SAN ANTONIO — Phil Barron is going home.
Barron is returning to South San Antonio High School, his alma mater, as head football coach and athletic coordinator after heading the football program at Burbank the past two years.
Barron, 36, graduated from South San in 2002 and was an assistant coach at the school for six years in two different stints under three head coaches. He started his career with the Bobcats in 2006 after graduating from Bethel College in Kansas, joining the staff of the late John Torres, who died in April. Barron also coached under Jeff Smith and Marcus Booker.
The South San board of trustees approved Barron’s hiring Thursday night. He succeeds Ron Kretz, who was reassigned late last month after going 10-30 in four seasons.
“Like I said when they named me at the school board meeting, this isn’t just a job to me,” Barron said. “It’s my dream job. As a child, going to South San football games and seeing the guys wearing that uniform, I always wanted to put on the Bobcat uniform.
“When I went into the coaching profession, my next step was to become the head football coach at South San, where I played. So, absolutely, this is my dream job. And, hopefully, this is my last stop.”
Leandro Gonzales, defensive coordinator at Kennedy, also was named head football coach of South San West Campus at Thursday night’s board meeting. West Campus reopened last year after closing in 2008, and will start playing football again in 2021.
The Cougars will play a junior varsity schedule in their first year back, and are expected to compete in Class 3A when the UIL realigns the state’s districts again in 2022. South San will drop to 5A in the University Interscholastic League’s next realignment, Barron said.
The Bobcats, who competed in the same district with the seven North East ISD schools the past two years, were moved into a district that includes traditional powerhouses Judson, Smithson Valley, Steele and Clemens in this year’s realignment. East Central, New Braunfels and Wagner round out the eight-team district.
“We can’t control that,” Barron said, referring to the step up in competition South San will face in its new district. “We can only control what we can control. That’s what the UIL has decided for the South San Bobcats, so that’s what the South San Bobcats are going to do. We’re going to go in there every Friday night and give it our best shot.
“The main thing is to compete and to play with 100 percent effort, to be sound, play solid football. It’s no secret. It’s Judson, Steele, Smithson Valley and Clemens. They’re going to be tough opponents, and they’re tough every year, no matter who they play in the city or in the state. South San is never going to back down. No matter who you put in front of them, the kids are going to play hard.”
South San finished 4-6 overall and 2-5 in district last year. The Bobcats went 2-8 and 1-6 in 2018, their first season with the NEISD schools.
Barron was 12-9 in his two seasons at Burbank and led the Bulldogs to the playoffs last year. The postseason berth was only the fourth in the last 42 years for Burbank, which lost in the first round and finished 6-5.
The Bulldogs, who went 6-4 in 2018, hadn’t recorded back-to-back winning seasons since finishing over .500 in three consecutive years (1964-66).
Barron, who starts his new job at South San on July 6, told his players in a Zoom call Friday that he was leaving Burbank.
“Ten seconds into it, I broke down,” Barron said, choking on his words. “Burbank is a special, special place for me. I poured my heart and soul into that place. I have a special relationship with those kids. That’s the hardest part of leaving. Those kids gave me everything they had, and so did I and so did my staff. They worked their butts off for me.
“They bought into what I believed in, and they wanted that. They wanted somebody to come in there and believe in them, and give them a chance to be successful. Burbank will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first head-coaching job. I didn’t just grind and put everything I had into that place to get another job. I did that for the kids, the community. That’s just me. If I do something, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.”
Barron said it was especially tough telling running back Matthew Salazar that he wasn’t returning for his senior season.
“Matthew Salazar is like my son,” Barron said. “We share a unique relationship. To have to tell him I was leaving his senior year, after he started for me as a 14-year-old freshman, was hard. I threw him into the fire and he just played his butt off for me for three years. Friday was very emotional because I love all my kids at Burbank.”
Barron also spoke poignantly of his friendship with John Torres, who was called simply “J.T.” by all who knew him. Torres, who was 50 when he died after a long battle with lupus, was offensive coordinator at South San in 2001 when Barron played his only season with the Bobcats. Barron, a running back and quarterback, transferred to South San from West Campus in the spring semester of his junior year.
“I played for him and coached with him, so our relationship evolved,” Barron said. “We became great friends. It was tough to see somebody like J.T. leave us. He was so full of life.”
Torres was head coach at South San for eight seasons (2003-10). After starting his career on Torres’ staff in 2006, Barron left the Bobcats in 2007 to work as a graduate assistant at Bethel College. He returned to San Antonio for a one-year stint at Terrell Wells Middle Schools, and went back to South San in 2009, coaching with Torres for two more years.
Barron remained with the Bobcats until going on to a three-year stint at Madison in 2014. He left for Burbank in 2017, serving as offensive coordinator under Mike Perez before getting promoted to head coach in 2018.
And now, he’s home.