Last Wednesday, Greenwood Athletic Director Dr. Dustin Smith introduced the district’s new varsity baseball coach to a gathering of parents, administrators, and members of the media.
The hastily arranged meet-and-greet took place in the late afternoon at the district administration building on Main Street as still more rain moved through the area while the waters of the Arkansas River continued to rise, setting a record for flooding in the region.
After the official introduction was complete and new head coach Chad Mercado spoke to the crowd and addressed their questions about his program and baseball philosophy, Dr. Smith answered questions in a private interview about the hiring process and other items of interest to GHS sports fans.
“Coach Holloway told me [his leaving] was a possibility when we went to the state tournament,” shared Smith. “I'd asked him a few questions prior to that, but he told me in the car on that trip it was a possibility.
“Then he came to me the next day and handed me his letter of resignation. So he had pretty much made up his mind by that time. He wanted to spend more time with family and be able to coach his kids, and I totally respect that.”
Smith said the hiring process unfolded fairly quickly after that, with some of the state’s top 5A coaches gathered in Benton for the state tournament, including four teams from the 5A West.
“I immediately went and watched teams play and interviewed coaches, without them knowing it,” said Smith, who came to Greenwood three years ago after leaving the same job with the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith.
“I just watched how they coached and saw if that was something that would fit in with our program and what I wanted here with our kids,” he said.
“I was on the phone a lot and talked to a lot of people. Obviously, when word got out [about the opening] there was a lot of interested people calling. And that's a testament to what Coach Holloway has done, but also the tradition of Greenwood baseball.
“So we had a lot of interest filtering through all of that process. It took a lot of my time, and I wanted to make sure I respected our softball girls, who were in the state tournament making a run. I wanted to be respectful and supportive of that. But also knowing in my mind I was trying to find a baseball coach.”
Smith said the process eventually led him to Coach Mercado.
“He was actually interested in another position,” said the AD. “[But] I talked to him and said, ‘Hey, I think your family deserves to know what we have here.’
“And so began that communication, just trying to find the right fit. Whenever I hire somebody, I don't use just one phone call. I do a lot of homework, and this was no exception,” said Smith.
Why was Coach Mercado such a great fit?
“I think it was his energy, his passion, and knowledge of the game,” continued Smith. The game of baseball is all about the intangibles. It's the work, the hustle, the integrity, the accountability, [all] the things [Coach Mercado] is about. That’s what really stuck out to me, and his passion in the classroom. He wants to be a great teacher.”
Timing is everything, and Greenwood’s previous drone instructor (Troy Jarrell) was stepping down, so enter Chad Mercado, and you have a match made in heaven, so to speak.
“He's a unique [educator] in that he teaches drones or unmanned aircraft,” said Smith. “Troy has stepped away, so it's almost a perfect marriage. I mean, a lot of things fell into place for this to happen.
“Then when I spent time with Coach Machado and his wife and their kids, it just felt right. From the time I first spoke to him about the opening until he accepted was probably about two weeks of intense conversations.
“And it wasn't just with Coach Mercado,” said Smith. “I was talking to several people. Any athletic director will tell you they're dumb if they're putting all their eggs in one basket. I felt good, but I also knew there were other options for him as well. So I wanted to make sure I was covering all my bases.
“As soon as graduation ended, he and his wife and kids came up here and we toured the campus on that Saturday. We spent a lot of time together and on the phone, and a lot of text messages back and forth.
“I also think an interview is two-sided,” said Dr. Smith. “He needed to make sure it was a fit for him, and we needed to make sure it was a fit for us. It's much more than just baseball. It's the classroom. It's the community. It’s making sure that he is who we want leading our [young] men and making them better players [and] better people.
“So there's a lot of intangibles. I don't know if I can identify just one [quality], but when you find the fit, and you know it's a fit, it's hard to argue with that,” said Smith.
“Coach Ellis, who is [Beebe’s AD], is a real good buddy of mine and we talk every week – sometimes daily – and I respect him, and he respects what we have here. It's not my custom to go and cherry pick from somebody else. But [Coach Mercado] came highly recommended from a lot of sources.
“There were a lot of schools interested in him, and we are lucky and blessed to have him at Greenwood, because he is a commodity a lot of [schools] desired.
“This is his first head coaching job, but he was an assistant [at Beebe], but coached summer league ball. Beebe is a little bit different than Greenwood. We’ve got kids that are playing from tee ball. They're just playing a lot, [but] they weren't afforded that luxury at Beebe. So the developmental process was different,” explained Smith.
“But I think for him, the sky's the limit. I think he is a rising star in this profession, and I think people will really be proud of Greenwood baseball under his leadership.
“I'm sure there are different camps and schools of thought. A lot of people would like to get an experienced head coach with a long track record. We've done that here, obviously going into Oklahoma and picking up some of their better coaches, and we’ve had good success with that.
“But the great thing for me is that it's not so much about his career,” said Smith. “He wants to impact our kids. And if you take care of business in the classroom and hold kids accountable, success follows.
“Obviously, you’ve got to have some [on-field] talent. I get that. But I think hard work, passion, and energy are things that Coach Mercado will exude all the time. I think people will see that, and I think that goes a long way. That's beneficial for our kids, and his career, obviously.
“But it’s more than a career. It's more than just wins and losses. It's about impacting kids and helping kids become better,” said the Greenwood AD.
“Obviously, he's in a transition period right now, trying to get here from North Little Rock and find a place to live. But I promise you'll see him in the community. People will know that he and his wife and family are accessible – a great family eager to be here and excited to be part of Greenwood.”
Dr. Smith also confirmed that Coach Mercado is the only change among varsity head coaches for the coming school year. Junior high girls’ basketball coach Ronnie Williams retired, and his assistant coach, Amy Hardy, was elevated to the head job.
Smith also confirmed what has been known for several week now, that assistant football coach, offensive coordinator, and assistant high school principal Chris Young was staying at Greenwood. Young had previously taken a position at Cabot as Athletic Director, but later changed his mind.
“We got him back,” said Smith of his good friend, Coach Young. “We're definitely blessed to have him here. He’s a great guy – great for our kids at the end of the day. That's what's important to me, somebody that's great for our kids.”
As for improvements to the existing athletic facilities, Smith said there wasn’t anything on the immediate horizon for this summer after renovating the tennis courts in 2018.
“We're still assessing some things,” he said. “It’s an evaluation process and we're continually evaluating our facilities. Coach Mercado will tell you that we are spoiled. He told our boys this morning that we're spoiled, from the indoor facility to their batting cages – luxuries he didn't have [at Beebe], so the ability to use all this stuff, he's pretty excited about.”
Smith did indicate a change in ticket pricing for all varsity football games this coming season. The Bulldogs are the two-time defending Class 6A state champions and will again be one of the teams to beat for the state title.
“We're going to change admission for all varsity games,” he said. “It’s gonna be $5 across the board for students and adults. That’s a change we’re making universal for everybody, the same price, and that’s standard across the state. We're one of the last [districts] to do so.
“But our season passes [and parking] passes will be the same price [as last year] for adults, and we usually have those available after the [AAA dead period] ends in [early] July,” said Smith. “We’ll also have our parent-coach meeting on July 23rd.”