During the 18 months I’ve been writing local sports for the Altus Times, I’ve attempted to put the Bulldogs front and center. In fact, I’ve attempted to serve Altus Schools as a positive trumpet. I blast as many great things as I can come up with about my alma mater.
That almost changed this week. Following Coach Reed’s announcement this week that he would no longer serve our community as athletic director and defending State Champion head football coach, I knew I would need to address the situation in print. I couldn’t ignore it as a sportswriter and a fan of all things Bulldogs.
There are so many aspects to this turn of events. Initially, as I wallowed in our collective Bulldog pity over the rug being pulled out from under our collective feet, I felt betrayed, hurt and disappointed. Those were the first three emotions I went through. Those three bounced around for an hour or so. I wanted to lash a verbal what-for in coach Reed’s direction. I am very glad I didn’t. It would not have changed the situation. It would have only hurt any of us involved in this and ended my streak of relentless positively towards my school.
One of life’s better lessons that is really tough to adhere to is avoiding an over reaction to any situation. It’s always better to let things marinate, to sleep on it.
That’s what I did. I let it marinate. And now I have a completely different feeling about the whole thing. It’s a feeling I think you will share with me.
This statement will be harsh but after I explain it, I think you will agree with me.
I am happy Coach Reed is leaving.
FROM A SINKING SHIP
The winning was fun for sure. However, Reed’s legacy at AHS will stand on its two-year merit as is. We will remember his term here as much more than football. He had been in Altus for six months before I took the job at the newspaper and we met in my first interview. At that interview, I was looking and listening to a guy that was polished and excited. He said all the right things and his pace and cadence reminded me of a college coach. My wife asked me when I got home what I thought. My first response was, “We can’t keep him.” I was right.
I don’t claim to see into future events. However, Reed had an “it” factor that some people on the rise possess that primes them for future endeavors. It’s a rare personal trait that can’t really be explained. It’s a human energy or frequency projected from humans that seems to draw others to them. I knew after that first interview we were on a clock counting down to him leaving for bigger/better things. I sincerely believed coach Reed’s statement this week when he tried to tell us that he wasn’t searching for a way out of Altus. I fully believe that Lake Hamilton went after him. Why wouldn’t you go after him if you were needing someone to head up your football team.
However, I was skeptical about coach Reed for awhile. To me, no one can be genuinely that genuine. However, it didn’t take long to buy into him as a father, coach and as a person. He completely flipped this community a 180. Yes, Altus was losing before Reed. But more so than that, the town was losing. Frankly no no one really cared about Friday nights anymore. It seemed like that anyway. For Altus to be so down was killing this community because more than any town I can think of, Altus has always been a football town. So, when Reed’s spark showed up and we began to win, the entire pace of the community shifted to the positive. All conversations in the community changed to what was going on inside the program. I’ve never seen anything like it. Our athletic program will understandably be down from this last year. How could it not be.
When you are the king on the hill, there is only two ways to go. You can either defend it and try to sustain it or you go down that hill.
The Oklahoma Coach of the Year and the player of the year are gone. Our All-State QB/DB/leader is gone. We lost the District defense player of the year as well as All-District studs at every position and a bunch more that should have been. We won’t have the most prolific kicker in Bulldog history either.
We won’t be as down as most people think though. It’s widely known that unlike any other time I can remember here, we have a steady stream of at least six years of some really top size speed and talent coming up. I say that to express that Reed isn’t diving from a sinking ship.
THE HIGH BAR
My impression of him the day I met him is the same today. He has a unique ability (honestly I believe I share this same ability) to see things others may not can see. His ability to rally kids, parents, fans and community to his vision is unmatched. His faith leads his choices and when everyone sees that it is sincere, it will be easy for all to get behind what he is wanting to do. During summer pride workouts, Reed was able to generate a 97% participation. That’s a number I would’ve lost a house bet against here in Altus. His family is fantastic. He deserves every success that comes to him. Although heartbroken and feeling as if a rug has been pulled out from under us, we love him and his family. We wish him well and thank him for a new standard set in Altus. We thank him for raising our bar.
REPLACING A LEGEND
If approved by the Altus School Board on Monday evening, we will get to start the Todd Vargas assault on class 5A. We will get to him this next week. That isn’t what I mean by replacing a legend.
After I talked to a local parent of a Lake Hamilton die hard football fanatical parent followed by a long exchange with the Hamilton athletic director, Reed’s new boss, I am happy Reed is leaving. Well, happy that he gets to have a chance to relieve some of their pain. They are hurting in Lake Hamilton. Actually, the entire school district and Garland County is hurting over the retirement of Jerry Clay.
Reed now inherits a program that went 4-7 but they were 4-3 in their conference. They received a three seed for the playoffs, losing 14-13 to Marion in the first round.
Jerry Clay went 211-113 in 28 seasons at Hamilton. Clay won state titles in 1992 and 2008 plus 10 conference championships. His team’s appeared in six championship games.
Clay was also 57-12-1 in seven seasons with Fountain Lake, becoming the face of Garland County football before retiring last Fall. He earned conference coach of the year 15 times and state coach of the year four times.
That is legendary stays if there ever was one. Some refer to him as the father of the spread offense in Arkansas and innovator of the 7-on-7 competition we are all now so familiar with.
From colleague to mentor to friend to boss.
The following is from the Lake Hamilton Athletic Directors, John Utley:
“You can’t believe how excited I am to have Jeremy be the leader of our football program. Not only myself, but our school and community as well.
“It took me two telephone conversations to know what everyone in Altus already knew. He is special. He has something about him that is hard to explain. I tried to explain it, but I couldn’t find the right words. So, I simply said he has IT! Don’t know what IT is, but I know he has IT and we want IT. Our program, school and community wants IT.”
Clay’s official retirement date is June 20.
Reed cheated on his interview…
(Still from Utley)
“We had six members of the committee. Before we started interviewing, we set the criteria as to what we were looking for in our next coach. We had approximately 30 questions we were going to ask. When Jeremy interviewed, he brought a power point presentation with him. We asked him to tell us about himself and he began with his power point. When he was finished, he had answered all but two of our questions. It was like he had the questions before hand.
“After all interviews, we went back over our criteria and he was an exact fit for what we wanted in our new coach and more. I can tell you this. Not once has he said anything negative about Altus. He loves his players there, has tremendous respect for the school and community of Altus. He was concerned with the state of education Oklahoma is in with funding cuts.
“His priorities in his life are in the proper perspective- faith, family and then football. I know it was a difficult decision for him and his family. We feel we could not have signed a better coach and even more importantly, a better person than Jeremy. His wife is wonderful and very supportive of Jeremy. I think it was Bear Bryant that said there should be a special place in Heaven for coaches wives. They make a great team.
“It saddens me to see Coach Clay retire. He had been the face of Hot Springs football since 1973. He began his career at a junior high in Hot Springs then. In 1981 he took the head coaching job at Fountain Lake. It’s another school in Garland County. He hired me right out of college. He was there seven years and I believe his record there was 58-14-2. He took the job at LH in 1988. I believe 10 conference championships, six state title game appearances and two state championships. His record here is 211-110, I believe. He is the fifth most winning coach in Arkansas high school history. I’ve been with him for 35 years as an assistant and his AD.
“He had had some health issues. If you drew his blood and tested it, you would swear it came from a healthy 30 year old man. He injured his foot in May of 2014 and had done nerve damage in it. Then this last August he had double hernia surgery and still hadn’t gotten over it.”
Clay asked himself three questions after the season was over- what is best for our kids? What’s best for our program?
and what was best for him?
That’s why he retired.
Reach Brad Gilbert@482-1221 ext. 2076