The story of Mart head coach Kevin Hoffman and offensive coordinator Steve Burrow stretches the boundaries of Central Texas and beyond.
It is also a tale thick with local ties.
Waco. Robinson. West. Groesbeck. And of course, Mart. The long road to Panther country has worn the tread off a few sets of tires for the longtime friends.
As is the case with a lot of deep-rooted friendships, they met as teenagers playing sports — Hoffman competing at Robinson High School, Burrow at Connally.
“We became good friends playing in the same leagues as kids, you know, junior and senior leagues and things like that,” Burrow said. “We played against each other quite a bit.”
That friendship continued into their professional lives, as each became coaches at their respective alma maters in 1991. Hoffman and Burrow remained assistants at Connally and Robinson for over a decade until Burrow was offered the head coaching job for the Cadets in 2000. And when the Rockets decided to make a head coaching change of their own in 2003, Hoffman knew it was time to make a decision regarding his young career.
“I was hoping I would be the head coach at Robinson, but that all fell through and they went a different direction,” Hoffman said. “If you’re a coordinator and they bring in another staff, you see the writing on the wall and you’re probably going to have to go find another job.”
It didn’t take long for Burrow to pick up the phone.
“In the years I was at Connally, we talked a lot about getting him to come over here,” Burrow said. “My last year here, they went through a coaching change at Robinson and he was the offensive coordinator there. We started talking and I told him I had a job for him. So he came over.”
The two built a special 2003 season for Connally, pushing the Cadets back to the postseason before losing to Jasper in overtime. Burrow then took the head position at Crockett the following year, but there wasn’t any doubt about Hoffman staying on Burrow’s staff.
Their stint in Crockett lasted just three years and ended when Hoffman’s wife, a women’s basketball coach at the high school, was offered a job in Coppell. Hoffman knew the move was a no-brainer for her blossoming career, but knew his time as a coach was in question. In the meantime, Burrow was moving himself and his family to Groesbeck to lead the Goats.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get out of coaching, I was just kind of in limbo to be honest,” Hoffman said. “I actually took a job at a middle school in Coppell and I kept in touch with Steve as much as I could and what they were doing. After three or four months I thought, man this is not me and I need to get back on varsity and Friday nights. I missed it.”
The coaching carousel continued, as Burrow moved closer to home by taking a job at West. Hoffman, meanwhile, headed to Gainesville for a short stretch before getting into contact with Mart head coach Rusty Nail.
“My parents were getting into bad health and I wanted to get back and take care of them and called Coach Nail,” Hoffman said. “He had an opening, so I took the offensive coordinator job. I knew there were big shoes to fill, but jumped at the opportunity.”
A school thick with championship history, Hoffman in 2009 helped add to the already full Panther trophy case, winning a state championship in 2010 and playing for another in 2012. With Burrow now at West, the two remained in touch, bouncing thought after thought on how to reunite with one another until fate intervened in 2014.
Hoffman was selling his parents’ house after their passing and requested a meeting with Nail to discuss his future.
“I went into Coach Nail’s office and told him that I didn’t want to put roots down and a year or two later he wanted me to come with him, because I was going wherever he went,” Hoffman said. “He then told me he was getting out of coaching. He told me he was going to recommend that they give me the head job, and my jaw just hit the ground.
“I took the job and one of the first people that I called was Steve and we sat on his back porch I and told him I was going to be the next head coach at Mart and asked if he wanted to be my offensive coordinator, the job he offered me years before.”
Though having success at West, Burrow knew it was too good of a deal to pass up.
“When he asked me, I said ‘shoot yeah, I’ll be there tomorrow,’ ” Burrow said. “The first chance we had to get back together, we got back together.”
The two hit the ground running in Mart, making the playoffs in 2015 and in 2016, with the Panthers ending a deep playoff run with a loss to rival and eventual state runner-up Crawford.
This year, the Panthers have rattled off 14 straight after a Week 1 loss to Lexington, including a 33-13 romping of Stratford last weekend that brought with it Burrow’s first trip to a state title game in his 29-year career. Hoffman couldn’t help but think of his dear friend as his team was celebrating its semifinal victory.
“I looked at him and said 29 years,” Hoffman said. “He was beside himself. You could see a little tear running down his eyes.”
Waiting for the Panthers at AT&T Stadium is perennial power Refugio, a team that downed Crawford last season on its way to a Class 2A Division I title. It will be an unforgettable moment in each of the coaches’ lives, and both know the chance to be coaching side by side in such a special place is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A win would be icing on the cake.
“Twenty-nine years is a long time,” Burrow said. “Honestly, my nerves have been pretty calm this week. Kevin told me that I would have a chance to do this if I came to Mart and play for the big one, and here we are. Let’s go get a win.”
Hoffman wants nothing more for his buddy.
“Wednesday night. 7 o’clock. AT&T Stadium,” Hoffman said. “We are going to be there and we will play our tails off until there isn’t any time left on the clock, that much I know.”
JONESBORO — Jonesboro’s football team has been proving people wrong all season.