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Bryant (Arkansas) football coach Buck James leaving for league rival Conway

James departs in the midst of a 53-game in-state win streak and a run of five Class 7A state championships
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By Nate Olson | Photo by Tommy Land 

The dominant Bryant High School football program has lost two key cogs over the past week and Tuesday, in a stunning turn of events, lost the head coach who took the program to historic heights. 

The Bryant School District confirmed in a statement Tuesday morning that head coach Buck James has resigned his post and is taking the open job at league rival Conway High School. The Wampus Cats began looking for a replacement this month when former head coach Keith Fimple took the Springdale athletic director job.

James’ bombshell comes on the heels of rising senior quarterback Gideon Motes, last year’s state championship game MVP and a University of Arkansas baseball commit, announcing he is giving up football to stay healthy for baseball and four-star defensive end TJ Lindsey announcing he is playing his senior season at the prestigious IMG Academy.

James finishes his seven-year tenure at Bryant with an 80-9 mark. The Hornets were 12-0 last season, marking the third time he helped the Hornets to an unblemished record. Bryant currently rides a 53-game in-state win streak. The only team to beat them since a league loss to North Little Rock in 2017 is Longview (Texas), which held on to knock them off 24-21 in 2021. That loss snapped a 32-game win streak.

James takes over a Wampus Cats program that he has been a thorn in the side of, never losing to the league rival in his tenure at BHS. In 2021, Bryant trailed by double-digits in the second half at Conway but pulled out a dramatic win to seal the 7A-Central Conference championship. Last season, James and Bryant beat Conway twice – 34-16 in the regular season and 42-21 in the 7A state playoff semifinals. 

The Wampus Cats have been one of the top teams in Class 7A the past three seasons, qualifying for the state playoff semifinals those years — losing to Bryant twice. Conway, which finished 10-3 last season, was No. 3 in the final SBLive Arkansas Top 25 rankings and expected to be in the Top 5 when the preseason rankings are released in August. 

Before the Bryant news, the Hornets would have been a favorite to repeat as conference champions with Cabot, which finished second in the Top 25 and beat Conway last season, and the Wampus Cats fighting for the No. 2 spot.

Major change was already expected on the coaching staff and in the Bryant athletic department as longtime athletic director Mike Lee announced he was taking a maintenance supervisor job with the South Conway School District. His last day in Bryant is June 30. Bryant named offensive coordinator and longtime James confidant Kirk Bock as Lee’s replacement. Later, defensive coordinator Quad Sanders took the Jonesboro High School head-coaching job. James was reportedly promoting current assistants to fill those key vacancies.

James, who is a University of Arkansas at Monticello Hall of Fame football player, began his career at Star City and moved to Camden Fairview, where he won a 5A state championship in 2012 with the Cardinals after losing to Greenwood in the 2010 title game. After briefly serving as the offensive line coach and assistant athletic director at Little Rock Christian, he was hired by his former professional baseball scouting colleague, Lee, at Bryant in 2015.

After promising parents a state title at the initial meeting at the school, he had BHS in the state playoff semifinals for the first time in school history in a 9-4 debut season in 2016. After another state semifinals loss in 2017, the Hornets embarked on their run of five consecutive state titles. 

In 2018, Bryant jumped to a big early lead on North Little Rock only to lose that game, 34-28. Bryant beat North Little Rock a few weeks later in the 7A state championship game, 27-7, and hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent since that late October 2018 game at North Little Rock.

Midway through his tenure, James adopted the ‘212’ mantra. Water is only hot at 211 degrees but with the extra degree at 212, it boils. That has become a rallying cry for his program and, overall, for the commuter town just outside of Little Rock. It is common to see ‘212’ on T-shirts, store windows, car windows and even scrawled on trashcans at Hornet Stadium. It is perhaps fitting that James will end his Bryant career with an overall record of 212-37.