If there were a 2009 sports story that bewildered, confused and baffled readers it was the departure of three Payson High School head coaches and the resulting demise of the Longhorn football program.
The three coaches who resigned – Josh Anderson (football), Kenny Hayes (boys’ basketball) and Stacy Anderson (girls’ basketball) – all left last summer for Dakota State University where Josh Anderson was chosen to head the school’s football program. He left only months after leading the Longhorns to an undefeated season (13-0) and the 3A state football championship.
Anderson has said he wanted to stay at Payson High, he even turned down a job offer at Class 5A Mesa Dobson, but when several of his requests were denied by the administration he decided to move to DSU, a university he once attended and where he played football.
In leaving, he took along Hayes, his defensive coordinator for three seasons, and – of course — his wife Stacy.
Jake Swartwood, a Rim Country Middle School first year teacher and a promising young coach also accompanied Josh Anderson to DSU.
The departure of the coaches left administrators scrambling for most of the spring searching for replacements.
Rendering the search even more frustrating was the fact PUSD was in the midst of a budget crisis and the amount of money available to attract new hires was limited.
Eventually Matt Mayo, formerly of Desert Edge, was hired, but not until well into the summer when most pre-season football activities are well underway.
What occurred during the regular season was a nightmare of dismay as the once-proud Longhorns struggled to a 3-7 record after opening the season as a state top-five ranked team.
Former coaches have said they left the gridiron cupboard well stocked and the program on solid footing when they headed for DSU. Hayes even predicted the 2009 team had the potential to once again contend for postseason honors.
But the wheels came off the Longhorn wagon once the season kicked off in early September with a 19-7 loss to the St. Johns Redskins.
The situation turned even worse as the Horns whipped only Chino Valley, Santa Cruz and lowly Alchesay. In most losses, Payson was not even competitive.
Now that 2010 has rung in, the future of Longhorn football is somewhat a mystery.
Most are wondering if the program can rebound to attain the heights enjoyed in 2008, or will the past season’s slide continue?
Only time will tell.
Payson has long had a football history of posting a single great season only to be followed by several lackluster campaigns.
Critics point to the numerous coaching changes at the school as one of the reasons for uncertainty in the program.
In the last 22 years, Payson has had 10 different head football coaches. Some good ones, and not so good ones, have been asked to leave. Others have departed citing lack of support and others have simply thrown up their arms in frustration.
In Lakeside, Blue Ridge H.S. has had just one coach, Paul Moro, in that same time span.
It’s tough to put one’s finger on why a school can be the state’s finest one year and lackluster the next, but here’s hoping the New Year brings new-found success.