Hiring A Coach or a Name?
High school football is not the NFL.
School boards are in a ruthless battle to hire a football coach with a name and an impressive record on paper.
That’s happened twice in less than two weeks at South Arkansas schools.
The Sheridan School Board hired Kevin Kelley, a former coach at Pulaski Academy, on Dec. 11. Kelley is known for his “no punt” game, and he is in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. The board wanted Kelley, and they hired him.
But many parents and players wanted a beloved assistant coach that should have been named head coach at least two coaches ago. The board didn't listen.
According to sources, Kelley has removed the assistant coach — the one people thought deserved the job — from his football duties at the school.
White Hall Mirrors Sheridan
On Friday night in a special-called meeting, the White Hall School Board voted to hire Daryl Patton, most recently the head football coach at Little Rock Southwest.
But Patton was not the choice parents and players wanted.
For weeks, parents and students have lobbied the school to promote Coach Jason Mitchell as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
Mitchell became interim head coach after the unexpected death of Bulldog Coach Ryan Mallett in June. Mitchell and his coaching staff helped guide the Bulldogs through the grief of losing their coach and player Ben Redix who died in May.
On Dec. 16, Jeff McHan, whose son Aiden played under Mallett and Mitchell during the 2022-23 season, wrote on Facebook:
“To all of White Hall and fellow alumni.
Jason Mitchell should be the Head Coach of White Hall High School- time to remove that interim tag.
I personally know how much he cares about the kids and the program- its more than a job for him.
His emotions are in the right spot for a Head Football Coach-he has the passion, experience, and proven know how.
White Hall may not field the best talent year in and out but we can give that talent its best possible chance at success.
I believe its with him and his staff.
Mitchell is the one.”
Many others agreed with McHan.
Mitchell wanted to shift from interim coach to full-time coach. That only makes sense. People, regardless of the job, want promotions in their careers.
Promoting internally makes sense especially in high school sports where many coaches strive to build a family-like atmosphere.
Coaches are a different breed of educator. They spend hours and hours with their players, discussing not only sports but life issues. Players need someone who they can trust with impeccable ethics and morals.
Just because a coach logged impressive, winning stats at another school years ago doesn't mean he will have repeat success immediately.
Teams aren't built in a season. Ask any coach.
Creating a winning team takes a few years. Seniors graduate. Players move. Some quit. Tragedy occurs. A number of factors play into high school athletics.
High schools don't have a Brady or a Gronk playing year after year building up a winning dynasty. They have teenagers attending school to get an education. Some may want to be the next Kelce or Mahomes, but they ain't there yet. They. Are. Kids.
Once upon a time, schools gave coaches years to build a team and become part of a community. Now, coaches rotate through locker rooms quicker than workers at a fast-food joint.
Student-athletes not only have to learn a new style of play under a new coach, but they have to start all over getting-to-know a coach’s demeanor and demands.
Most high school kids will not become career athletes. For most, they will never play football again after graduation. Sure, winning is fun, but students need something more than wins. They need stability and trust.
The Patton Hire
Patton's hire did not play well with Bulldog fans.
(For transparency, I was in a restaurant with White Hall folks Friday night who were shocked by the news and did not see the decision coming right before Christmas. Some of them — loyal Bulldog supporters and parents — had never heard of Patton until they Googled him.)
Many people shared their opinions on social media Saturday that Mitchell earned the job as head coach, saying the school had the “perfect man” in place for another season. Others thought it was attempt to upstage their main rival — Sheridan — after the Kelley hire. A new guy clearly brings more buzz and media attention to a school that an internal promotion.
Other critics of the Patton hire blamed the White Hall School Board and called the decision politics as usual.
What's Going On Here?
Simply, school boards are in a pissing match with each other to get “big” names and lure players to their turf in this era of school choice.
It's about the school board members’ egos and not about the best for student athletes. If that were the case, the Sheridan and White Hall school boards would have listened to community members and students.
School boards apparently fantasize that they are the high school equivalents of Jerry Jones, Clark Hunt and Robert Kraft.
High school sports isn't the NFL, though, no matter how much a school spends on turf, scoreboards and indoor facilities.
Remember: School board members don't own the football team.
They are elected officials just like other politicians. Don't be fooled when they say they are volunteers because they don't get per diems like quorum court members. School board members are elected, and many stay on the board for decades.
Voters can hold school board members accountable in the next election and attend meetings to make sure they are doing what is best for students.
After all, coaches get paid with our tax dollars.
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