With 13 former Payson High athletes now on the school’s coaching staff, the Longhorns are a tight-knit clan whose members apparently believe home is where the heart is.
For Rim Country Middle School counselor and assistant PHS football and basketball coach Byron Quinlan, returning to his roots after college was a responsibility.
“I’ve always felt an obligation to give back to the Payson community,” he said. “I had great Payson coaches help shape me as a person, not just an athlete.”
Quinlan holds a certifiable pedigree in the PHS basketball program. His father, Jim, was a longtime head coach for the Longhorns who helped lead the team to some of its finest hours.
As a four-year varsity letter winner in the early 1990s, Byron Quinlan — playing mostly point guard — set many school records, including career marks for assists and steals that still stand.
Today, he’s an assistant to first-year head coach Jared Swanson.
For Derek Wimpee, who once played soccer for the Longhorns, coaching at his alma mater is an avenue “to pass my skills to the players to help them grow on and off the field.”
Josh Herford, who graduated two years ago and returned as an assistant football coach, says, “I really love the game and wanted to do whatever I could to help out the high school.”
Kadi (Hunt) Tenney, a former Lady Horn softball star, convinced her husband to return to her home town after both wrapped up their college years.
“I love coaching at PHS, but I think I would have gotten into coaching no matter where we ended up,” she said.
Most all of the alumni who are now coaching tout their jobs as labors of love.
“It’s the next best thing to playing,” Tenney said. “Coaching at PHS has been almost like putting my old uniform on again; I think anyone who gets to relive their ‘Glory Days’ is pretty lucky.”
Herford says he cherishes his first coaching experience last fall, but it also “gave me a chance to see what it’s like to be on the other side of the whistle.”
Last season, Herford coached freshman football.
Wimpee calls his first coaching experience, “amazing, all the hardships we went through I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
He also says the opportunity to meet and get to know the younger athletes going through the program are “the best part of coaching.”
Quinlan harbors a pragmatic view of the profession, “it is not an easy trade; a lot of thankless time and effort goes into putting student-athletes in a position to be successful.”
He, however, enjoys the time he spends with budding athletes, “I love seeing them grow as young men.”
While there are pluses and minuses in returning to an alma mater to coach, some PHS alumni believe it’s an advantage to return to their old high schools.
“Coaching where I played, definitely has its advantages,” Quinlan said. “I know the traditions and the various programs — it’s always advantageous when you know what you are facing.”
In high school, Quinlan played football against Adam Larson, now the head coach at Snowflake, and several times battled Paul Moro-coached teams at Blue Ridge. Moro is still coaching the Yellow Jackets.
Quinlan also faced a Russ Seymore-coached team at Ganado. Seymore is now the Round Valley head football coach, a program that is an East rival of the Horns.
Tenney says returning to her alma mater was an advantage because she was familiar with the coaching resources in the community, knew her way around the school and didn’t have to learn “a new fight song.”
Taking a jab at this reporter, she mused the only disadvantage to be “when the local sports writer still calls you by your maiden name.”
Yes, there were a few references in past sports stories to “Kadi Hunt” rather than “Kadi Tenney.”
For Herford, returning to PHS only a couple of years after he graduated was a plus partly because he was familiar with the local players, their families, the town and opponents.
Also, he added, “I was a Longhorn and I try to build that same pride in the players I coach.”
Most all current coaches who are also alumni agree with Herford, saying returning to their former school to coach is special because PHS meant so much to them while they were growing up.
School administrators say having the large number of former athletes return to PHS to coach is simply a phenomenon and there is no formal or informal recruitment process and PHS grads are not given preferential treatment during hiring.
Longevity reigns at BR, Winslow
While Payson High seems to have the sheer numbers in alumni who return to coach, a couple of other small-town schools might have the edge in longevity.
In Winslow, Art Griffith continues to coach the baseball team and Don Petranovich is the highly successful coach of the girls’ basketball team. Griffith graduated from WHS in 1965 and Petranovich is a member of the WHS Class of 1959.
At Blue Ridge High School, Gary Williams and Bob London have been assistant football coaches at the school since 1984. Both starred for the Yellow Jackets in the mid-1970s before leaving and then returning to coach and teach.