More than a month after Northwest High thought it had a new football coach, the school now has the man it wants to lead a program that has seen its share of ups and downs.
The Vikings named Chris Austin its next head football coach Thursday afternoon, marking the third time in five years Northwest has hired a new football coach.
“This is an exciting hire for us because of coach Austin’s work ethic, his excitement about the job and his exuberance,” Northwest athletics director Shane Smith said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what he can bring to this program and after talking with him, he has a lot of great ideas about how to get this program rolling again.”
Austin is actually the second candidate offered the job. Smith confirmed that Northwest had offered the position to another coach four weeks after former head Jon Offutt abruptly departed to take the head position at West Creek April 4. Smith said the school offered the job to the coach on a Wednesday, he accepted the next day and on the following Monday contacted the school that he would not be able to accept the position.
“For personal reasons, he said,” Smith said. “It certainly put a rush on things after that. The clock was ticking and we wanted to find a coach quickly but also use some patience in finding the right one.”
The Vikings turned to a youthful coach with no head coaching experience but that has been groomed for this chance since he arrived in Dover as an assistant coach under former Rebels coach Myles Holliday four years ago.
“I know my age will be something people talk about,” said Austin, who graduated from Stewart County High School in 2006. “But I don’t want my age to be an issue. I want it to be a positive. People may see that I’m young but that’s not a bad thing.”
Austin does have considerable experience as the defensive coordinator for the Rebels the past three seasons. He said Holliday — who resigned as coach in April — had encouraged him to take the next step.
“I learned a lot from coach Holliday,” Austin said. “He hired me after I played college football at Tennessee Martin for two years and I started out as the linebackers coach. I worked my way up from there and coach Holliday was instrumental in my development as a player and coach.”
During his four seasons at Stewart County, Austin helped guide the Rebels to three playoff appearances. He arrived just as Holliday began turning the team into an annual playoff program. And Austin’s defenses were among the best in Class 3A in the midstate. And he was among the candidates the school considered when going through its own coaching search last month.
Austin held the interim title through the spring drills and actually practiced with Northwest during that time. He had a chance to get to know the Vikings assistants as it also went through spring without a head coach.
Stewart County would eventually settle on Kenny Haggard as its new coach and Austin was set to stay in Dover as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach until he threw his name into the Northwest search.
“Was I disappointed about not getting the Stewart County job,” Austin said. “I guess there’s some level of disappointment when you go after a position and don’t get it but I understood their decision and I they actually made a great hire. Coach Haggard is the right guy for that job.”
Austin said he was encouraged by the commitment to the program he said he received from Smith and new Northwest principal Bryan Johnson. Johnson — a former Northeast football coach and West Creek athletics director — was helpful in steering the Vikings ship after their first choice backed out of the job.
“I’m really excited about having Dr. Johnson on board because of his experience on the athletics side,” Smith said. “He going to make our jobs easier and he understands our situation and he knows what to look for in athletic programs. He was really key in helping us decide our next course of action that led us to coach Austin.”
Now Austin must turn a program, that has seen nothing but continuous change from its head coaches, into a program that can sleep easy knowing they have a coach who wants to stick around.
“I stressed changing the culture,” Austin said. “You can’t just go into a program and tell the kids, ‘go win’. You’ve got to show them how. You’ve got to show them what it takes to be competitive and that leads to wins. Does that mean we’ll be 10-0 this fall? That would be great, but more importantly we have to show we’re headed in the right direction first. If you take the steps correctly the first time, you’ll get there.”