While Harker Heights doesn’t have the tradition of Killeen and Ellison, it’s still shown a capacity as a playoff team.
However, for the third time in the last six years, the Harker Heights football program is looking for a new coach and a new identity after former head coach Mike Mullins left Harker Heights to be an assistant at 3A Navasota less than a month ago.
With plenty of talent, including six Division I football players in the last three graduating classes and more than a dozen across other sports such as basketball and track, the athlete pool is far from bare at Harker Heights. This past school year, all four major boys sports — football, basketball, baseball and soccer — made the postseason. The Knights were the only District 8-5A team to do so.
Yet, since the days of Ross Rogers, wins have been exceedingly difficult to come by on the gridiron. Mullins finished 14-27 in four seasons and only had one non-losing season (5-5 in 2011). Last season, the Knights battled injuries to several key players and still made the playoffs for the first time since Rogers’ final season at the helm (2006) with a 4-7 record — Heights’ sixth losing season in the last seven years.
The job posting, which didn’t officially close until Monday at midnight, received around 30 applications as of 5 p.m. Monday, including several in-house candidates. By comparison, Ellison received 91 applications and Shoemaker — which faced a similarly tight hiring window two years ago — received 42 applicants.
Due to the Fourth of July holiday last week, KISD’s hiring committee hasn’t sorted through resumes, but is expected to start today with hopes of beginning interviews later in the week, likely Thursday or Friday.
“It is important to get a head coach hired as soon as possible, but we have to do our due diligence and get the best fit for Harker Heights High School,” KISD Deputy Superintendent John Craft told the Herald before the holiday.
With a July 12 deadline for school professionals to break contracts without seeking prior board approval, Craft indicated he’d prefer to have a hire made by Friday.
But in an effort to make the right hire, Craft and the committee are hopeful that any corresponding school boards would be willing to work with KISD should a decision be made after that date.
For whoever is ultimately tasked with leading the Knights’ program, here are several things the next head coach might consider:
- 1. CALM THE TOWNSFOLK: Tension and uneasiness are at its peak right now at Harker Heights, where student-athletes and coaches are understandably on edge after Mullins’ sudden departure. It is the next head coach’s responsibility to settle the nerves and put everyone at ease first and foremost. Players were shocked at the news of Mullins’ decision to leave, some even feeling hurt and abandoned. But the nervousness isn’t relegated to the kids, with many coaches also worried about their own job statuses, and that worry only worsens with each passing day without a head coach.
- 2. FORM A CONNECTION: The biggest and perhaps most important task the next coach must do is establish a sense of trust and a belief in the system within the entire Harker Heights program. Players must continue to feel welcomed into a safe and warm field house. During Mullins’ tenure, the Knights field house was often a haven for the wayward players and coaches. That must continue. The head football coach and athletic coordinator is in essence an extended parent for many of the student-athletes, and the new coach much embrace that mentality right away.
- 3. PROTECT THE SHIELD: This seems to be more a reflection of KISD and the transient nature of the military-based student populace, but most of the district’s programs face an identity issue. Outside of Killeen, and in the past, Ellison, there is little connection to the team or its mascot besides what is on their jerseys. As the only other KISD program with its own city, Harker Heights has the ability to create a unique sense of self. Define what it means to be a Knight, and make it something the athletes and their parents can be proud to be a part of — build a brand.
- 4. DON’T ROCK THE BOAT: This late in the game, with a month before the start of fall practices, a complete overhaul of what’s going on at Harker Heights would be unwise and ultimately a detriment to everyone associated with the program. The next coach just needs to take the wheel and steer straight, not diverging too far off the already-laid course.
That’s hard to ask of anybody coming into a position of authority, especially when most coaches already have their own particular likes and dislikes when it comes to coaching and game planning. But the Knights’ current coaching staff instituted a new up-tempo offense in the spring that most of the players have taken a liking to, and a complete change of direction will likely only put the players and other coaches even further behind the competition.