PREP FOOTBALL: Pea Ridge hires Southside's Williams as head coach

NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE
Southside coach Jeff Williams watches during practice Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, at Southside High School in Fort Smith.
NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE Southside coach Jeff Williams watches during practice Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, at Southside High School in Fort Smith.

Jeff Williams never backed away from a challenge, including replacing a legend at Fort Smith Southside 15 years ago.

When Barry Lunney left Southside to build a dynasty at Bentonville, Williams took the helm of the football program and carved out his own legacy by winning a state title.

JEFF WILLIAMS AT A GLANCE

Jeff Williams brings 17 years of head coaching experience to Pea Ridge:

Fort Smith Southside

Year Overall Conf.

2019 1-9 0-7

2018 6-6 3-4

2017 3-8 2-5

2016 3-7 2-5

2015 8-5 4-3

2014 9-3 6-1 (state semifinalist)

2013 8-4 5-2

2012 8-4 6-1 (state semifinalist)

2011 8-4 5-2

2010 8-4 5-2

2009 9-5 4-3 (state runner-up)

2008 10-3 5-2 (state runner-up)

2007 4-5-1 2-5

2006 9-4 4-3 (state championship)

2005 5-5 3-4

Total 99-76-1 56-49

El Dorado

2004 6-5-1 4-3

2003 3-7 3-4

Total 9-12-1 7-7

Overall 108-88-2 63-56

Williams is leaving the Mavericks for a new challenge after being named the head football coach at Pea Ridge during Monday's school board meeting. Williams, who has been at Southside for the past 15 years, replaces Stephen Neal, who left to become the defensive coordinator at Edmond (Okla.) Deer Creek.

The school board also named Tony Travis, who previously spent seven seasons as the Blackhawks' head football coach, as its new athletic director.

"I've been watching this school from afar and seen how it has grown," Williams said of Pea Ridge. "I love the way the community is behind the team, and it's a one-school town. I've also been intrigued by the way the kids come through that program all the way to the 12th grade.

"I've been in the coaching profession long enough to know sometimes you need a different challenge to get the juices flowing again. This one just felt right."

Williams has a 108-88-2 record over 17 seasons, including a 99-76-1 mark at Southside, which included a Class 7A state championship in 2006 after a last-second 23-22 victory over favored Rogers. Williams also guided his team to state championship appearances in 2008 and 2009, and Southside reached the semifinals on two more occasions.

He takes over at Pea Ridge, which makes the jump from the 4A-1 Conference to the 5A-West this fall.

"At Southside, we were one of the smallest schools in Class 7A and enjoyed some success during that time," Williams said. "Greenwood has also been successful these years as one of the smallest schools in Class 6A. I'm excited about Pea Ridge, and I think it will be a great opportunity to be successful one more time.

"I can't wait to be able to meet with the kids and the coaches. I know it's a weird situation right now with the coronavirus, and hopefully this will pass soon so we can get together and play some football. Right now, it's just Zoom meetings, and that's the hard part because you can't meet with them personally."

Travis returned to Pea Ridge as a junior high assistant principal this year after spending three seasons as head football coach at Rogers Heritage. He was not unhappy in his administrative role, but there was a pull to be back around sports and coaches, he said.

"It was different, but I enjoyed what I was doing and who I was working with," he said. "But when the AD job came open -- after 20 years in sports and a little taste of AD before -- the allure of being back around sports and coaches, there was a little pull there."

Travis said the familiarity with the Pea Ridge coaching staff played a part in his decision. He also spent three-plus years doing double duty as athletic director and head football coach while at Pea Ridge previously, where he guided the program to never-before-seen highs and oversaw the construction of a football stadium and indoor facility.

photo

JIMMY JONES

Former Fort Smith Southside Coach Jeff Williams has been hired as the new high school football coach at Pea Ridge. Williams, who coached at Southside for 15 years, replaces Stephen Neal, who left for a job at Edmond (Okla.) Deer Creek. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jimmy Jones)

"It's not that I couldn't have gotten comfortable in an administrator's role," Travis said. "But a big attraction to me was I already know most of these coaches and how good a group they are. That made it very appealing to me."

Travis helped build the Pea Ridge football program, which started with fewer than 30 players in his first season. The Blackhawks finished 11-3 and lost in the Class 4A state semifinals to eventual-champion Nashville in 2016 -- his final year at the helm before going to Rogers Heritage. The next season, Neal's first season, the Blackhawks advanced to the Class 4A state championship game.

Travis recalls facing Williams' teams when he was an assistant coach at Fayetteville. Travis is overjoyed to have Williams on the same team now.

"I'm excited about it," Travis said. "He puts a quality team on the field. By their hard work and his leadership, his teams are always in the mix."

Sports on 05/12/2020

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