Starting from scratch: Hester begins rebuilding Barton football

School hires NC A&T assistant to coach first football team since 1950

Chip Hester (left, pictured with school President Douglas Searcy) is charged with building the Barton College football program in preparation for its return in 2020. (Keith Tew / Barton College)

Chip Hester has an adjustment to make. He’s off schedule.

“Football coaches are on this time clock,” he explained. “Deep down, I’m still preparing for football season right now. You prepare yourself for winter conditioning and then spring football.”

The next two years will be very different for Hester. Since 1995, he’s been involved with college football in the state, first as an assistant at Division II Catawba, then for 11 years as head coach, becoming the second-winningest coach in school history. Since 2014 he’s been an assistant at NC A&T, eventually becoming offensive coordinator of this year’s HBCU national champion Aggies.

For the next two seasons, however, Hester’s football clock will be thrown off. He was hired last week as head coach of Barton College, which is bringing its football program back after a 70-year absence. The team will take the field in the fall of 2020, giving Hester two years to build the program from scratch — two years without any games to plan or team to prepare.

“It’ll be very hard,” he admitted. “It’ll be difficult, but it will be so busy. There’s so much to do, I don’t think I’ll have much time to sit back and kick back and miss the games, because there’ll be so much to work on.”

With a to-do list that includes everything, Hester has to figure out what needs to be done first.

“The first thing athletic director Todd Wilkinson and I talked about — the first thing to tackle — is the schedule,” Hester said. “That’s going to be one of those things we’ve got to get a handle on. Schedules are made a couple years in advance, so we need to get that done first.”

Once the games are on the schedule, Hester can set out trying to find the people who will be playing in them.

“After the schedule, we’ll focus on recruiting — recruiting the right coaches and the right players,” Hester said. “People are so important to the situation. That’s what it’s all about. Right now we’ve got some great plans and drawings that we can show them and some facilities that are on the horizon. The biggest thing is putting together the right team and then creating that culture.”

The sales pitch to potential recruits won’t be hard. Hester plans to use the same one that worked on him when he agreed to take on this task.

“This is such an exciting opportunity, because of the people,” he said. “The leadership there at Barton — just to start football again is bold. That’s their big motto here: ‘Be Barton bold.’ Everybody, from the president to the A.D. to other coaches and faculty, the provost. It’s an exciting time. That’s part of my reason for doing it at this point in time.

“I think the thing that sold me will be what sells new recruits,” he added. “It’s an exciting time. This opportunity doesn’t come along for everyone. You’re able to make history. For players, obviously, there are no returning starters. A young man is going to have the opportunity to play right away and compete for starting jobs. There are no incumbents.”

After that, Hester is confident that the school will sell itself.

“The most important part is if we can get young people to campus and talk to the people here — the faculty, the students, the staff — people love Barton,” he said. “They feel like there’s a special charm to it. I definitely was sold. If you sell those kind of things, there’s a chance to bring in some quality young people that have high character and academics that match. It’ll be a good fit.”

The excitement of starting the program helps to soothe the pain of departing from an A&T program that has established itself as one of the nation’s best.

“A&T is a tough place to leave,” he said. “I’ve had such a good experience. One of the reasons I felt like it was OK to leave is that there’s such a good team in place. Coach (Sam) Washington is such a good man and a good smart football coach. The offensive staff is in good hands. There’s good talent on the team.”

Hester doesn’t officially start his new job until July 2, but it already has his attention.

“The last week, I’ve been at a volleyball tournament watching my daughter play,” he said. “But I’ve been waking up early in the morning, gears turning, thinking of things — people I need to talk to. It’s been exciting. All the factors kind of came to pass, and I felt like the right doors opened.”

Now he just has to endure the long wait until the games begin.