threshold in that state.
That said, the job will come with a lofty mountain to climb in terms of success. For as much as North Myrtle Beach's Region VI-4A has been considered the toughest region in Class 4A the last few years, Boiling Springs’ assignment to Region II-5A for the 2022-2024 realignment block looks downright nasty. Fellow region foes Byrnes, Dorman, Gaffney and Spartanburg own a combined 37 state football championships between them.
Boiling Springs qualified for the first ever Class 5A state championship game in 2016, losing to powerhouse Dutch Fork in the finals. Since then, the Bulldogs’ have trended downward, falling to 1-10 this fall.
Back at North Myrtle Beach, finding a replacement of Reel’s level won’t be easy, said athletics director Tony Heilbronn. While the first-year athletics boss has already fielded unofficial resumes and expects official ones from around the Carolinas in the weeks ahead, "the bar’s been raised.”
“He wants no attention. It’s all about his kids,” Heilbronn said. “It’s everything you want in a head coach.
“Ten years ago, North Myrtle Beach was the laughing stock of the region and the area. Now, we’re right there with Myrtle Beach. Yeah, they have the state championships, but we’re competing with them.”
Heilbronn said he already has a tentative schedule to have the next hire in place. He expects the position to be posted by the end of this week and wants the Reel's replacement to be approved during the Feb. 28 Horry County Board of Education meeting. If that plan holds, the next coach can be in place for as much of offseason conditioning and spring drills as possible.
Certainly the job is an attractive one. The school’s new video board was installed last week. Next year, North Myrtle Beach will also receive a new turf field as part of a district-wide mandate approved in 2021.
And, of course, the Chiefs are just 13 months removed from an appearance in the state championship game.
Reel has always downplayed his role in that historic run. Either way, no one could deny that he was the man in charge of the best season in school history or all the other wins over the course of the last five years.
“In no way am I dumb enough to get close to that accomplishment without having the people in place that I had,” Reel said. “Our kids have been incredibly dedicated to how we do things — and our coaches even more so.
“Everything that we’ve been able to accomplish here might have started with me at the top because that’s my title. But without these kids and without this community, it just doesn’t happen.”