In sports, there is no more unforgiving job than that of a coach. If the coach’s team wins, the players get praised. If the team loses, the coach is vilified for making the wrong decisions -- the ultimate lose-lose scenario. In college athletics, schools are broken down into three main Divisions: I, II, and III.

Division I schools get the most attention, have the best athletes, and have the most money. Division II schools are often underfunded and get next to no media attention. Division III schools are at the lowest end of the totem pole.

As such, the coaching staffs for these smaller schools, are given more responsibility than their Division I counterparts, as their staffs are much smaller. If coaches at the Division I level have it rough, their Division III counterparts have it 100 times worse.

Rarely, if ever, do Division III coaches get media attention, but there is one coach, that has done so much for his school and for Division III athletics in general, that his story is one that deserves to be read.

Jordan Neal, 34, is the Men’s Football Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach at Hendrix College.

A native of Abilene Texas, Coach Neal has been in the business for well over a decade and has transitioned the lessons he learned as a small school starting quarterback into his coaching acumen.

Q: Tell us about you?

Jordan: “I went to Abilene Cooper high school and played in the old, what they used to call the Little Southwest Conference, which was one of the top high school districts in the state of Texas. Some of my earliest football memories are from Abilene Cooper. I stayed in town for college and went to Hardin-Simmons University.

Graduated High School in 2001. My first year of college football was 2001. I stayed in the program for six years as I redshirted twice. One was a regular redshirt and the other, a medical redshirt. Worked on a master's degree and was able to remain eligible throughout my six years of college. I played quarterback there and started for three years. Had a great experience playing and won several conference championships. As soon as I got to Hardin-Simmons, I met my wife. Actually, I even lived in Sweden for a year and played football for their team.

“In Sweden, the name of the team was the Limhamn Griffins. Played there for a year and I played for the Swedish national championship, which was a great experience. Then, I came back home, kind of hung up the cleats, and my first job was as Offensive Coordinator for Howard Payne University in Brownwood Texas. It’s a D-3 school and was actually a rival school that I used to play against. I also spent one year at Texas Lutheran University, also a D-3 school coach, as the Offensive Line Coach for one season and then came to Conway, Arkansas to coach at Hendrix.

I've been coaching at Hendrix since 2013 so that's kind of what gets us to the present.”

Q: What did you want to do with your life?

Jordan: “I really didn't know what I wanted to do, so it was a little bit difficult when I graduated college. I was kind of drifting, a little bit aimlessly. Getting an opportunity to continue to play football really solidified in my mind that I wanted to be around the game. That was my passion.

“When I was done playing in Sweden I came home and didn't have a job lined up.

Within a very short time, I was able to get my first job opportunity, calling plays. I discovered pretty quickly that that was my interest and my forte. I felt like I excelled at that from day one and I just continued to get better and better.”

The Beginning

Q: How did you get started in the coaching world?

Jordan: “I had no idea what to expect when I first got back stateside. I had a vague plan that I was going to get back and I was going to try and continue to work on school and then jump back on board as a graduate assistant at Hardin-Simmons.

As it turns out, there was a coaching change going on at Howard Payne.

“When I got back, my coach that I played for, Coach Jimmy Keeling, at Hardin-Simmons, he was one of those guys that could pick up the phone and if you were a smart monkey he could get you a job, he could give you a recommendation. He was that well-connected.

“He was that influential and he was able to make some phone calls on my behalf and give me an opportunity to interview down there. Of course, I had to take it from there. But I went and interviewed. I checked out the school and kind of got familiar with the program and the vision for what was going to be taking place down there.

It just worked out and I was able to get the job. They were looking for a young coach and having played in the same conference I fit the bill. I got that opportunity, at such a young age, and I'm really grateful for that. I just kind of ran with it ever since and I have yet to be so enticed to go and do something else. I was thankful to get an opportunity, to get on board at Texas Lutheran.

“I've never done anything besides coach quarterbacks, offensive skill players and so on. Getting a chance to coach a position that I had really no idea about and having to deal with that challenge helped me to kind of take another step. When I got to Hendrix it was back to a play calling role and coaching the quarterbacks. We've been able to build from one year to the next.

It's really just been a steady growth and maturation process from when I got the first job opportunity until now.”

The path to success

Q: How have you changed as a coach?

Jordan: “One of the things that I have learned over time is that you can't coach kids the way that you would coach yourself. What I mean by that, is as a player, I responded well to coaches that were hard on me, that had extremely high expectations for me, and frankly, guys that would yell and scream. Guys that you learned to play for them almost out of fear. When I was a young coach I was a little bit more tough minded. I've learned to not yell and scream as much.

I've learned to be a better teacher and to be a little bit more calculated and communicative with the way I deal with kids because of what each of them requires.

“As far as play calling is concerned, I'm really a lot more innovative after doing this for 10 years. Over time you get to learn more systems, more coaches, you have more conversations. You learn to be a little bit more perceptive about what the trends are and where the game is heading. When I first was calling plays we would huddle up. We still spread the ball around and throw the ball quite a bit. Now we are a no-huddle, fast-tempo team.

Completely run pass option and vertical passing game. As a play caller, I've learned to take calculated risks, knowing how and when it's appropriate to be aggressive, and when it's appropriate to be a little bit more conservative.

“Generally speaking, I'm a lot more aggressive than I used to be as a young coach. Now we're trying to go hang up big numbers. We're not trying to control the clock. It's a lot more about production and speed and doing things efficiently as opposed to that slow pace huddle style football. So those are just a few ways I think that I've changed over the course of 10 years.”

Q: Mentors?

Jordan: Randy Allen, who was head football coach of Abilene Cooper during the time he coached my older brother -- back in 1991 and 1992.

Jimmy Keeling, who I mentioned before, and Alan Wartes who was my offensive coordinator at Hardin-Simmons University.”

Current Position

Q: Hendrix Football?

Jordan: “Now I'm the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach, and I also have a couple of different hats that I wear. It's pretty typical in Division III football. You don't just get to coach and recruit like some of these guys in the Division I ranks. I’m the recruiting coordinator and also the summer camp director. As well, I’m the de facto man in charge of our social media. That's pretty typical of a Division III school, as our Defensive Coordinator is also our Video Coordinator.

“Our Head Coach coaches tight ends and is actually moving over to coach the defensive line this year. He also does our travel and our equipment so it's pretty common that you would do quite a bit. It's been a really fun experience at Hendrix because we started from scratch in 2013. We had no players. We had no infrastructure, just an idea and a vision for what we wanted to build at our place. Hendrix College is a top-100 liberal arts institution in the United States. It is right up there with the top schools and we're one of the premier universities in the south and the top academic institution in the state of Arkansas.

We've got a lot of name recognition in terms of quality of our academics here. We knew when we started this program that we wanted to recruit the right type of kid to our school.

“That's been our approach since day one, we've been very fortunate. We had a very competitive first season that we played with all freshmen in 2013. We were able to actually lead our league in offense that season and we ended up going 3-7 and we were really just a couple of plays away from having a winning season, in our first year against established programs. Then in our second year, we had a winning season which was a huge accomplishment for us.

“Even though you don't go into a year saying, we want to be 3-7 or we want to be 6-4, you want to compete in every ballgame and you treat every ball game like it's a winnable game. We told our players from day one that we weren't going to accept anything less than going out and expecting ourselves to win. Starting out that way, we established a confidence level that we could compete, and then we had that winning season in year two which gave us a huge boost of confidence and then we won a conference championship in our third year back in 2015.

“At this point, we're going into our fifth year and we're excited about what's to come. We feel like we've got a great chance to compete and that we can get better so fast now.”

Q: Dream Bowl?

Jordan: “Getting to coach a football game in the latter part of January is just something that so few people get an opportunity to do. It's really fun, right in the middle of our recruiting efforts because that's obviously a heavy recruiting time of year for us, in our program. Getting to get away and go to the AFC convention and then be able to dovetail that with going to coach a ball game at the Dream Bowl has just been a really fun vacation, and having an opportunity coach at the same time.

“It's been a great experience for me and I can't say how thankful I am to everybody that's involved with the game, especially Neil Malvone and the Cutting Edge staff. I've just enjoyed it a ton.”

Don't miss our page on Facebook!
Click to read more