Joe Fred Young watches every Greenwood home game from the press box. He often sits alongside the coaching staff, usually quietly, sensing every nuance of the interaction between coach and player from a distance. And watching perfectly executed plays unfold with the precision the Bulldogs coaching staff has come to expect.
It’s a nice way to spend fall Friday nights when you’re a retired eight-time state finalist head coach.
Despite it being his base of operations for the final 18 years of his coaching career, Young has never been in the press box at Northside. That will change Friday.
His past meets his present when Northside hosts Greenwood in the 7A/6A-Central opener for both schools. Young’s son, Chris, is the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs.
Young led the Grizzlies to a 147-67 record during those 18 seasons at Northside. His teams had eight appearances in the state championship game and won a title in 1987. Just twice did they finish with losing record. And only Bill Stancil, after whom the press box at Northside is named, has a better career winning percentage.
His name and likeness are scattered throughout the hallways and rooms at Northside. He’s an icon of Grizzlies football.
He’s quick to say his rooting interest come Friday.
"There’s no question who I’m rooting for," Joe Fred said. "I’ll be rooting for Greenwood. Blood is thicker."
Chris was hired at Greenwood in December of 1999 after doing his student-coaching at Jacksonville. He started in the junior high program for the Bulldogs, moved up to high school assistant, took over special teams and eventually, in 2008, began as the team’s offensive coordinator.
That makes only one season, 1999, a Young hasn’t been coaching on high school football Fridays in the area. Chris has seen, since that time, Greenwood become a lot like what his father had at Northside.
"Back when Northside was going, the communities were so so supportive of the football program. I remember it being a packed house every week," Chris said. "And I think that’s what’s going on at Greenwood right now. I think that’s the key. And Northside is getting in that direction again."
Chris didn’t play for his father at Northside. He actually stopped playing football competitively after junior high. He was, by his admittance, not athletic enough. He played basketball and soccer instead and won a scholarship to the University of Central Arkansas.
He’s coached under three head coaches at Greenwood. While it’s common for assistants to give credit to their head coach and fellow position coaches, most of Young’s tutelage has come in large part to those on the staff with him. He’s only known one other high school in Arkansas and it was a short stay.
"I just wanted to be around the best coaches around," Chris said. "We’ve had great assistant coaches and great head coaches. You look at our staff, now and through the years, and I guarantee you each one of them has taught me something."
It’s rare someone who didn’t play a sport after 15 finds himself coaching it. Much less coaching it to the degree of success Greenwood has had in recent years. But he is his father’s son.
"I think the main quality he possesses now in the program down there is not the Xs and Os," Joe Fred said. "He deals so well with the players and motivation and letting them know he cares about them."
Joe Fred was the same type of coach. And is the same type of man. His most vivid memories aren’t the games — he’s loathe to talk about the outcomes — but the people. He adores talking about his players, his coaches, the faculty, support staff and administration.
"I still remember them all," Joe Fred said. "I may not recall their names as well anymore, but faces I can definitely recognize and then it all comes back."
The sport has changed since Joe Fred began his coaching career in his hometown of Conway in 1972. He spent a couple of seasons there, three at Little Rock Central, a stint under Frank Broyles at Arkansas and four at Fayetteville High before Northside. The Spread has overtaken the triple option and power-I, the Cover 2 has overtaken the 4-4.
But football is football and Friday’s sort of homecoming will be bittersweet.
"I really root for both (schools)," Joe Fred said. "I have so much invested in the Northside program. But being realistic about it, I’m for my son. Whatever he does, I’m going to support him.