If it seemed like Doug Loughridge was a perfect fit for Alma, there’s a reason.
"It’s the same type of kids that I’ve always surrounded myself with. I think they respond to me just like I respond to them," Loughridge said. "I think with their work ethic they’re the kind of kids that I know how to motivate and our coaching staff knows how to motivate. I think we can get the most out of them."
Loughridge had tons of success at Charleston, his alma mater, where he won two state championships and was 68-9 in six years.
In December, though, Loughridge left his comfort zone and took over at Alma. It was a little intimidating at first.
"It was a lot," Loughridge said. "I think Charleston prepared me for that. The pressure you have to win every year and to win conference every year and to compete for a state title every year has carried over to Alma. Just knowing the tradition that Alma has, they don’t want to just win games, they want to win championships."
Alma did return to championship form under Loughridge this season, winning the 5A-West for the Airedale’s first conference title since 2004 and finishing 10-3. For that, Loughridge is the Times Record Arkansas Coach of the Year.
"We were very blessed to bring it to them very quick," Loughridge said. "I thought it was going to be a building process, but it wasn’t and that’s a tribute to the staff and the kids that I inherited. They bought into what we wanted to do. They took what we wanted to do and ran with it."
The senior class was smaller than usual for the Airedales after a couple of years of attrition, but they were a determined group that had experienced success before and were hungry for it again.
"We have great junior high coaches," Loughridge said. "We have a steady line of players coming up from ninth grade. They’re learning to win there and it’s progressing all of the way through junior high."
Loughridge also was a perfect fit for a coaching staff with veteran coaches like Tom McMurry, David Hale and Kevin Edwards. Loughridge also meshed well with the younger coaches like offensive coordinator Chris Gunter, defensive coordinator Jason Reeves, Eric Marsh and Josh Driscoll.
"You always hear horror stories about coaches having to go in and bring a staff in at 6 o’clock and run them off," Loughridge said. "I didn’t have any of that. I’ve got the best staff in the state with a wealth of experience like coach McMurray, coach Hale, and coach Edwards and we have some great young guys like coach Gunter, coach Marsh and coach Driscoll and coach Reeves."
Now, Loughridge and staff gets to the guide the Airedales to another frontier as they head up to 6A from 5A next season.
"I look at moving up as something to sharpen our program," Loughridge said. "It’s going to make us tougher. I would be surprised if we don’t bump back down after this cycle. These next two years are going to make us tougher and stronger for when we do come back down to 5A. We have a really good sophomore class that will be juniors next year. I really think it’s going to make us better for the future."