Tuesday, June 03, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils’ new coach an alumnus

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson said last week he wanted to move quickly on hiring a new head football coach, and the process indeed was quick. After interviewing nine candidates on Tuesday, the four-person selection committee chose Barry Hickingbotham to recommend for hire by the Pulaski County Special School District.

Hickingbotham is a 1987 graduate of Jacksonville High School and rejoins his alma mater after spending last season as offensive coordinator at Atkins High School, where he helped their Red Devils to their winningest season since 2007.

He signed with Louisiana Tech football out of high school, where he still holds the school record for punting yardage in a season.

Hickingbotham was late into coaching and joined the staff at Jacksonville as a middle school coach in 2002. He spearheaded fundraising efforts to build the sorely needed new middle school field house that also serves as practice facilities for high school spring sports teams.

He took over as head middle school football coach in 2006 before bring promoted to the high-school staff by then head coach Mark Whatley in 2009.

Hickingbotham served as offensive coordinator for two years under head coach Rick Russell before taking the same job at Atkins last year. He replaces Russell, who turned in his resignation early last month.

Hickingbotham also served stints at JHS as assistant baseball coach, including the 2011 state championship year, and was the head softball coach in 2013, leading that team to a No. 2 seed in the state tournament after it had failed to make the playoffs the previous two seasons.

The search committee was made up of Wilson, PCSSD director of athletics Danny Ebbs, JHS principal Bill Barnes and head basketball coach and dean of students Vic Joyner.

Wilson gave several reasons why Hickingbotham stood out among the nine candidates.

“His presentation was excellent,” said Wilson. “He showed a commitment to get Jacksonville back to where it once was as far as being a contender. We’ve seen his commitment in action over the years through his work ethic. He’s a part of this community and he’s dedicated to it. We know he will work diligently.”

Hickingbotham takes over a program that is in a rebuilding process. Last year’s season started with huge expectations and ended in a disappointing 4-6 finish and the team missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.

It was also a senior-heavy team with five players signing to play college ball, and some of the underclass talent has already transferred or left the program for other reasons.

“We made it clear to all the candidates that this is at least a two-year project just building the program back up,” Wilson said. “If everything works out we’ll be our own district in a couple of years and have an opportunity to be a formidable 6A program once again. I think that made this job very attractive to a lot of people.”

Hickingbotham was not available for comment when the news was released last night. He was helping coach the Gwatney Chevrolet American Legion baseball team at Cabot.