Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SPORTS >> Athletic director named at Cabot

Leader sports editor

Former Arkansas State football coach Steve Roberts has accepted the job of athletic director at Cabot High School.

Roberts will replace Johnny White, who is retiring at the end of this school year. Roberts officially takes over July 1 and was confirmed in a school board meeting Monday.

“I’m very excited about moving to Cabot,” Roberts said Tuesday night. “What really sold us was the people that we had an opportunity to meet with during the interview.”

Roberts said Cabot would be a good home for his wife Sherri and daughter Abby, an incoming junior.

“It’s a great community,” he said. “An opportunity to work with great coaches and great facilities and great people and it’s a great school district for my daughter.”

Roberts, 46, won 45 games as coach at Arkansas State from 2002 until the end of last season, when he resigned under pressure after the Red Wolves went 4-8. Roberts led Arkansas State to the 2005 Sun Belt Conference championship and New Orleans Bowl and produced several conference players of the year and NFL draft picks.

A graduate of Joe T. Robin-son High School and a former player at Ouachita Baptist University, Roberts said he had collegiate coaching offers outside Arkansas and opportunities outside of coaching, but none seemed a good fit.

“I just wanted to stay involved in athletics and with coaches and kids’ lives,” said Roberts, who was head coach at Southern Arkansas and Northwestern (La.) State before replacing Joe Hollis at Arkansas State in December of 2001.

Roberts said the deciding factor was his meetings with Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman, assistant superintendent Jim Dalton and director of personnel Lisa Baker.

“I spent a lot of time with them and had an opportunity to meet the school board, and I just really felt like they have a great heart for young people,” Roberts said.

Thurman said Roberts would earn $88,043 a year at Cabot. He earned a base of $140,000 with incentives at Arkansas State.

Roberts said he was impressed by the continuity of the coaching staffs, which include football coach Mike Malham, an Arkansas State graduate who has been head coach since 1981.

“They’re a great group and they’re well respected in the profession in the high school ranks and by college coaches,” Roberts said.

Malham said he knew Roberts only casually but said he was highly regarded in state coaching circles and that he looked forward to working with Roberts.

“He’s got a good reputation.He’s been successful everywhere he’s been,” Malham said. “He seems like he’ll be a good fellow to work with. Hopefully we’ll continue to be successful.”

Malham said he had not sought the job when White announced his retirement and gave credit to Roberts for first calling to see if he was interested before Roberts applied.

Malham said the athletic department had grown so large, a director could no longer coach as well, and Malham didn’t want to leave the Panthers sidelines.

“It’s such a big job if you could coach and do that too,” Malham said, “but I’ve been here 30 years as a football coach.”

Roberts said his experiences at a football program in the NCAA’s highest classification prepared him to take over the Cabot athletic department.

“I’ve been an administrator for the last 17 years as a head coach and experienced a lot of those issues that come up administratively,” Roberts said. “I’m confident about that. But I guess the thing I miss most is he daily interaction with a particular group of kids, but I hope to be able to be involved with our student athletes.”

White is retiring after 35 years with the district. During his tenure, Cabot’s student population has grown from 3,500 to 10,000 and the athletic program has steadily moved up from the AA classification to 7A, the largest in the state.

The football facilities have been upgraded and now feature a multi-story fieldhouse and indoor practice field, video scoreboard and artificial turf, with the $700,000, five-year loan for the playing surface to be paid off in June.

A new building featuring a basketball arena, HPER building and cafeteria is going up on campus.

With the construction and most of the athletic programs performing annually as postseason contenders, Roberts said he was in no hurry to make major changes.

“I’m going to go into it in an evaluation mode as much as anything else and just make decisions as things arise,” Roberts said. “I don’t think it’s fair to come in with a preconceived plan of what to do with the athletic program.

“I think you need to evaluate it and experience it before you make any changes.”