McWhorter takes over football at Hooper Academy
By Tim Gayle
After getting bounced from a job at Montgomery Catholic in 2014 and leaving an unpleasant job in Selma the following year, Duane McWhorter was content to have simple teaching and coaching duties at Hooper Academy in 2016.
When coach Chad Michael left the Colts in late May after two seasons, McWhorter unexpectedly found himself with one more challenge as the school’s new head football coach.
“When I went there, I told him (Michael) I am perfectly content standing on this side of your desk,” McWhorter said. “I’ve been on that side before and it’s not always green and rosy as everyone paints it. So it’s not a job I was seeking, but when the job became available, I was asked (by headmaster Liz Norman) if I would be interested in talking about it. I would like to see Hooper football get back to the way it was in the 1980s and 1990s. That would be pretty neat, especially if I could get it started back in that direction.”
McWhorter is the latest in a line of football coaches hired to restore glory to the Alabama Independent School Association program that boasts of six football state championships but only one winning season since 2002 and no playoff victories since 1997 as the institution juggles coaching hirings and firings as frequently as it does headmasters.
Craig Duncan followed Hall of Fame Coach Robert Andress in 1999 and coached the Colts over a five-year span, including a 7-4 record in 2002. Duncan reached the playoffs again in 2003, his final season, but seven coaches have compiled a 35-102 record in the 13 years since his departure.
The school’s board has hired veteran coaches with administrative ability (John Maddaloni, John Niblett and John Glasscock), young up-and-coming coaches (Michael and Zach Golson) and experienced coaches (Steve McCord and Cody Keene). None have met the expectations of the board.
McWhorter remembers a better time. When he was a senior on Lee’s 1978 football team, the Colts were one of the state’s top football programs. From 1974-77, Hooper compiled a 29-game regular season winning streak, winning state championships in 1975 and 1976.
“When I was in high school, Central (Alabama) Academy and Hooper Academy were trying to get athletics established,” McWhorter said. “They were trying to talk to a lot of people and see if they were happy where they were. And then my wife started teaching there in 1981 and stayed there as a teacher for 21 years. So I’m not foreign to Hooper at all.”
A 1979 graduate of Robert E. Lee, McWhorter started his coaching career at Capitol Heights Junior High in 1980. Eight years later, he moved on to St. James for a year, then started a 20-year career at Jeff Davis, primarily as a defensive line coach until he took over as the Volunteers’ head coach in 2004.
As an assistant, he was a part of three teams that reached the Class 6A finals, but he didn’t have the same success as a head coach, winning six games in each of the first three seasons, three in the fourth year and going winless in 2008.
After stepping down from Jeff Davis, he spent three years as defensive coordinator at Faulkner University, then one year at Wetumpka (2012), then two years as the defensive coordinator at Catholic. In 2015, he went to Selma to work for a year at Elwood Christian before accepting the job as an offensive and defensive line coach at Hooper Academy last fall.
After winning just one game in 2015, the Colts won four in 2016 with McWhorter’s help despite a rugged schedule in Class AAA.
“Just from looking at the record, there are some things that are changing,” McWhorter said. “I don’t know if we’ve totally gotten it to the point where we can say it’s starting to move in the direction we need it to. It’s going to be a work in progress for a while.”