Damon Teas, who succeeded the legendary John Hutchcraft as boys basketball coach at Guy-Perkins, is 42, but don’t tell that to the Thunderbirds.
“I’m 29 at school,” said Teas, a Mayflower High School and University of Central Arkansas alumnus who came to Guy-Perkins in 2009. “I’ve been telling the kids I’m 29 since I showed up.”
But even at 42, Teas has lived a unique professional life — public school, private school, college, teaching, coaching, administration.
Perhaps his current role — succeeding Hutchcraft, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer who retired last year after a 42-year career and 11 state championships, including the past two seasons — is his most unique one.
After all, who wants to follow a legend?
“Nobody,” Teas said, and chuckled.
Already the baseball and junior boys basketball coach, he added senior high duties following Hutchcraft’s retirement last year.
“Honestly, at one time this was my dream job, but I’ve had so many different experiences,” Teas said. “When you get to do other things, your eyes get opened. Being principal opened me to a whole new world. You get to see a difference you make on such a different level.
“The joy of coaching to me, my goals, are to prepare kids for life. I was raised by a single dad, and where would I have been without my coaches growing up at Mayflower? I even had the opportunity to tell that to those guys who coached me (Jim Brown, Brent Stallings and George Jones).
“I do really enjoy what I’m doing.”
Teas still lives on the family farm in Mayflower.
“I live on the same hill I grew up on, 50 feet from my grandmother, Nellie Simon, who’s 94,” he said.
His father, Bobby Teas, raised him. Although Damon Teas’ mother lived in Mayflower for several years, he said she wasn’t in his life until shortly before her death.
He played football and baseball for the Eagles throughout high school but gave up his basketball career after junior high.
“I wasn’t very good,” Teas remembered, “but I was good in baseball.”
He said he played “anywhere Jim Brown needed me to play” on the diamond. Two years after his 1994 graduation, the Eagles won the state championship. In football, he was a kicker and lineman.
During his senior year, MHS held a senior-faculty basketball game, and he found his future.
“There were like 35 senior guys, and I wasn’t any good,” Teas said. “Another friend said, ‘Why don’t you dress up and coach?’ So I put on my clip-on tie and my Stacy Adams tassel shoes, and here I came.
“The yearbook [staff] took a picture of me, and I kept it on my mirror all the way through UCA.”
Brown, now at Bigelow, has kept up with his former Eagle athlete.
“Damon was a very competitive athlete and had a great baseball career at Mayflower,” he said. “He has flourished in the coaching profession, and I am very proud of him.”
Teas earned his degree in kinesiology in 2000. But he got a head start on his career when he worked as a student assistant coach at Central Baptist College in Conway starting in 1998, and after graduating, he was hired as head volleyball and baseball and assistant women’s basketball coach.
He was 23.
At semester, the women’s head coach stepped down, so he became a head coach in three sports.
“That was right when we made the transition from junior college to a four-year school, and we started offering scholarships,” he remembered.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, his first game as head basketball coach was memorable. It was against cross-town rival Hendrix College, which featured a post player named Mollie Scarbrough.
A few years later, he married her.
“When we met for our first date, she knew I was the baseball coach at CBC, and when I told her I was the head women’s basketball coach, she said, ‘You’re the jerk who yelled all night at that game,’” Teas remembered. “I said, ‘Yes, I am. Do you still want to go out?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I think I do.’”
While at CBC, he wanted to start on his master’s degree in educational leadership, but he recalled some sage advice from a UCA mentor that led to his first career move.
“He said, ‘Would you want to have somebody in administration who’s never been in a classroom?’” Teas said.
So he took the first job he was offered, at McRae, where he was head boys basketball coach and the first fast-pitch softball coach in the history of the school, which has now been consolidated with Beebe.
He was at McRae when he and Mollie married. She won a wedding contest with “BJ, Tom and Robyn” on Today’s THV morning television show, and the couple were married at 5 a.m. May 16, 2003.
Besides earning his master’s degree in educational leadership in 2004, the McRae experience also helped Teas otherwise.
“At CBC, I had kids who already knew how to play. I was cherry-picking,” Teas said. “At McRae, I had to go back and learn the game of basketball, and not just the X’s and O’s, but the fundamentals.
“I had some kids who couldn’t play a lick, and I had some who were not bad.”
Teas said he likely would’ve stayed at McRae, but his time there coincided with former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s move to consolidate schools with fewer than 350 students. He knew the end was near.
From McRae, he went to Episcopal Collegiate in Little Rock, “which was like going from the outhouse to Disneyland,” he said. Teas was head boys basketball and track and assistant football coach. He remembered that his athletes included sons of the Stephens Inc. and Coleman Dairy families.
“They were great kids,” he said. “To have the world at their fingertips, you’d have never known it. I was there three years, and when Mr. [Warren] Stephens gave the $30 million endowment, that changed the whole place, minority scholarships and other things. We got pretty good in a hurry, to say the least.”
He took the Wildcats to the state tournament his final season there, with a starting lineup of five African-Americans, including a Hurricane Katrina evacuee. Teas said his team drew comparisons to the film Glory Road, which told the story of Texas Western’s
all-black starting lineup — the first in NCAA history — as it won the 1966 NCAA basketball championship.
At Episcopal, there were no athletic periods, so he had to practice his seventh-grade, junior high and high school teams before and after school while teaching six classes.
He left when Mollie became pregnant with their first child.
“Remember my schedule,” he said. “No one there had young kids. I was raised by a single dad, and I wasn’t going to do that to my kids. I left without a job.”
He landed as head girls basketball coach at Ola, which was on the verge of consolidating into Two Rivers.
“I went from coaching essentially those five black kids at Episcopal to coaching white country girls at Ola, and we went to state again,” he said.
Three years into his tenure, consolidation was looming, and he knew there were others ahead of him waiting for an administrative position.
“I had a principal’s degree; I knew the personnel policy handbook — the last ones in are the first ones out,” he said.
He interviewed for coaching and administrative positions over the summer of 2009 but found nothing, so he was preparing for football practice on Aug. 7 when a phone call changed his life. His old college friend Brian Cossey, then the principal at Guy-Perkins, wanted to know if he was still looking for a job.
The board meeting was that night.
“I asked him, ‘What are the chances of me getting hired?’ He said, ‘99 percent.’ I said, ‘What’s the job?’ He said, ‘Elementary PE and head baseball.’ The guy they’d hired backed out.”
After Teas’ interview — in gym shorts — he drove home, and Mollie asked how football practice had gone.
“I said, ‘You need to sit down.’”
He hadn’t even told her about his impromptu interview. He resigned on Friday at Ola and started at Guy on Monday.
Over the years at Guy, he became head junior boys basketball coach, picked up track, leading the T-Birds to a state runner-up finish, and was head junior girls basketball coach, head senior boys basketball coach twice, athletic director, K-12 assistant principal, principal and then back to assistant principal.
“K-12 is an animal,” he said. “There are so many moving parts. That job was unbelievable, as far as the time and energy it took.”
He was out of coaching for five years before giving up administration and returning to coach and teach in spring 2016 as head junior boys coach. His teaching assignments have included eighth-grade science and Arkansas history and K-12 physical education and health.
“I think a lot of teachers get burned out because they stay in the same job,” Teas said. “In 10 years at Guy-Perkins, every year, my job has been tweaked. It’s a God thing for keeping me at Guy.”
After graduating nine seniors off the back-to-back state-championship teams, the T-Birds have, not surprisingly, struggled this season. They returned no starters. But at press time, the seventh-grade team was 8-1, and the junior high squad was 14-5.
“We’re putting it back together,” he said. “We’re in almost every game, but you’ve got a learning curve. My seniors have never not been the state champs. They’ve been state champions for over 1,000 days.”
He said one of his seniors asked him recently why other teams got so excited after they beat the T-Birds.
“We can hear them celebrating in the locker room,” he said. “I told him, ‘You haven’t ended your season on a loss since ninth grade. People want to beat us.’”
Although Teas knew the on-court experience might be dicey, overall, it’s been a good year.
“They’re very coachable, very likable,” he said. “The way they act at school, the way they interact with other people — this group of seniors has been absolutely wonderful.”
Like Hutchcraft with his three kids, Teas brings Hugh, Isaac and Stella to school with him every morning.
“That’s our time,” he said. “Coach Hutchcraft told me some of the best times they had were riding in the car together, and it’s the same thing for us.”
Teas said he plans to start work on his Educational Specialist degree through Arkansas State’s online program this month.
After 13 years of coaching, including eight in public schools, and five years in administration, he continues to learn.
“What an honor to work with Coach Hutchcraft for the past 10 years,” Teas said. “I learned more lessons from that man than you’ll ever know, and it’s not all X’s and O’s. He had a calmness about him that I didn’t have when I got here. I was always jumping, looking for the next job.
“I’d love to be a state champ more than words can say, but if I don’t ever win one, that’s OK, too, as long as I have that relationship with those kids.”
After all, he said, there’s more to life than basketball.