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Laster leaving Central in pretty decent shape

by Mitchell Gladstone | January 27, 2021 at 2:38 a.m.

When Kent Laster arrived at Little Rock Central in 2018, he laid out three simple goals.

"We want to win, we want to make the playoffs and we want to play past Thanksgiving," he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that August.

After just 10 wins in the last four seasons -- including Laster's first on the job -- the Tigers have won 10 games in the past two years. Check.

In 2019, the Tigers lost to Springdale Har-Ber in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs, then in 2020 stunned West No. 2 seed Fayetteville, 37-35, in the opening round. Check.

And had the Tigers managed a second upset of Conway a week later, Laster's squad would've accomplished all three tasks in quick succession.

Nonetheless, Laster's departure -- the 46-year-old is headed back to Texas after being named the new head coach at University High School in Waco -- leaves Little Rock Central in a place where it's confident that it will be able to parlay what its now-former head coach was able to build in just three years into long-term success.

"The perception of Central was really down, and we've been able to create a foundation and relevance throughout the state," Laster said. "Our players -- their belief system and buying into the core values that we've instilled in them, that has translated over to the field and game day. I'm proud of our guys for buying into what we brought to make Little Rock Central better."

The Tigers' postseason berth in 2019 was the program's first since 2014, and their last playoff victory before this fall had come in 2013.

"He wound up getting more kids back into the program, and we've made the playoffs the last few years," Central Athletic Director Earnie McGee said when asked what he viewed as Laster's major accomplishments. "To make such a big playoff shock this year, and then we were able to do some renovations [in the football facility] ... to look like we were more in a present-day environment."

Laster's departure was not a complete shock to McGee, especially given where he's headed.

When Laster moved to Little Rock, he was just coming off an eight-year stint at Frisco (Texas) Heritage and he'd previously spent two years at Weatherford, also in the Dallas metro area. Before that, Laster had coached in the college ranks with Ouachita Baptist University, Samford, Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee-Martin and his alma mater Texas State.

But the move was also prompted by family circumstances. Laster said his mother, who lives in Fort Worth, is dealing with some major health issues, so the opportunity both to go home -- Laster graduated from Dallas Lake Highlands High School -- and be less than 100 miles from his mom were what ultimately led him to leave the Tigers.

That now puts McGee and Central under the microscope as they look to find Laster's successor. McGee said that he has not yet started taking applications for the opening but plans to begin doing so within the next week or two, with hopes of filling the role by the end of March.

That would allow for nine weeks before the end of the academic year, enough time to get settled around the program and still go through a full spring camp.

McGee added that he's hoping to identify someone with head coaching experience, but said he'd be open to a coordinator who's previously been at a high level, including those already on the Tigers' staff.

And Laster said he'd be thrilled several of his former assistants will get a serious look.

"I would hope that would be the case, that somebody would be promoted from within," Laster said. "But at the same time, I understand the district has to make the best choice."

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