By Mark Lane (@therealmarklane)
TEXARKANA — Gerry Stanford doesn’t see himself as a man brought to Texas High to set aflame a new torch, but rather carry on the torch that was handed to him.
“The greatest jobs in the state are the ones with the greatest traditions,” said Stanford. “When I walked into White Oak High School, it had been a school that was founded upon traditions in state championships from years prior too. And at [Flower Mound] Marcus it was kind of the same way. Marcus had won a state championship back in 1997 and was their last state championship. And, so, I kind of walked into a similar situation where they hadn’t won a state championship in 10 to 15 years, but their tradition was all there.”
No matter who the Tigers tapped to be their new head football coach and athletic director, reference to the immediate predecessor, Barry Norton, would be inevitable. Coach Stanford didn’t sidestep the man who brought a state championship to Texas High and compiled a 152-25-1 record and all-time leader in playoff wins for the Tigers. Rather, Stanford acknowledged him.
Said Stanford: “What you have to have as a coach is a school that is built on tradition. It’s a lot easier to continue the tradition than it is to create one that has not always been there. So, Coach Norton did a good job of building on the traditions that were laid prior to him and took place.”
TISD Superintendent Paul Norton also acknowledged Coach Norton, but stated it was a great day in Texas High history to bring Coach Stanford into the fold.
“There’s a great legacy here of the things that are expected and I think Coach Stanford will do a great job of not only continuing those traditions but also bringing some new things in and giving our kids a little bit different perspective than what they’ve had in the past,” said Norton. “That’s not a bad thing. Change is sometimes good, and we’ve had a great run at Texas High. Coach Norton did a great job here and we’re very proud of him and what he accomplished. But we’re also excited about starting the new chapter.”
Texas High Principal Brad Bailey believes turning the page to the next chapter has brought a “new energy” to the school.
Said Bailey: “Our kids are excited. Our staff is excited. And we’re just looking forward to having Coach Stanford here and lead our program going forward in the future.”
Stanford, who went 47-22 as head coaches of L.D. Bell (Hurst, TX), White Oak ISD (White Oak, TX), and Flower Mound Marcus (Flower Mound, TX), appreciates stability the most, a trait that drew him out of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to the Texas High job.
“Stability is the number one thing you’re looking for as a coach,” Stanford explained. “You want longevity and stability. And those things in this business are hard to come by. I think the things that initiate those things are community that want the same things. And based on past precedence here, that’s what this community wants is stability. And, so, as long as you win games and you can provide that stability, then that’s the place to be.”
Marcus went 5-5 and 3-4 in District 6-6A last season, but Stanford’s best year was in 2015 when he led Marcus to a 10-2 mark and two rounds deep into the playoffs. In the course of the successful season, he amassed the Dallas Cowboys/Whataburger Coach of the Week, became a finalist for the Tom Landry Award, and won the Semper Fi Coach.
Stanford, whose mother is from southern Arkansas and his father from northern Louisiana, is familiar with the ArkLaTex, specifically Texarkana.
“We’re excited to be here,” said Stanford. “We’ve made several trips the last six weeks have been a roller coaster for us and our family. But nonetheless it’s an exciting day.”
Though Stanford was brought in primarily to coach the Tigers on the football field, he emphasized excellence throughout all of the athletic endeavors at Texas High.
Said Stanford: “I think it’s a holistic athletic program. I don’t think it’s one sport is better than the others. I think you are looking at sports that are very diverse and want what they’re capable of achieving with very high talent that deserve as much notoriety as the other. You’ve got girls that are doing great things. You’ve got one of the top golf teams in the state and tennis teams and a baseball team as well that obviously ranked highly year in and year out that deserves as much credit as anybody else.”
And more importantly than athletics of any type, Stanford underscored that he wanted student athletes who spent their four years at Texas High to be prepared for “the next 40 years.”
“I think the thing we want to keep in perspective is that we say kids are going to be at Texas High for four years,” Stanford stated. “We want to make sure that four years lasts past 40 years the four years they are here. And the things that we instill in them carry them out the rest of their life what they’re going to be assessed with and what they’re going to go through with the real life experiences that they’re going to be brought a part of these next four years are going to make those 40 the most important they’re going to be a part of.”
But at the end of the day, Coach Stanford is a football coach. And he will inherit a team that went 10-1 and 6-0 in district play but fell in the first round to West Mesquite in the opening round of the playoffs at Royse City.
Said Stanford: “Football is football. We’re going to be put 11 guys on the field like everybody else is. We’re going to hop on a bus and travel and go out there and play for 48 minutes. It’s not going to be much different.
Stanford says the time traveled to games is the same as it is in Dallas-Forth Worth. The difference is his buses would sit in traffic instead of rolling on the way to the away games.
The philosophy for the Shreveport native is to have his offense play to the strengths of his defense. Ideally, he would like to be a fast-paced offense, but is willing to adjust according to his defense’s needs.
“We want to be an up-tempo, fast-paced offense,” Stanford said. “We averaged typically from year to year 38 to 44 a game. That’s kind of where we land. But at the same time, we’re playing Allen a couple of years ago and we knew we couldn’t play up-tempo offense because of their depth and slowed the game down and kept the ball out of their hands and gave ourselves a chance. The next year we played Allen, we had some good depth, so we felt like we could speed the game up. So, we play to what our defense can and can’t do.”
Stanford’s first game to be broadcast on Fox Sports Radio 1400 will be the state line rivalry with Arkansas High at Razorbacks Stadium on Sept. 1. Though he spent 18 cumulative years coaching in the Metroplex, Stanford knows how momentous the rivalry is.
“It’s one of the top-10 rivalries in the nation, if not the top rivalry in the state of Texas and Arkansas,” said Stanford. “It offers you a different set of rules. You offer across state lines. And it’s also one community at the same time. So, it brings some uniqueness to it all.”
The North Texas University alumnus had no real comparison to his tenure at Flower Mound Marcus as their historical rival is Lewisville High School and their civic rival is the newly formed Flower Mound High School.
Stanford is married to his wife, Casey Stanford, and the couple have two children, a seven-year-old daughter Payton Grace and a four-year-old son Tate.