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Laying out a vivid scenario of a Barton College football Saturday to come, newly hired Bulldogs head coach Chip Hester demonstrated the vision he had in taking a job with the first game still more than two years away.
Hester — with his wife, Trish, and their two daughters, Morgan and Tori, present — was introduced to the public as the man to lead the third incarnation of Bulldogs football in an on-campus ceremony in the blazing heat Tuesday morning. Hester brings a face to the program that will begin play in 2020 — hopefully in a stadium on campus if the construction schedule is upheld. As Atlantic Christian College, Barton had intercollegiate football from 1920 to 1930 and again from 1946 to 1950.
Hester has impeccable credentials for the job, having most recently served as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina A&T State University, where he helped the Aggies go unbeaten in 2017 and finish in the top 10 in the final Football Championship Subdivision polls. Hester’s offensives at A&T averaged more than 30 points a game in his three seasons as offensive coordinator. Before his stint at A&T, the Raleigh native was the head coach at Catawba College for 10 years. His 70-49 record ranks second all-time at Catawba and he directed the Indians to three NCAA Division II playoff appearances and won South Atlantic Conference titles in 2003 and 2007. Hester served as receivers coach at Catawba from 1995 to 2001.
Hester resigned after the 2011 season to become the college’s director of athletic development before developing an itch to get back into coaching. Now he’s excited about what he calls “a very unique opportunity” at Barton.
“There are only so many of these opportunities in a state that I’ve spent my whole life basically and that makes it even more special to me,” he said in a press conference that followed the public ceremony. “I love winning games and I think I’m very competitive, but it’s about developing young people. The ability, and with great partners, to start from scratch and set a culture that’s about educating the whole person and developing young people because, in the end, that’s what we want — to develop young people who are not only successful on the field but in the classroom and in the community and are well-rounded folks who one day are going to be good dads and good husbands and good community leaders, good church leaders and folks that are good servant-leaders. I think that you’ll hear that a lot as I’m trying to develop young men: It’s about servant-leadership to me. I’m a big (former Indianapolis Colts head coach) Tony Dungy fan and I try to coach and teach the whole person.”
Hester’s commitment to academics, community and character made him the best choice to be the new face of Barton football.
“We have been so impressed with how he believes in the process and how he believes in student-athletes and their potential,” Barton President Douglas Search said.
Hester was equally impressed with Barton.
“When you raise a child, it takes a village,” he said. “When it’s done the right way it’s the folks at church, the schoolteachers, the community coaches and that’s how you raise a child right. When I look at Barton, I see those same things. We’ve had the mayor and community leaders who were part of the interview process. That’s impressive. The faculty and students — they were thoughtful and had great questions. So that’s what is attractive to me about this place. I’ve done my homework.
“People think there’s something special going on at Barton and I’ll be honest, I love the motto ‘Barton Bold.’ It’s bold to start a football program and it’s exciting and it’s a challenge but more than anything, it’s a huge opportunity. I’m excited about it.”
Hester is also excited about returning to a Div. II athletic environment. Having played at Millbrook High in Raleigh and then at Div. III Guilford College, which was an NAIA program when he started, Hester assured that he has “run the gamut!”
“I’ve experienced each of those levels and I think each has been great in its own way but there’s something about the Division II level that I really like,” he said. “I think it’s a good balance of academics and a high level of competition. I think it’s a good fit for me and my personality and obviously I feel comfortable with this situation. I feel it’s done the right way.”
Hester indicated that his offensive philosophy relies on multiple run-pass-option sets.
“I think to be as good a football team as you possibly can, you need to be multiple,” he explained. “If people put a lot of people in the box, you’d better be able to throw it a little bit and if they back off, you’d better be able to run it a little bit. I think that’s how the best teams are built.”
Defensively, he preaches aggressiveness and being able to pressure the quarterback.
“But above all and this is something I learned from my time at A&T, you stop the run, you take care of the football and you win the kicking game,” he said. “If you’ll do those things, you’re going to win a lot of football games. So that’ll be how we base things.”
Hester said he hopes to have a team that “plays smart, they’re first class and they’re fast and physical.”
“Specifically, a lot of this is about whom I’m able to attract to be assistant coaches,” he said. “I’ve got some guys in mind and I think a lot of people are eager and we’ve already started receiving emails.”
Hiring assistant coaches is a priority and one that Hester said he and Barton athletic director Todd Wilkinson will work together on. And of course, there is plenty of recruiting to be done. Hester, who coached former Wilson high school standouts Jumal Rolle and Joe Hilliard at Catawba, spoke of the “football-rich area” in Wilson and beyond.
“There’s just great football in this area so I’m really excited to recruit this area and then we’ll branch out and I think there’s a lot to sell here at Barton College,” Hester said. “I’m sold, so I think it will be an easy sell.”
So there’s a lot to do even if Hester, whose duties will begin July 2, may not have an office right away.
“There’s a lot of work to be done outside the office,” he said. “Todd and I have talked about getting started on the schedule and starting to evaluate coaches. Look, a football program is based on recruits, so I will be on the road recruiting. There’s going to be a lot of evaluations that need to take place and I’m going to be getting our logo in front of high school football coaches and pass the word. We’ll go wherever we need to and we’ll be in a broom closet, if we need to, to get it going. I think there are great plans in place. It’s just a matter of hitting the ground running, rolling up your sleeves and doing what needs to be done.