Boren named All-Central Texas Coach of the Year
By Keith Sparks
While the Runnin’ Panther basketball players have been deservedly receiving all the credit for their 2019 State Tournament run, people are finally starting to recognize the man that put everything in place.
Liberty Hill locals have known about Head Coach Barry Boren’s coaching prowess for years, but it took a State Championship appearance for the rest of the state to take notice.
Last week, the Austin American-Statesman named Boren the All-Central Texas Coach of the Year. Boren received the award over every high school basketball coach in Central Texas, from Conference 1A to 6A.
Like he always has, however, Boren deflected all the credit, instead giving it to his athletes – his seniors, in particular.
“I think our seniors allowed me to coach them hard,” Boren said. “They were great examples. Our seniors were hungry. Parker (McCurdy) ended his year last year with his appendix getting taken out, so I think there was some unfulfillment there. Cade (Cole) and Jareck (Naylor) both spent most of last season on the JV, so those three guys were really, really hungry. In practices, they allowed me to coach them hard and didn’t get their feelings hurt, and I think that rubbed off on our other kids.”
Most championship teams can look back on a specific moment during the season where “a switch was flipped” and the team seems to improve rapidly in the middle of the season. For the Panthers, Boren said that switch was flipped during the Whataburger Tournament in Fort Worth when his team took its lumps against some of the most talented teams in the state.
“I think when we got beat by Decatur and Burkburnett at the Whataburger Tournament, I think both of those were eye-openers because it showed us the kind of teams that we were going to have to play if we were going to make a run,” Boren said. “Then we got beat by Salado at Salado, and I think that was a real wakeup call. We’ve won the district something like 12 times in 16 years, so typically, you go through the first round and you’re beating everybody, then you go to the second round and you’re just not as sharp. Well, we start the second round with Salado and beat them by 26 after they had already beaten us. I didn’t make the practice harder or anything like that, we just were real logical about it. ‘Here’s what we did, here’s what we should have done, and here’s what we’ve got to do going forward.’”
What was likely the deciding factor in Boren receiving the award was the Panthers’ level of success despite the perceived lack of talent on the roster. That’s not to say the Panthers weren’t a talented team, but they were up against teams that were objectively larger, more athletic, and full of Division I talent.
Boren admitted that he’s coached more talented teams in the past, but said he’s never coached a team that enjoyed playing together more than the 2018-2019 Runnin’ Panthers. They enjoy each other’s company so much so that they joined Boren at his house to watch the NCAA National Championship game between Texas Tech and Virginia on Monday night, long after their season was over.
“If you sit back and look at the talent, you could easily say there were probably at least two or three teams that we’ve had since I’ve been here that were probably more talented, but none that played together as well as those guys did,” Boren said. “They like one another, they like playing with one another, they like hanging around with one another, and kind of a witness to that is them all coming over here tonight to watch this game.”
After 40 years of coaching and decades of dominance in Liberty Hill, what took so long for the media to take notice? According to Boren, the dominance of the other Liberty Hill sports made it tough to reward a basketball program that hadn’t made a State Tournament appearance in almost 30 years.
Although he doesn’t feel like he worked any harder this year than he has during his career, it took a historic performance on the biggest stage to put Liberty Hill basketball in the public eye.
“I think people on the outside looking in, because Liberty Hill does win so much – I mean look at football, look at volleyball, look at girls’ basketball, look at softball, look at cross country – then all the sudden, it was like okay, here’s boys’ basketball, too,” Boren said. “That’s driven me, because I’ve wanted to do it, but I don’t feel like I worked any harder than I have in the past. It was just a set of circumstances.”
The Statesman isn’t the only organization that’s taken notice, either, as Boren was recently invited to speak at the Texas High School Coaches Association’s annual convention for the first time in his career, which takes place July 21-23.