Commentary by Tony Eierdam
On Dec. 21, the Aledo Bearcats ascended to the top of the Texas high school football 11-man game when they won the school’s ninth state championship in football.
That is one more title than Southlake Carroll, Katy, Celina, and Mart. Interesting how three of the top five programs reside in the Metroplex.
All these programs have a few things in common: Good, hard-working kids; great coaching; and communities that support the program and school districts.
Each program has a story to tell about their respective success. I sat down with longtime Bearcats head coach Tim Buchanan — who has been head football coach/athletic director, then just athletic director and now for the first time as a head coach only — a few weeks after Aledo won that ninth state title with a 45-42 victory over Fort Bend Marshall.
He told me in the aftermath of winning the game — particularly in the hurried press conference following the contest — that he felt he did not answer a lot of questions concisely about how it felt to win nine state championships because he had not had the opportunity to reflect.
I had the privilege to catch him in a reflective mood when we talked about it two weeks after the title game. He had had time to hear from the people from his past — mainly former Aledo assistant coaches and coordinators — and that he had used his free time over the holidays to sit back and think about how it all started and how it ended up this way, which by the way, is still a streak in progress.
In case you just moved here, the Bearcats won their first state championship in 1998 in Class 3A (when 4A was the largest classification) and after moving up to Class 4A (when 5A was the largest classification) didn’t win again until 2009 and followed with state titles in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018 and this year, the latter three in Class 5A after the UIL implemented a Class 6A.
That is a lot of titles. And the one constant through them all has been Tim Buchanan.
“After we won the state championship game it really didn’t hit me,” Buchanan said. “But now it has hit me that we have actually won nine state football championships at Aledo High School. But after I started thinking about it and after receiving so many texts congratulating us on what we’ve done…a lot of those guys who were sending me texts were with us (as assistant coaches) when we started in 1993.”
Buchanan went into great detail talking about past assistant coaches, especially from his early days before the first state title was won in ’98. He mentioned names such as Don Hasley, Mike Chiaverini, David Rankin, Lance Angel, David Schuster and a few more.
Of course, when we started talking about the titles from 2009 on, he credited Steve Wood, now the Aledo ISD athletic director but known as one of the best defensive coordinators in the state, and Bearcats offensive coordinator, Robby Jones, who he says “is one of the best play callers I have been around:” and of course — as it has been documented in The Community News — his offensive line coaches Lee Bishop and Doug Wheeler. Buchanan feels he currently has the best staff in Texas, and who could argue that?
But when I got him in a reflective mode, Buchanan thought of the beginning — before any title was won at Aledo, and the major players who helped him to become the football coach he is today.
“When I think about the beginning,” Buchanan said, “I think about Greg Ennis. That was Phase 1 of trying to build the program, and what we were trying to do was build the mental toughness of our kids and teach them how to win.”
Buchanan then went on to talk about the aforementioned assistant coaches and what they have meant to this program. He again went back to Ennis.
“The thing I keep going back to are the guys who were here when we built the foundation of this program,” Buc said. “The main guy was Greg Ennis. We would not be where we are today with Aledo football had it not been for Greg Ennis. We would not be where we are today if (Superintendent) Alan Norman did not let me hire Greg Ennis.”
Buc explained Ennis was the head football coach at Graham High School and that they had worked together at The Colony.
“Somehow, some way I convinced Greg to give up being the AD/head football coach in Graham to join our staff,” Buc said. “Greg was an unbelievable educator. He ended up finishing his career as superintendent at Slidell.
“If it had not been for Greg, I probably would have ended up leaving Aledo in the 90s as soon as we had some success. Greg helped us build the program and we built not just a winning team but we built a winning program.
“Greg was probably as important with turning this program around as any player or any coach.”
He also credited Jim Yankie for continuing the success when Ennis left Aledo.
“When Greg left we were able to hire Jim Yankie as a first assistant and he was the defensive coordinator when we won it in ’98,” Buc said. “He was a continuation of Greg Ennis.”
Buchanan could have pounded his chest and bragged about being smart enough to hire these fine assistant coaches, many who stay at Aledo so they can put their children through this highly-academic-rated school district. But instead, he credits them as pillars of the program.
“Without having Greg Ennis we would have never got it built,” Buc said. “And by having Jim Yankie, Steve Wood, Robby Jones and Brad McCone we never could have kept it going. Getting to the top of the mountain is one thing, but being able to stay on it for as many years as we have is another.
“People say ‘Well, you have good athletes.’ Well, we do have good athletes, but a lot of schools have good athletes. And I am not going to take anything away from our kids — we have tremendous kids — but the fact that we have been able to keep and maintain good coaches throughout this entire run has been extremely important in doing what we are doing.”
Of course, I had to ask Buchanan the obvious question: Did it feel any different holding up the state-championship trophy in 2019 as it did in ’98?
“I felt there was no difference in how I felt the first time I held up the state championship trophy compared to (2019),” he said. “It is different kids, different coaches, different situations. In ’98, it was a surprise since we were not picked to win our district, much less state. Every week in the playoffs in ’98 we were picked to get beat.”
But they did not. And the Bearcats won it all eight more times to rise to the top of the 11-man football world in the state of Texas.
“It’s still the same ol’ Aledo,” Buc said. “It is still a bedroom community where the majority of people work in Fort Worth or somewhere else but the want to live here so their kids can go to school here because it is such a great community and a good place to raise kids.”
And a good place to collect gold footballs.
Tony Eierdam is the sports editor of The Community News.