B Varsity

Monday, Jul 15 2013 08:49 PM

Losing Shawn Austin stings Kennedy football

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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer zewing@bakersfield.com

I found out today that head coach Shawn Austin has left the Robert F. Kennedy football program for a job as the defensive coordinator of Concordia College in Selma, Ala., after just one year with the Thunderbirds.

Austin, who has been a coordinator at the junior college and NAIA levels before, said he couldn't pass up an opportunity to get back into college coaching. Good for him, though that reasoning doesn't totally add up to me: Just speculating here, but I would think a teacher at a California high school would make more than a small-college coordinator. Perhaps there's room for advancement that Austin sees, or perhaps there's some other reason; Kennedy athletic director Les Lucas said Austin told him he was leaving for "family reasons."

But for our purposes, the story is more about Kennedy. Austin was really, really good for the program in just over a year. Yes, the Thunderbirds were only 2-9 last season, but that was a vast improvement over the first three years of the program, when the team was 0-30. And that wasn't the only sign that Austin had turned things around. He had implemented year-round weight training, persuaded more students to play and generally stabilized the program. He even held an NFL-style combine at Kennedy in May, giving Kennedy players and others the chance to practice and improve next-level skills.

That's how suddenly this happened — six weeks ago, Austin was holding the combine, apparently ready for Year 2 at Kennedy. Instead, Lucas is frantically looking for a new coach (he said he wants to have a hire made this week). Whomever he chooses will be the program's fourth head coach in five years. That's not exactly the way you want to let a young, struggling program grow, but that's the bind RFK finds itself in.

Austin was the best thing, by far, to happen to this program, and he undoubtedly leaves it in better shape than he found it. But the timing of his departure might just send Kennedy back to square one.

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