By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Jordan Riley said becoming the new head boys’ basketball coach at Heber Springs was like coming home.
Riley was born in 1990 at Heber Springs when his father, Alvin Riley, coached the Panthers and his aunt, Kristie Dunlap was head coach of the Lady Panthers.
“It will give me a chance of living closer to family,” said Riley when asked about what attracted him to the job. “Heber (Springs) boys do have a good history, but not great lately. It’s an opportunity to build the program back to success. Heber (Springs) is an awesome community with good fan support I feel good about what we can accomplish.”
Riley’s wife, Kelsi, who is a business teacher at Midland High School, will serve in a similar capacity at HSHS. The Rileys are parents of a son, Drew, 14-months-old.
Alvin Riley coached the Panthers for three years, beginning with the 1988-89 season. Riley led the Panthers to a 24-8 record and the quarterfinals of the Class 3A tournament. The 24 wins was a school single-season record at that time.
Heber Springs advanced to the regional tournament under Riley during the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons.
Riley said his father has been the biggest influence on his coaching career.
“He won more than 800 games during his career, and he is a tough path to follow,” Riley said. “I will try and carry on that legacy.”
Jordan Riley is a graduate of Vilonia High School. At that time, Heber Springs superintendent Dr. Andy Ashley was the Vilonia assistant principal. Heber Springs athletic director Tim Bullington, who was an assistant coach for Alvin Riley, severed as a school administrator at Vilonia.
Jordan Riley graduated with a degree in management information systems from the University of Central Arkansas in 2013. He worked the next four years at Acxiom in Conway before deciding to pursue his dream of becoming a coach.
Riley received a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 2017 and was named assistant coach at Two Rivers High School in Ola. He was promoted the next season to head coach and held that position for the next three years.
Riley led Two Rivers to back-to-back state tournaments before becoming head girls coach at Southside Batesville in 2019.
Riley coached the past two seasons at Southside Batesville. The Lady Southerners were 6-21 the year before he was named head coach and finished 17-9 last season.
Riley will be a head coach of a boys’ team for the first time, but he believes the transition will go smooth.
“The key is learn how to handle each player,” he said. “Every person is different. The main thing is to show the players you care for them and want to help them become the best it can be.”
Riley is ready to start as soon as his schedule allows and plans to meet this week with his new players. He will look at the strengths of his players in formulating a system for the Panthers.
“We will play at the pace that benefits us,” he said. “We will not necessary play just fast or slow. I prefer playing a physical man-to-man defense. The most important thing on offense is taking good shots.”
Riley hopes to get a start on Riley will juggle time between Southside and Heber Springs for the remainder of the school year.
“I would love to start practice because some of the players will be in football,” he said. “It takes time to put in a system.”
Riley will become the fifth head coach in six seasons of the Panthers and looks forward to turning the program around. Heber Springs was 1-23 last season.
“I watched the team on film and they have some good players,” he said. “The junior high group coming up is talented. The pieces are there for a good team.”
Dusty West served as interim coach this past season and was teammates with Riley at Vilonia.