John Craft slowly unclasped his hands as he spoke, “Of course, winning is important to me. I am not going to sit here and tell you it isn’t.”
It was late June and Craft was in the middle of another coaching search.
This one was nearly too late.
Mike Mullins had resigned as Harker Heights head football coach June 18 after four years with the Knights to accept an assistant coaching position with defending 3A champion Navasota.
The moved was unexpected and the task at hand had to feel daunting for Craft, Killeen Independent School District’s deputy superintendent. He had to get a coach interviewed and hired in less three weeks and that didn’t even take into account the Fourth of July holiday.
Still, he plowed forward and found the coach he thought was right for a job — one that could supply a new attitude, one that could succeed as a mentor to the hundreds of athletes at Harker Heights and, of course, one that could supply a few wins here and there.
Ever since Craft began his tenure at KISD, he and the rest of the administration have been trying to slowly change the culture of the athletics programs in KISD.
Records were sought out, coaches were finally starting to be held accountable for their actions and even the facilities, which have lagged behind other schools in the area such as Copperas Cove, Temple and especially, Belton, have begun to be evaluated.
It has been a slow, tedious process that is long from over. But nothing will be more telling whether Craft’s vision for KISD athletics — although he won’t admit that it is his vision alone — will ever come to fruition than the hires Craft personally had a hand in — Jerry Edwards and Trent Gregory.
Both coaches begin that quest Monday, when 5A teams can officially begin fall football practice.
Edwards, 34, replaces Mullins at the helm of the Knights. Gregory, an assistant at Leander Vandegrift for the past three seasons, replaces Buddy McBryde at Ellison. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator at Mansfield Timberview. From 1997-2006, he was the head football coach at Austin Anderson, where he led the Trojans to an overall 39-64 record.
Edwards was one of three finalists for the Ellison opening in January that went to Gregory. He was the second straight head-football-coach hire with ties to Mansfield ISD. Craft, who spearheaded the hirings at Ellison and Heights, was a principal at Mansfield Timberview from July 2008 to March 2010.
The correlation bears pointing out, but isn’t troublesome. That’s just how the world works.
It is either who you know or a bit of luck and coincidence. At the end of the day, all that matters is whether or not it worked out. If Ellison breaks its 20-game losing streak and Harker Heights makes the playoffs again, then the moves were a success and none of that matters a bit.
But both new coaches have a bit of a project on their hands. Heights has not had a winning record since Ross Rogers left, going at best 5-5 under Mullins — the Knights went 4-7 last season despite making the playoffs.
McBryde understandably resigned after the Eagles went winless the last two seasons. And the Eagles don’t return much from last season.
Regardless, winning a game is paramount. Shoemaker coach Channon Hall can attest, that until that winless streak is broken, it still matters. It is still in the back of the players’ minds no matter how much you want to deny it.
Culture can be changed.
But it isn’t easy and it does not happen overnight.
That’s why Craft knows while there are other qualities a coach needs more, winning is important.
Because without that feeling of elation, without that feeling of prosperity, no one believes.
And if no one believes, then nothing else matters.