STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
No one knows better than Kurt Jones the challenges of being the head football coach and athletic director at a school where the standard is set high.
Being the head football coach at Burnet High School is an everyday job: one that requires watching massive amounts of film, developing offseason training that helps athletes get faster and stronger, and making the most of practices and preparation during the season.
Then there’s the other job as top sports administrator that calls for creating and reviewing budgets, selecting uniforms and equipment, monitoring travel expenses, and making sure the school district is getting the most efficient department for the least amount of money.
So when Burnet Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Keith McBurnett announced Dec. 10 that Jones would become the school district’s full-time athletics director, and Bulldogs offensive coordinator Jerod Rye would take over as head football coach, Jones saw the change as an opportunity.
“I can really try to spread myself out to the entire athletic program,” he said. “I think it’s very important for people to know that I’m supportive of Jerod. He’s a really good coach and a great human being. I wouldn’t have hired him back if I didn’t think so. I’m very supportive of him. I think we’ll be on the same page.”
Five years ago, when the Burnet Middle School boys coordinator position was open, Jones called his friend Rye to ask him to consider applying.
Rye’s hire was his second time to wear the Kelly green. He was first hired by former head coach Ed Abernathy as a middle school coach in 1999 then moved up to wide receivers coach two years later for Bob Shipley, who took over from Abernathy.
That was when Rye first met Jones who also was a new Shipley hire coaching linebackers. The two young coaches quickly became friends.
Both moved up on Shipley’s staff, eventually becoming offensive and defensive coordinators.
While he was with Burnet, Rye coached Jordan Shipley, who is regarded as one of the top receivers in the history of Texas high school football after setting numerous records. He also coached Shipley’s quarterback, Stephen McGee.
Soon after Shipley resigned in the mid 2000s to become the head coach at Coppell High School, Rye resigned to work for Robby Clark, another Shipley assistant who had taken the head coaching job at Midlothian High School. Rye joined Clark’s staff as the receivers coach and later as the offensive coordinator.
At Midlothian, Rye recalled seeing a scrawny sophomore quarterback, who had transferred to the school from Arkansas where he played eight-man football.
That kid, Bryce Petty, won the starting job during the offseason and fall training camp and helped Midlothian win many games. After working under Rye at Midlothian, Petty landed at Baylor University where he eventually became the starting quarterback after Heisman Trophy-winner Robert Griffin III left for the NFL.
He, like Shipley and McGee, was drafted in the NFL and is currently a free agent.
Rye noted athletes such as those three exhibit two things that the coach wants from his team and players – belief in yourself and mental toughness.
Rye said he understands that some athletes have already grown as tall as they’re going to and have all the natural quickness they’ll ever have. Coaches can’t do much to help a player grow taller or have world-class speed. A good coach can help in one area that some overlook.
“Mentality,” he said. “As I visit with coaches here, that’s the number one thing we have to improve between now and next season. We have to put our kids in situations they don’t think they can get through. The ones who can are the ones we know we can count on on the field.”
Rye said he is still visiting with the current coaches staff, telling them what they can expect from him and what he expects from them. He hasn’t made any decisions as far as staff yet.
For the record, Jones said he is excited about his role as the athletics director with added duties of coordinating school safety and emergency planning, cheerleading, physical education, stadium management, rentals of athletic fields and facilities, and the School Health Advisory Council for the school district.
“It’s something I have certainly thought about with the new goals in this district in terms of overall athletic program,” he said. “I thought, ‘maybe one of these days, if there’s a straight athletic director’s job,’ it was something I had an interest in if that ever came about. It came about faster than I might’ve thought about.”
Jones said he sees the opportunity “to go make some things better.”
In his announcement about the splitting the role of athletics director and head football coach, McBurnett noted the district wants to win the Lone Star Cup, an annual award given by the University Interscholastic League to the high school that has earned the most overall points in each classification based on certain extracurricular activity success in district competition and at the state level.
McBurnett studied what other successful high schools are doing and discovered many have a head football coach who is not the athletics director. That allowed each person to completely focus on his role of fielding the best football team possible and allowing the other to make the best decisions for the overall athletic department.
Jones said he is onboard with McBurnett about capturing the Lone Star Cup.
“For that to happen, we have to raise the performances in all our teams,” the athletic director said.
That means more students getting involved in extracurricular activities and helping them perform at their best. Jones noted some sports have had a rise in participation, while others have stayed the same, and others have suffered a drop in numbers.
His top role, he said, goes back to a quote from Darrel K. Royal, the legendary coach of the Texas Longhorns.
“We have to get all the BBs back in the box,” Jones said. “It’s got to be all of us pulling in the same direction and pulling for one another. We want to be supportive of one another, not only kids but coaches, faculty, and parents. It’s what I have to go accomplish and what we have to do.”
Jones took over as head football coach and athletic director in 2012. In seven seasons under his guidance, every high school sport has advanced to the playoffs with the girls cross country and golf teams competing at the state meets and state tournaments. Several swimmers and track and field athletes became state medalists.
He leaves the football program with a 44-36 overall record during his tenure, and the Bulldogs advanced to the playoffs each of his first 5 years as the head coach highlighted by the regional quarterfinals loss to Liberty Hill 23-15 in 2014.
Jones said he is certainly proud of the football accomplishments, but what helps him sleep at night is that he wants to help his student-athletes become productive citizens, to be the best family members and friends they can be, and help them accomplish their life goals.