The Bryant Hornets are one of five teams in the AAAAA-Central Conference to enlist a new head coach in 2003. Paul Calley has an opportunity to start his head-coaching career with a pretty good record, inheriting a team that went 8-3 last fall under Daryl Patton and finished in a third-place tie – just one game behind co-champions Conway and Little Rock Central – at 5-2.
The problem for the Hornets, though, isn't coaching changes or a loss of too many quality players. Calley was the offensive coordinator for a team that scored 342 points last season. Bryant also has the most experienced players in the league returning on both sides of the football.
How can anything go wrong?
Things go wrong when teams like Conway and Central stand in the way of a league title.
Bryant, which has won a single conference crown since 1980, must buck a trend that indicates Conway and Central have some kind of ownership of the AAAAA-Central crown. The two teams shared the title last year – although Bryant did hand Conway its only loss in a 36-33 overtime thriller – and each school has claimed an outright title over the previous two seasons this century.
Conway won the league in 2001 and Central, after consecutive second-place finishes in 1998 and 1999, won the crown in 2000. Conway was a tri-champion in 1997 and shared the title with North Little Rock in 1995 and 1996.
That's a lot of history to contend with for anybody.
And, unlike the majority of the teams in this league, Central (Bernie Cox) and Conway (Kenny Smith) return with the same coaches they've had for years. Smith could notch his 100th victory during the non-conference campaign – although getting two wins over the likes of Cabot, Russellville and Van Buren is not a sure thing – and Cox is well beyond the 200-win plateau.
There are teams in this league bent on keeping this from becoming a three-team race, too.
Little Rock McClellan turned the corner in 2001, but will have its third head coach in three years in the form of Anthony Chambers. Former McClellan coach Bryan Hutson has moved to the north end of the league and will try to turn around the the fortunes of the fading North Little Rock Charging Wildcats.
Don't count out Ellis "Scooter" Register (Little Rock Catholic) either.
Here's how RPS sees the AAAAA-Central race stacking up:
1. Conway 6-1
2. Bryant 6-1
3. LR Central 5-2
4. LR McClellan 4-3
5. LR Catholic 3-4
6. North Little Rock 2-5
7. LR Parkview 2-5
8. LR Hall 0-7