By Scott Franco
When you ask John Barton why he's stepping down as Hollidaysburg's head football coach after 14 seasons, he won't give you just one thing. It's not this thing or that thing, and when it came down to making the decision, his family became an integral part of it.
Mirror file photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
John Barton resigned as the Hollidaysburg coach earlier this week after 14 seasons guiding the Golden Tigers.
"This was big. We are a football family," said Barton, whose oldest son, Chad, plays football at Kutztown University; whose younger son, Matt, played for him this past fall; and his wife, Mary Kay, who's been the team statistician at Hollidaysburg the past 14 seasons. "We have been in this together the whole way. From the moment I started contemplating this, my family was aware [of this decision.]
"I solicited their input and their thoughts, but the decision was mine, which shows you how supportive they have been for me," he added.
Barton, a 1987 West Virginia University graduate, went 86-66 in his tenure with the Golden Tigers, capturing District 6 titles in 1999, 2006 and 2008. The Tigers made it to the finals in 2009 but lost. His teams competed in the Mountain League, the Mid-Penn Conference and now the WPIAL.
"I just think it's time," Barton said when asked why he chose now to step down. "I feel like it is time for a change ... for me and for the program. My family has been great, very supportive and they've allowed me to pursue this passion of mine, and I kind of feel it is time for me to return their kindness."
Barton, who will remain an English teacher at the senior high school, informed athletic director Bob Gildea, who's been on the job less than a year, earlier this week of his decision.
"We already talked to [school superintendent] Dr. [Paul] Gallagher, and we are going to meet with the athletic council and decide how we are going to proceed. We are going to do this as soon as possible," Gildea said.
Retired athletic director Dean Rossi, who was on board back when Barton was hired away from an assistant coaching job at Washington & Jefferson College, believes it is a tremendous loss for the program.
"I know people have been critical of his record the last couple of years, but I know there are teams that have been in the WPIAL for 20 years and have never made it to the playoffs and we made it two of the last three years," he said. "Your record isn't everything. Our kids have always competed at a high level. People would come up to me and remark how disciplined they were and how well-behaved they were. People around here need to know we didn't shy away from anyone. He is going leave a big void."
Barton said telling his team of his decision was one of the more difficult things he's ever had to do, but he also reminded them that he wasn't going anywhere, either.
"I have been blessed over the years. I have had the opportunity to make some great friendships and coach some awesome young men, a lot of kids that I am still close to this day," he said. "I want them to be happy. I want success for them. I told them I am not exiting their lives. I will give them any help I can give them, but this is something I want to do for me and for the program."
Chad Barton plays football at Kutztown. Matt will have a chance to play football or wrestle in college next season upon his graduation this June. Not being a head coach will allow Mr. and Mrs. Barton some opportunities on Saturdays that weren't always there the past two years.
"For me to go away [on Saturdays] and not be here to do my job, I felt guilty, and when I was here breaking down film and not going to see my son, I was being tugged in two different directions," he said. "This is my last chance to enjoy them."
A one-time coach at Waynesburg Central High School, Barton said he didn't have a timetable when he moved to Blair County 14 years ago. But he did have a goal.
"I fully expected ... my vision was to be like a [Bellwood-Antis football coach] John Hayes, but things change," Barton said. "Priorities change."
Barton - whose first-ever Tiger team went 11-2 with a district title and a first-round loss in states to Erie Cathedral Prep - doesn't imagine himself sitting around the house this fall.
"I will be doing something this fall, but I don't know what yet. I am not going to tie myself to the responsibilities of a head coaching position. The difference between an assistant coach and a head coach ... it's profound," he said. "I imagine I will do something this fall, and if I don't do something, my wife will probably kill me."