MENA, Ark. Experienced, energized, accomplished, and driven only begin to describe Mena’s UA Rich Mountain new Head Soccer Coach Brian Byrd.
Athletic Director Morris Boydstun admitted that he was a bit ‘concerned’ about the caliber of applicants the college would receive because of it being a new program and the time of year. He sent out the job posting to every head and assistant coach within the region including Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, and Kansas. “What I expected was an assistant coach that was looking for the next step. What I got… was a lot better. And from that, Byrd was easily the best candidate we had.” Boydstun said he was pleasantly surprised when a coach with multiple trips to divisional and state play offs plus four state championship cups was interested in the position.
Lef to right UARM AD Morris Boydston, Coach Brian Byrd, and UARM Recruiter Jerod McCormick.
Byrd is a multisport accomplished athlete who began coaching club teams when he was a teenager. His impressive resume includes D/FW Tornado’s Soccer Club and nine seasons at the University of Dallas, among multiple camps.
Byrd comes to Mena from Coastal Bend College in Beeville, Tex., where they had only won one game in 14 years prior to Byrd’s arrival. Under his leadership, he advanced to regional semi or finals all five years along with beating several nationally ranked opponents. “There were a lot of things that factored into me reaching out to Morris. I’m a single guy with no kids, I’m pretty fluid. Nothing really keeps me in one place. I had built a very good program where I was… after five years.” Byrd went on to explain that Hurricane Harvey destroyed everything he had. “When I saw the job, it was a new challenge and a lot closer to my home… by about two hours… Dallas/Fort Worth. If I’m not going to live on the beach, why not live in the mountains?”
Byrd is well impressed with the plans UA Rich Mountain has for its athletics program. “The five-year plan is what sold me. I know the first year is going to be hard. It is what it is. The vision here is very structured and that will make it more successful going forward. The leadership has a good firm grip and good communication.”
UA Rich Mountain understands the challenges for recruiting for Fall 2019, when most players signed with a team on November 1, but Byrd’s previous coaching experience demonstrates his ability to deliver in the most challenging circumstances. Morris said that Byrd’s contacts within the sport are vast and in his first week alone, he had already made over 120 contacts, “He hit the ground running.”
Byrd explained that with a new program, it’s about creating a certain culture. “I want to get the best we can our first year. Anytime I have an outfit of players and we start practicing, I’ll never let them have anything less than a winning outlook. If we can make a conference tournament our first year, I think that will be a success.”
Byrd’s commitment to the athlete’s academic success is no different. Approx. 98% of his soccer athletes from Coastal Bend, also a community college, went on to 4-year universities on scholarship. He explained that one of the disadvantages with a soccer program is that the season is almost done before grades come out, but he has an academic policy that he holds his athletes to, and has always been appreciated by parents. GPAs within 3.2-3.6, athletes are required to attend a mandatory study hall one time a week, anything below 3.2, athletes are required to attend study hall twice a week. We will make it our goal to win the highest GPA award within the athletic department. That’s a goal I recruit them on.”
Byrd says he is looking forward to evaluating local and regional talent but also embraces the opportunity soccer athletic programs present in recruiting international students, explaining that out of forty young men on his soccer team at Beeville, they represented fifteen different countries.
Byrd, aside from being impressed with the Bucks’ five-year plan, said that his first impression of the campus was the small size, “…but knowing the changes that are coming, we will have the best facilities in the JC, and that alone, will be a huge recruiting tool.” Byrd added that the student life at UA Rich Mountain will be a plus to the athletic program, “The sheer beauty of the campus… the ponds really intrigue me, the disk golf, the walking trails through the woods… that is stuff that is going to stimulate the student athletes. We don’t want them to get bored. They can play disk golf, and in the off season, they can fish, they can hike, they can go to the lake, it’s a great atmosphere.”
Byrd plans to hit the road this week. Knowing he’s technically ‘behind’ in the recruiting process, Byrd’s strategy is simple and straightforward, “pure hard work,” as well as utilizing his vast contacts in the sport. “I contacted FC Dallas already, which is the big premiere club in Dallas, the Major League Soccer. I talked to their recruiter and he’s putting a list together of potential athletes that he thinks would be a good fit for our program. I’ve contacted Kansas City sporting director… all of these Major League Soccer Clubs have youth academies and they’re ‘Under 19s’. If you make that list, you’re a solid player. Hopefully, they aren’t all committed yet but I’m reaching out, making those contacts. I’ve heard we have tons of local community support so I’m really excited about seeing what local and regional talent we have. We’re doing local tryouts February 17 so I encourage everyone to follow ‘Bucks Athletics’ on social media to stay informed on those.”
Byrd is looking forward to becoming involved in the local community. “I want to help build the soccer community from the grass roots level up. I’ll be working with the youth every opportunity I’m given. I will even offer a Soccer 101 class for the entire community.” He’s also looking forward to taking full advantage of all of the outdoor sports the area is known for, including fishing, jet skiing on local lakes, white water rafting on the Cossatot, and, “I have a beautiful husky named Macy. We’ll go hiking up in these mountains.”
Chancellor Dr. Phillip Wilson said he is incredibly pleased with the progress that Athletic Director Morris Boydstun and Assistant Director Jerod McCormick are making in a very short and demanding timeframe and in conjunction with the other hats the two gentlemen wear, “It’s their passion and their ability to recruit a soccer coach of Coach Byrd’s caliber is proof of that.”
Byrd is located in the Abernathy Building on the Mena campus. He can be reached at 479-394-7622 ext. 1661.
1-18-19 12:09 p.m. kawx.org