PEA RIDGE Coach John King is a household name in high school baseball circles, but he wasn't hired here 23 years ago to coach that sport. He was brought in as a football assistant and is now working with his fifth head coach.
His job coaching baseball was almost an afterthought, and it almost didn't amount to much, either.
King, an assistant football coach each of those years, began working with head coach Tony Travis this month when high school football preseason practices opened.
Coach Kevin Miller hired him in 1986.
"Kevin was a baseball guy who played it in college," King says. "He had been the baseball coach here before I came. He went from the head baseball coach to head football. He hires me and says, 'Oh, by the way, you're coaching baseball, too.'
"That's not a problem when you're looking to get that first job. You'll coach anything."
Over the years, King - who also coaches cross country - was a defensive coach for 10 years for Miller, worked on offense and defense in five years under Rob Bray, an offensive coach for six years under coach Mike Harrod and on defense for two years with Mark Laster.
As King's baseball victories and championships mounted, the football coaches came and went.
Miller left for Mountain Home. Bray, who played for King in King's first year here, left for Rogers. Harrod retired.
Laster left in July for Siloam Springs.
With each change, King championed his new head coach's transition. He's never been involved in a bad one either, helping the head coach make contacts, he says.
"It's little things, you know - who do we talk to get a paint machine to line the field?" he asks, rhetorically. "Who mows the football field? Keys? Transportation? It's those smallthings that would be hassles otherwise.
"I think we've been fortunate in the coaches we have hired.
They've all been positive for the kids."
In return, King says he's learned something from each of the five.
"I learned a tremendous amount from coach Miller," he says. "Rob was a smooth transition because we were still doing a lot of things we had been doing with Kevin.
"Usually you have a lot of new terminology. You may be doing a lot of the same things but the terminology is different."
He says the Blackhawks' schemes have swung between the extremes.
"Coach Miller and Rob were traditionally running teams that would throw the ball maybe 30 percent of the time," he says. "Coach Harrod had some good linemen and brought in the Dead-T. His philosophy was good at the time for Pea Ridge; a ground-oriented attack.
"Coach Laster came in and opened it up a little bit. At the time, that was probably a good move for us."
That's because the entire 1-4A Conference was shifting to the wide-open game.
King says Travis is "obviously a good coach" who operates offensively out of an I formation and a shotgun look.
"Kids definitely respect him," King says. "He brings a lot of knowledge. The kids are learning. But again, it's totally different terminology-wise.
We'd always used numbers to call our offensive plays. Now there are a lot more words."
Travis, formerly defensive coordinator at Fayetteville High School, notes that his defense is the fifth or sixth one King has learned.
"We're running similar stuffas last year," the head coach says. "The defense that I brought is what we were gearing up for at Fayetteville in the spring. Now that John's learned it, he made the comment that a lot of it is similar to stuff that he's done in the past.
It's just different words, terminology, and a couple of little different wrinkles here and there.
"I'm sure there are things John has done in the past that we will keep, too."
Travis says knew he had an ace in King before he arrived, as the two have a mutual friend, Doug Loughridge, the head coach at Charleston.
That's where King is from.
"I'm good friends with Doug," Travis says. "Before I ever even met John, I had already heard a lot of good things about him through Doug. I already knew going in that having John on staff was going to be a positive thing."
And it didn't take long for Travis to see that King is well respected in the town.
"He's established himself through the baseball program alone," he adds. "He's a winner, for sure, does a great job there and a great job in football. I'm ticked to have him as defensive coordinator."
But King's success as a baseball coach almost didn't happen.
"I would have said coming in that I was a football guy, but I always enjoyed baseball," King says. "I didn't see coaching baseball as a hardship at all. I didn't look at it as a bad thing coming in to coach baseball."
He calls Pea Ridge 23 years ago a good opportunity.
"Yes, other than after the first year they decided to cut the program due to funding," he recalls with a hint of laughter. "Of course, I had no idea they were going to do that. It was at the end of the schoolyear. The superintendent was saying we have to cut some stuff and baseball and track were being cut."
Townspeople rallied and committed to funding baseball.
In the meantime, the superintendent left and a new one came in.
"He said there was going to be no cutting of baseball," King remembers. "I got here at the right time. We've had a good run of athletes. You know they liked the game because of lot of those early players I had are now very active in Pea Ridge youth baseball.
"In fact, my son, a 10-yearold, is being coached by a player who was a 10th-grader when I first came here. They cared about the game and were talented as well. When you get talented kids who enjoy the game and work at it, you're going to be successful."
Over the past 22 years, all but three of King's teams have either won their conference tournament or regular-season championships. The teams that didn't were his first, and his 1992 and 2002 teams, he says.
"Hopefully, it will continue," he says. "I keep being fortunate to have those kinds of players."
And good football coaches, too, he adds.
Notes: Travis says his first week as head coach went well.
"The (27) kids are working hard," he says. "They're eager to learn. Any time you change things up there is excitement over the newness."
Pea Ridge had zero injuries last week.
"I really like to scrimmage a lot in practice," Travis said. "I like to get after it, a lot of contact. We're going to scale that back right now because we can't afford to get somebody hurt in practice. That's not smart to get one of your guys hurt. It's a fine line you have to walk. We have to make sure they are contact-ready without beating up on each other. We want to get to those Friday nights with all our bullets in our gun."
The Blackhawks move to 4:30 p.m. practices starting Tuesday, Travis said.
Sports, Pages 7 on 08/12/2009