By: Mark Lane (@therealmarklane)
TEXARKANA, Ark. — The Texarkana Arkansas School District officially introduced new head football coach and athletic director Barry Norton at a press conference at the school district’s board of trustees chambers Wednesday.
Norton, who has served the same capacity for Texas High since 1999, said the move is a “new chapter” for the 52-year old.
“It’s a new chapter for me,” said Norton, who compiled a 156-52-1 record with the Tigers. “It’s a new chapter for Arkansas High. I think it’s going to be a long one and I think it’s going to be a fun one. I look forward to it. I look forward to every step along the way. I know it’s going to be a great challenge, a challenge that I’m up to. I know we’re up to. Dr. [Becky] Kesler and the administration are committed to making this a great thing and I’m looking forward to the journey all the way through.”
Though the move for Norton is just across State Line and Texarkana School District has seen firsthand his work for 18 years, Kesler said Norton was one of 47 applicants and one of eight finalists.
“To say we are excited to have Barry Norton as our athletic director, head coach is a definite understatement,” said Dr. Kesler. “I mean, we could not be more thrilled for what we’ve got in store for us. We found out back in November that we were going to have this opportunity and we decided then that this position was going to be a top priority for us. We were looking for the best of the best. We wanted somebody who was going to build us a premier program and we weren’t going to settle for anything less.”
The man who helped Norton consider seriously a future on Jefferson Avenue was none other than the man who led Arkansas High to three consecutive state football championships from 1973-75, John Toombs.
Said Norton: “Coach Toombs called me two or three weeks before Christmas and said, ‘Would you be interested?’ Well, I worked for Johnny in 1987 to start my career. And Johnny and I, he taught me the love of keeping up with jobs, what job was open, who was going to get the job. So, that was always fun. So, I said, ‘Johnny, let me think about it a little bit.’ And I kind of dismissed it. I can’t do that. I talked to my wife about it a little bit and she said, ‘You can’t do that. You’re a Tiger.'”
The topic kept popping up at home and Norton kept considering it with his family. The luring part of the offer was having the chance to build a program, a feeling that has been absent from Norton for the past seven to eight years at Texas High. With “10 or 15 years left,” according to Norton, the opportunity to build a winning culture on and off the field like he had done at Texas High, along with not having to move, is what enticed him more.
“I knew that if it ever got out it was going to be unbelievable,” said Norton. “So, I waited until the last day to call back and tell Johnny that that was something that I wanted to look into. The more I dug into it, the more we talked, the more my wife and I prayed about it, it just because something that I felt like something that we wanted to do.”
Norton’s consideration of the Arkansas High job is what Dr. Kesler had been praying for throughout the coaching search that commenced in late November with the assistance of Coach Toombs. Still, Dr. Kesler had to know why Coach Norton would want to leave a premier program like the Tigers and work at Arkansas High.
“Coach Norton’s answer was: ‘I see potential. I see talent. I’m going to come here. I’m going to love your kids. I’m going to take care of your kids,'” recalled Dr. Kesler. “And if you look at what he’s done for TISD, not only for athletics but academics, he’s the whole picture. So, they have a premier program. It’s first class. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?
“So this opportunity to get what we always look at and dream about and aspire to be was an opportunity that we could not pass up. And like I said from the very beginning I prayed that God would lead us in the right direction and send us the right person. And that is exactly what happened.”
Norton comes in with a 2002 Texas high school football state championship and 11 district championships, a myriad of accolades when compared to outgoing head football coach and athletic director Todd Ledford’s 23-43 record and 1-6 ledger in the postseason. Still, Norton admires the work his former Texas High assistant has done and hopes to build on it.
“There’s a great history here,” said Norton. “And it’s not broken. It just needs leadership and ways to fix it. Todd Ledford is a dear friend of mine. He did work really hard. I’m going to try to take what he’s done and build on it and try to make this thing as good as we can possibly make it. And I can promise you that will be what you will see from me on a daily basis.”
Razorback Stadium is undergoing renovations for the 2017 season. The first game in the renovated stadium will be on Sept. 1 when Texas High comes to Arkansas High to renew the state line rivalry for the 102nd time.