One word has been used repeatedly to describe the perfect candidate to replace Buddy McBryde as the new Ellison head football coach/athletic coordinator: energetic.
“We obviously want to look at an applicant with a lot of energy; is going to be a good fit for Ellison High School and that athletic program; is going to be student-centered and success-driven,” Killeen Independent School District Deputy Superintendent John Craft said not long after the job opened Nov. 16.
That’s because the entire Ellison athletic program needs new energy. And no shot of 5-hour Energy is going to fix what ails the once-proud Eagles program.
Which means whomever is hired to be the next Ellison football coach, mission No. 1 should be to reinvigorate a team that hasn’t won a game for two straight seasons.
As evidenced by Craft’s statements, KISD understands this hire is an important decision with ramifications not just for Ellison itself.
Like its rival Killeen, Ellison has a proud history, 34 years of tradition that have become ingrained itself within the Killeen community. From the football team’s 5A state semifinal appearance in 1996, to the boys basketball team’s 19-year playoff streak, Ellison’s success on the gridiron has meant good things for KISD and the entire city of Killeen.
But in five seasons under McBryde, some of that luster has been lost with a 13-37 record, including the current 20-game winless streak.
Ninety-one candidates submitted applications for the job before its cut-off date last Monday night, and KISD is expected to begin conducting initial interviews Monday and Tuesday.
KISD has formed a hiring committee to review all applications and determine the best possible hire for Ellison and its student-athletes. Among the members of the hiring committee will include Craft himself, KISD Chief Personnel Officer Steve Cook, KISD Athletic Director Tom Rogers, and Ellison principal David Dominguez, among several others.
But while they will ultimately decide who will take over Ellison’s athletic programs, there are four things that person should consider doing soon after accepting the assignment.
1) Have an open-door policy.
Complaints in the past have centered on a lack of familiarity between those in power, their players and parents/alumni. Players often struggled to connect with their head coach, to feel like they were cared for beyond the field of play. And parents and alumni haven’t always felt welcomed, either. The new coach should make serious strides to mend those bridges.
The players are only going to give their all for a coach if they know the man leading them not only has their back on the field, but is supportive of them off it as well. Get to know the players, their wants, their needs, their aspirations, what their lives are like away from the field house, and be receptive. Players should respect and admire their head coach, not just listen out of fear or because it’s what’s expected.
2) Reinforce the tradition.
The thing that separates Killeen and Ellison from newer siblings Harker Heights and Shoemaker is tradition.
Ellison is rich with former players that have gone on and accomplished great things at the college level and beyond, beginning with former All-Pro Tommie Harris, as well as Othello Henderson, Daron Washington and David Winbush, among many more. More recently, that list has grown to include University of Minnesota tailback David Cobb and Texas A&M track stars Prezel Hardy and Michael Bryan.
The new coach will need to create a sense of belonging to that tradition. Right now, the players are not bonded to their Eagle logo. Without an identity, current student-athletes and alumni have nothing to connect with, except a list of players who have gone before them. There’s no sense that they, as individuals, are now and forever a part of the program.
3) Accentuate the strengths.
Speed kills, and for the last several years the one thing Ellison has had in excess is speed. But it’s only deadly if used properly. So the new coach needs to try to institute a system that will allow the Eagles playmakers to soar, and not get bottled up at the line of scrimmage.
Three years ago, Ellison had the fastest kid in the nation (Hardy) backpedaling as a defensive back. Hardy’s best asset was his straight-line speed and the Eagles coaches had him running backward on defense?
Despite some insistence from fans, the new coach doesn’t necessarily need to institute the spread offense just because the rest of the state is doing it. But he should bring in a wide-open scheme that the kids will be able to grasp and enjoy that works within the framework of his team.
4) Find and develop a quarterback.
As the NFL is rapidly discovering, quarterbacks grow like weeds in Texas. Yet for the last several years, not having a serviceable signal-caller has hurt the Eagles in the form of hand-scratching turnovers and late-game losses. Ellison might have a diamond in the rough in the form of rising senior Trenton Jones, but without the right development, he won’t be able to lead the Eagles out of the cellar.
The new coach should find a way to work and develop quarterbacks that will function within his offensive philosophies, and institute a system that can translate down to the middle school levels so as the players move up, they aren’t floored by some strange new scheme.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566