SAN ANTONIO – Darryl Hemphill didn’t start his career in high school athletics as a trailblazer. It’s just worked out that way.
A 1978 Jefferson graduate, Hemphill made history 20 years later when he became the first African-American to be hired as a head football coach in the Northside Independent School District.
Hemphill was an assistant coach in the NISD for eight seasons, seven at Holmes and one at Marshall, before being named the first head football coach and athletic coordinator at NISD school O’Connor in February 1998.
Hemphill made history again this week when he became the first African American to land a job as an assistant athletic director with the NISD, the largest school district in the San Antonio area.
Hemphill, 57, has been head football coach and athletic coordinator at Stevens the past four years.
“You just start at a job and you try to prepare yourself for that job,” Hemphill said, reflecting on his career Thursday morning. “You work your way up. You try to keep on preparing for the next opportunity. And when it comes, you hope that you’re ready for it. You just keep going.”
Stan Laing, NISD executive athletic director, said Hemphill is a natural fit for the job in the district’s athletic department.
“Collectively, with his experience and the things he’s done on a campus as a coach and administrator, we’re just excited to have Darryl in a position to support coaches district-wide now,” Laing said.
Hemphill succeeds Hector Rodriguez, who resigned recently to become athletic director at Central Catholic. Rodriguez will remain with the NISD until the end of June.
“Hector is just a quality, quality person,” Laing said. “We hate to lose him, but we understand this is a great opportunity for him at Central Catholic. On top of being an excellent coach and an excellent motivator, he has a passion to help coaches help kids. Those are the same qualities that Darryl has.
“At the end of the day, that’s our role. That’s what we stand for, coaching beyond the game. We go beyond the X’s and O’s, and try to instill values in our athletes. To do that, you’ve got to have quality people and I feel we’ve got that on every campus and at the district level.”
Hemphill went 26-18 in his four seasons at Stevens, leading the Falcons to the playoffs in 2014 and 2015. Stevens lost in the second round both years.
“I’m looking forward to this opportunity and this new challenge,” Hemphill said. “I’ve already reached out to all the head coaches in our district and told them that I’m here for them and their kids, both on the boys and girls side.
“No doubt, I’m going to miss my staff at Stevens. The core of our staff has been together for 12 years. I miss them already, the camaraderie we’ve shared. Counting all the playoffs, I’ve talked to some of those guys on Friday nights on headphones for over 125 football games. I’m going to miss that part, but it’s time to expand and raise the bar a little bit.”
NISD will look to fill the dual position at Stevens internally to expedite the hiring process, Laing said.
“We’ve got to get somebody moved in quickly because that’s going to be a quick transition there,” Laing said. “I know it’s late but there’s never good timing in this.”
Hemphill will join a NISD athletic department that includes four other assistant athletic directors – Mike Carew, Kevin Hamilton, Kirby Jameson and Tony Plummer (aquatics).
While Hemphill will be primarily responsible for the district’s athletic facilities, Laing said all of the district’s assistant athletic directors help hire coaches and assist with all boys and girls programs.
Hemphill has worked in the NISD since 1990, including four years as vice principal at NISD’s alternative middle school. He went 8-30 in four seasons at O’Connor before getting out of coaching in 2002 to work at the alternative school.
But Hemphill followed his heart and returned to coaching at Stevens when it opened in 2006, joining Lee Bridges’ staff as defensive coordinator. He was the Falcons’ DC until getting promoted in 2013 when Bridges resigned.
Hemphill played football at West Texas State, now West Texas A&M, for four seasons before graduating in 1982. A defensive back, he was selected by the New York Jets in the 10th round of the 1982 NFL draft.
Cut by the Jets, Hemphill caught on with the Baltimore Colts in 1982 and played in three games that season. He also had stints with the Denver Gold (of the defunct USFL) and CFL British Columbia Lions during a six-year pro career.
Hemphill started his coaching career at Burbank in the San Antonio Independent School District, serving as secondary coach in 1988 and defensive coordinator in 1989. He joined Gary West’s staff at Holmes in 1990.
Hemphill said he will miss working directly with high school athletes and seeing them mature each year before they graduate.
“That’s a very humbling, gratifying experience,” Hemphill said. “We have our graduation on Friday and even though I’m not the coordinator there now, I’m going to shake the hands of kids that I’ve been involved with as they come off that stage. There will be tears flowing because that’s what we do. That’s how much we care.”