No one knew what was coming when Chris Young was named to replace Rick Jones as the Bulldogs’ head coach in February. The coronavirus had not yet dominated the news cycle and the American economy was humming right along at a healthy clip. But all that has changed.
While the nation is struggling to emerge from the self-imposed shutdown, including the closure of schools and the suspension of all organized sporting activities, we are all hoping things get back to “normal” soon.
In the meantime, Coach Young has been busy restructuring his first staff. Altogether, seven coaches have been impacted by the changes, including three new hires from Central Arkansas.
Special teams and running backs coach Nathan Staton has made the decision to leave coaching and has taken a position with Farm Bureau Insurance. Staton was a receiver and a great player during Greenwood’s first state title three-peat from 2005-07.
“Nathan was a tremendous Bulldog,” said Coach Young. “We’ve known for quite a while he was looking at doing something different that would allow him to spend more time with his family.” Staton and wife Jennifer have three young children.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about Coach Staton,” Young continued. “Not only was he a great football player, but he was a great coach. He was a great mentor for young men and for the students of Greenwood High School, and we hate to lose him.
“But I’m excited about his future. We’re going to miss him for sure. He’ll always be welcome on the sideline or in the [coaches’] box. He’ll talk to our kids from time to time.”
Another change involves the departure of John Kincade from the junior high staff. He will no longer coach football, but will focus his efforts on a new teaching assignment at the middle school while maintaining his role as head coach for the wrestling program, which he founded in 2012 and has quickly elevated to state champion status.
“John had some health issues and it’s going to be good for him,” explained Coach Young. “We hate it because John is great for our young people. This will allow him to take care of himself. I think he’s going to the middle school, but he’ll be around our program.”
Replacing Kincade on the junior high level will be Brian Sims, moving from the varsity staff to oversee the development of offensive linemen in grades 7-12.
“He’s going to run our junior high offensive line,” said Young of Sims. “We’re excited about that. He’s one of the most knowledgeable offensive line coaches I’ve ever been around.
“He’s got a daughter that’s a senior in college, and this is going to provide more opportunity on the weekends for him to go watch her cheer. He’ll be great for our young offensive linemen and allow him to do some things with his family.”
Filling Sims’ former role on the varsity staff is newcomer Austin Moreton, the youngest member of Young’s assistants, still in his twenties.
“I’m fired up about Austin. He’s got great energy,” said Young. “He’s from this area. He played at [Ft. Smith] Southside and went to Arkansas State and had a great career there as an offensive lineman. He’s been at Little Rock Central coaching their offensive line on the 7A level.
“I heard Austin’s name [through] the [coaches’ association]. He was the offensive line coach they picked to do [their] clinic. I heard several different coaches comment on how impressed they were, so I went after him.
“He didn’t apply for anything here, we went and found him,” explained Young. “We’re thrilled to get him. It’s good to have a young coach on the staff. I think he’s 27 or 28 and he’s coached three years at a high level.
“I talked to the Ft. Smith coaches and they said the difference in Central’s offensive line since [Austin] got there is unbelievable. We did our research on him and we were lucky to get him, because there were some other good programs trying to get him.”
Zach Watson is another hire from Central Arkansas who is the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks’ coach, the role formerly held by Young.
“He’s been at Morrilton the last eight or nine years in a very similar role to what I was in last year as offensive coordinator and Dean of Students,” revealed Young.
“He has a great reputation developing quarterbacks and running the offense. His quarterback this past year, actually his [adopted] son, went to North Carolina. He’s got a history of training quarterbacks for the next level.
“He [and wife Kelsey] adopted two boys five or six years ago. They have two daughters and they just had a son born a few weeks ago, so they have five children.
“We’re going to continue to do the same things offensively, and I’ll continue to be involved with the offense,” said Young. “But I’m excited about adding Zach because we can add some things that he’s done and take our offense to another level.
“I’ve run the offense for a long time here and Coach Watson and I will do that together,” he added. “At some point he may take that over, but right now we’ll do it from a team approach along with our running backs coach and offensive line coach.
The final new hire from Central Arkansas is assistant coach Chase Meyers. “I’ve heard nothing but great things since I hired Chase,” said Coach Young. “We went after these guys. We didn’t sit back and wait for [them] to apply. We went out and found the best guys for these jobs, because we knew how important it was.
“Chase has a long [history] as a coach,” added Young. “Chase’s and Zach’s dads were both football coaches, so they came from coaching backgrounds. Chase was at Glen Rose as an assistant for a long time and was also the head baseball coach. He then went to Texas as an offensive coordinator, but wanted to get his family back to Arkansas.
“He went to North Little Rock and was the special teams coordinator the last two years. I’ve got several texts from coaches after I announced his hiring, saying he’s as good a coach as you could ever hire. We’ve done everything we can to get him back to Texas. He’s got a wonderful family with four kids.” Meyers is replacing Coach Staton.
One final change involving the current staff doesn’t relate directly to football, but assistant coach Travis Sandifer is assuming an administrative position as assistant principal at the high school, the role formerly belonging to Young.
“Coach Sandifer does a great job in anything he’s assigned to do,” opined Young. “He’ll do a great job in administration. He’s very professional and very organized, and he does a great job on our staff. We’re obviously happy to keep him.”
Sandifer coaches the defensive backfield and serves as an assistant baseball coach. He will join Aaron Gamble, another former GHS player, as assistants to Dr. Cody Chatman, the high school principal.
Remaining on the staff from last season is defensive coordinator Jason Gill, along with assistant coaches Steven Thessing and Brandon Elmore. The junior high staff is led by Head Coach Shannon Rhea with assistants Josh Holloway, Eric Daniel, and Brian Sims.
“These guys are great football coaches,” noted Young, referring specifically to his three new hires. “North Little Rock has been to the finals numerous times in the last several years. Coach Watson was at Morrilton and they’ve won a state championship and been to the semi-finals the last two years. Coach Moreton has seen a big turnaround at Little Rock Central the last two years.”
Asked about his criteria for hiring assistant coaches, Young said, “The biggest one is relationships with the kids. If kids have great relationships with their position coaches, it’s more likely they’ll want to be a part of what we’re doing. They buy in. Obviously, knowledge too.
“I love the fact that Coach Moreton played at Arkansas State for four different offensive line coaches. That’s not a great thing as a player, but he was around four different coaches and he’s [seen] the good and bad from each of those guys, and he’s a much better coach because of that.
“We’ve got a really hard-working staff,” added Young. “For the last three months these coaches haven’t had to be here, but we’ve had [them] here on a regular basis. Coach Gill, our defensive coordinator, has been here almost every day, just working. We have an extremely hard-working [group]. They are willing to put in the time and work their tails off. I’m excited about our staff.”
While coaches and players have not been allowed personal contact over the past three months, they have maintained communications by phone or through the internet.
“We had staff meetings, some of them in person and some through Zoom,” explained Young. “We’ve got three coaches we hired from Central Arkansas, and sometimes those guys were here and sometimes we had four or five coaches here and three or four on the Zoom meetings.
“Each position coach had two Zoom meetings a week with his players. I met with the quarterbacks and wide receivers twice a week. We did our offense install and the defense did their install as well.
“We spent a lot of time communicating with the kids through Zoom. Obviously, that’s a lot different than meeting in person, but we feel like we made the best of a bad situation.
“On Monday several of the coaches mentioned they weren’t able to sleep because they were excited about seeing the kids, and [the players] were just as excited about seeing us and their teammates. The excitement and energy we’ve seen this week already has gotten everybody fired up,” said Coach Young.
“We had a concern as a staff that when kids stay home and play video games or watch a lot of TV, there’s a fear that they get used to those things. So we have to provide something here that they would rather come do than sit at home. We want to make sure they enjoy what they’re doing here.
Asked to describe their daily routine under the current health guidelines for social distancing and sanitizing, Young said, “It’s been a challenge, spreading everybody out and being able to clean and keep everyone safe. We’re starting about 7:30 am and get done around three o’clock.
Asked if he had a message for the parents and fans, Young said, “I just want them to understand how appreciative we are that they are trusting us to send their kids to practice. We’re doing everything we can to ensure the safety of their kids.
“We’re excited to see them, and we’re excited about the season. We can’t wait until we’re able to put the pads on and have a practice. We’re just thankful they trust us with their kids.
“We know [their kids] are the best they’ve got, and they’re sending them to us every day. We’re going to take good care of them and we’re ready to play football,” concluded Young.