VILONIA — After several years and several jobs, Michael Stout took a coaching position at Vilonia in 2006 with an eye on his children’s future.
It turns out that the move was a good one for him, too.
In his fifth season as head coach, Stout, 47, led the Eagles to their third consecutive Class 5A state track championship recently.
In 11 years of coaching, it was Stout’s sixth state track title, following one at Clarendon, one at Stamps and one at Lafayette County (the new school from the consolidation of Stamps and Lewisville).
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I actually moved here because of my kids. I wanted to put their education above my coaching career.”
He said he told his wife, Rebekah, when their son Ethan was 4 that he would find “a very solid academic school” for their children.
So Stout gave up his position as head football coach, head high school track coach and athletic director at Lafayette County to take a junior high football position at Vilonia.
“It’s a good school to raise our kids in,” he said a few weeks ago. “Now, it’s the only place our kids know. We just bought our house. We are here for as long as I don’t get fired.
“I hope my kids graduate Vilonia Eagles.”
With Stout’s recent run of success, it’s unlikely firing is in the future of this accidental coach.
Stout is a son of southwest Arkansas, having grown up in Gillham, just north of De Queen. Gillham High School, where he participated in track and basketball — the only sports offered — was closed the year after he graduated, with some students going to De Queen and some to Wickes. He graduated in 1985 and went on to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
“Coaching was probably an accident,” he said. “When I went to college, I was a typical undecided, and I just happened to have some friends who were going into coaching. I started taking some coaching classes with them.”
He had worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and at one point considered a career in law enforcement or as a park ranger.
“But I did my student coaching at Magnolia High School, and that’s when I made my decision to pursue coaching,” he said.
A federal hiring freeze aided his decision, so he took his physical education degree to West Helena for his first job at Central High School, where he served as assistant football and track coach at the high school and as head junior boys coach for football and track.
Right off the bat, Stout loved it.
“They had hired a lot of new coaches at the same time, and we were able to impact a lot of young people’s lives right off the bat,” he said. “I had some great mentors who taught me a lot about track and about young people in Helena.”
Among those mentors during his six years there were Ronald Williams, now retired as track coach for the Cougars, and Cleo Hunter, another former Cougar head track and assistant football coach.
“They taught me a lot about track but also about how to teach young men and young women,” Stout said. “They’ve both become ordained ministers. Coach Williams was a preacher the whole time he was coaching.”
From there, Stout spent one year in Charleston, Mississippi, “which I don’t tell too many people [about],” he said.
He returned to Arkansas in 2000-2001 to serve as defensive coordinator for the football team and head boys track coach at Clarendon. He coached his first state championship track team there in 2001.
“It was a great way to start your career as a high school coach,” he said. “We had some great athletes.”
Among those were Cedric Houston, who went on to star at Tennessee and play professionally for the New York Jets, and Torrance “Tank” Daniels, a two-time All-American at Harding University who went on to the NFL and earned a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants in 2008.
“They were seniors,” Stout said. “They’d been there every year, but we made a few changes, got a few more kids out and organized it a little more, and we won [the track title].”
From Clarendon, Stout landed at Stamps as defensive coordinator and head track coach in 2001. The Yellowjackets finished runner-up in the state track meet in ’02 and won a state title in ’03.
“We got a lot of kids out who hadn’t been in track,” Stout said. “The year before I got there, only one kid made state. That was one of the reasons the AD wanted me to come in — to rebuild track. Back in the ’90s, they’d won several state championships.”
Stout also married Rebekah, whom he’d met at Clarendon, during his first year at Stamps.
During his tenure there, Stamps consolidated with nearby Lewisville to become the Lafayette County School District. Stout became head football coach, head track coach and athletic director of the new school, leading the Cougars to a state track title in ’04. After moving up in classification, the team won a couple of conference track titles and finished second and third at state before Stout left for Vilonia in 2006 to become head junior high and assistant high school football coach.
He gave up track for his kids.
“I missed it,” he said. “Originally when I was recruited to come here, I was supposed to be given one of the high school track jobs, either head boys or head girls, but it didn’t work out. Later on, I got back into track.”
Matt Sewell, a former Eagle track coach who was middle school principal when Stout was hired, was athletic director when the track opening occurred. With Stout’s track background, Sewell knew whom he wanted, and although it took some finagling to get the right availability with Stout’s junior high teaching duties, Sewell eventually got his man.
“I knew I had to find some way to get this guy plugged in,” he said. “You’ve really got to be strategic in track. You’ve got to get as many people qualified to get points. He’s really good at that. Like this year, he may have had to sacrifice a conference title to get all those kids qualified for state to win a state title.
“And the other thing is, the kids love him. Anytime you can build a program to where you have as many people participate in track as we do, that says something about the coach.”
The Eagles ended the year with about 45 on the roster — as many as some football teams.
Another key, Sewell said, has been solidifying ties with the junior high program. Tommy Stephens coaches the eighth- and ninth-graders, and Patrick Morse leads the seventh-graders.
“When you take a guy that had the background Stout had, the knowledge and experience, and put him with those two guys that love track, they really started building the program,” Sewell said.
Stout, who had served as an assistant coach for the high school and junior high track programs as his second sport, was ready to return to track full time.
“It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing,” he said.
He has been married to Rebekah, a teacher of ninth-grade English at Vilonia, for 12 years. Ethan, now 11, has two younger sisters, Emily, 8, and Abigail, 6.
So Stout’s family is settled, and he has also been able to return to his love.
Lucky for the Eagles. Three consecutive state championships speak for themselves.