Clay Central’s Herron off to 2-0 start in bittersweet head-coaching return
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Sep 13, 2013 | 5210 views |  0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kris Herron led Clay Central to a 10-3 season. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Kris Herron led Clay Central to a 10-3 season. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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LINEVILLE — Folks appreciate someone who worked long and waited patiently for a chance, but how about someone who did it twice?

I give you Kris Herron. As of this season, he is the high school football coach in Clay County.

He was the coach at Clay County High School, after waiting nearly two decades behind Danny Horn, but Clay County and Lineville merged into Clay Central before the 2012-13 school year.

Herron supported former Lineville coach Steve Giddens as the head coach of the new school and gladly served as his defensive coordinator in 2012, but Giddens moved into administration sooner than expected.

So, the 45-year-old Herron wears the head whistle as Clay Central, the red-and-blue merger of rival schools with glorious football histories, plays its second season.

And yet, this feel-good tale of a humble man who waited his turn twice before becoming the man in a prep football hotbed is only bittersweet. If only his father lived long enough to see his son coach at least one game as Clay Central’s head coach.

Bill Herron, 71, lost his nine-year battle with cancer just a week and a half before Clay Central’s season-opening victory at Trinity Presbyterian.

“It was tough,” Kris Herron said, “and I knew it would be because, since I started at Clay County in ’90, when I started helping there, he told me he had missed seven games that I had ever coached there.

“That first Friday, when we went out there on that field in Montgomery at Trinity, I had a moment there. It was a little emotional for me, personally. I had to gather myself. I saw one of my uncles, one of my dad’s brothers, on the fence.”

Clay Central has charged through the gate. Despite losing 22 seniors from a 10-2 team, the fourth-ranked Vols are 2-0 headed into tonight’s Class 4A, Region 3 game at Elmore County.

No shock there. Clay County went 33-8 in Kris Herron’s three years as the Panthers’ head coach, reaching the 2A final in 2009 and 3A semifinals in 2011.

In both situations, Kris Herron entered his head-coaching opportunities with the same goal.

“I’m just trying not to mess it up, what we’ve got started here,” he said.

Horn had won 225 games and six state championships in 20 years at Clay County. Kris Herron was one of his assistants for 19 of those years, and glad to be.

“If Coach Horn had stayed at Clay County, I would have been content in the role I was in,” he said. “I had no real burning desire to ever be a head coach.”

“I had always said that, if the opportunity presented itself in the right situation, that maybe I would be interested, but I was very content where I was.”

When Horn left for Benjamin Russell, Kris Herron talked things out with Jerry Weems and Robert Reynolds, two other veterans of that Clay County staff with longer coaching resumes. All of them knew the program and the kids and “didn’t want anybody else coming in there,” Kris Herron said.

Weems was nearing retirement and did after Clay County’s final school year. Reynolds had been a head coach at Horseshoe Bend from 1992-97 and wasn’t interested in being a head coach again.

Kris Herron agreed to put in for the job, so long as Weems and Reynolds stuck around to help him, and they led Clay County through three successful seasons. The Panthers won two out of three Clay Bowls before the merger with rival Lineville.

Somebody would have to coach Clay Central, and Kris Herron helped to head off any potential debate. He threw his support behind Giddens, who went 128-45 with two state-runner-up finishes in 13 years as Lineville’s head coach.

It made sense to Kris Herron that Giddens would be the one to lead the startup of a new program. Too, Giddens played for Clay County and was an assistant there in 1993.

“He had been invested in both sides of that thing, so him being in the position he was in last year, I thought, was perfect, because he understood it from both sides,” Kris Herron said. “He had a perspective that nobody else that I know of had.”

That Giddens would eventually move up to administration was expected. That the move came after one season surprised Kris Herron, but decision time came again. The selfless good soldier was a natural choice, but another chance to be the head coach came with another case of nerves.

Kris Herron would replace another wildly successful coach.

“It’s like I told Coach Giddens,” Kris Herron said. “I wish he had made it until he hadn’t had a year where he went 10-2 and won the region championship right out of the gate the first year.”

Kris Herron took things from his bosses over the years. He said he learned from Giddens to mix fun with the players’ grind.

The constant through Kris Herron’s career has been his parent-like affection for his players and other students. He shares it with Vickie Herron, his wife and a counselor at the school.

“The Lord has never blessed us with children of our own, so these kids that are here? They’re our kids,” he said. “They’re the ones we deal with, and love on, and get onto when we have to a little bit.

“We put a lot of our heart and energy into the kids at school.”

Bill Herron put a lot of heart into his son’s career, making the drive from Calera to see most of son’s games. It looked like this season would be no different, but Bill Herron’s health took a turn as the Vols were going through preseason camp.

He went to the hospital with nausea and other symptoms, and tests for a suspected kidney infection led to the discovery that prostate cancer had spread to his blood and bones. His organs were shutting down.

Bill Herron spent about two weeks in intensive care and then a step-down unit. He and his son had conversations and “a lot of sweet moments,” Kris Herron said.

After Bill Herron died, Kris Herron turned football matters over to his assistants for a few days. He kept in contact with them at night while helping his mother and grieving his father.

“He was a great man to me. He was my hero,” he said. “He taught me that, you know, you work hard, and good things will happen.

“But I miss him. He lived in Calera. I didn’t get to see him a lot during the fall, other than on Friday nights, but we talked every day, and just that feeling now at night. I can’t call him. I can’t call him and talk to him.”

There is comfort for Kris Herron. He says he knows that, after 71 years of good living, his father got a promotion.

“I know where he is,” he said. “He was a strong Christian man, and that was a big part of his life. If he didn’t make it to Heaven, the rest of us are probably in trouble.”

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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