Bachtal: 'We are going to strive for excellence'
Jason Bachtel was emotional during his first few moments at the podium Friday after being introduced as Howard Payne University’s 24th head football coach.
Addressing the media and other community members at HPU’s Mabee Center, Bachtel — a 2003 HPU graduate and former Yellow Jacket quarterback — fought to keep his composure as he acknowledged family members, the HPU administration and the board of directors.
“Wow. Great to be home,” Bachtel said after HPU president Dr. Cory Hines and athletic director Hunter Sims welcomed Bachtel, his wife Tara and their children to the HPU community.
Throughout the approximately 15 minutes Bachtel spoke, he repeated his goal of building a “top tier” Division III program that plays for a national championship. His statements of his football philosophies included his love of “deep ball” and scoring points. He said also said the Yellow Jackets will have a sound defense, acknowledged the work of his predecessor and praised the coaching staff, which he said will remain intact.
“I’m excited to be the first alum in the modern history of Howard Payne to be the next football coach here,” Bachtel said. “We’ve got a tough road ahead of us. Our kids know that. Our coaches know that. I know that. But we are going to attack it head on and we are going to strive for excellence.”
That “tough road” includes the circumstances under which Bachtel is taking the job.
With fall sports postponed in the American Southwest Conference until the spring semester because of COVID, the HPU football team was scheduled to have its first practice Saturday — just days after Bachtel arrived on campus.
Bachtel replaces Braxton Harris, who announced his resignation in December after three seasons. The Yellow Jackets finished the 2019 season under Harris with a 5-5 record.
Bachtel also starts work under the challenges of COVID. One hundred percent of the football team has tested negative for the virus, Bachtel said.
The Yellow Jackets’ first game will be at home against Texas Lutheran University on Feb. 9.
“The vision that was thrown in front of me, from the the very first phone call to our very last phone, call eased my mind in where this university is going, and where we want to take the football program,” Bachtel said, referring to his hiring as head football coach.
Bachtel described HPU as “a place that I truly hold very dear to my heart, a place that I call home." He noted that he met his wife at HPU and family members including his dad, uncle and cousins played football at the university.
“From the days of playing for Vance Gibson in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, this is a day that I’ve always dreamed about, to follow in his footsteps,” Bachtel said.
Bachtel described Gibson as a mentor and “one of the greatest coaches in Howard Payne history. I love him dearly but I also told him I want to be better than him. So how do we do that?”
Bachtel answered the question by saying it’s going to “take our community. It’s going to take our alumni. It’s going to take our individual students, take our football players. It’s going to take our president, and our athletic director and the whole Howard Payne community to rally around this program and let’s continue to build on what Braxton Harris has already done. What a great job Braxton Harris did over his time here."
Bachtel recalled sitting in the stands as a youngster and watching his cousins play for HPU.
Speaking on the challenge posed by Harris' December departure, Bachtel said, "I think those kids have got to learn me, they’ve got to learn who I am and what I stand for and know that I’m here for them.”
Bachtel also said he’s sought to reassure the coaching staff that “everything is OK and we are going to proceed with the program and what’s already been in place, and that they are very capable of continuing without me being here.
“More than anything I’m going to support these guys that are already here.”
Bachtel also said he will “sit back and observe” and will be heavily involved in recruiting.
“I played in the days where we were always in the national rankings, and we were fighting for our conference championship,” Bachtel said. “Those days are ahead of us. Those are the days we want to get back to.
“We want to be one of the top programs in the conference. We also want to be one of the top programs in the nation. We want to fight for a playoff spot. We want to play for a national championship. If any coach tells you that’s not their goal, then why are they in the business?”
Bachtel spent the 2020 season as the offensive coordinator at Argyle High School, helping guide the team to the 4A Division I State Championship. He previously worked as offensive coordinator at East Texas Baptist University for two seasons.
In two seasons at ETBU, the team averaged nearly 500 total yards per game and 36.9 points per game. ETBU's offense recorded over 600 yards of total offense three times in the 2018 season. His passing offense of 300.6 yards per game led the American Southwest Conference that year.
As a student-athlete in the American Southwest Conference, Bachtel was a three-year letterman at quarterback for the Yellow Jackets. In those three seasons, HPU won nineteen games and the Yellow Jackets finished his senior year at 8-2 overall.
Sims, the HPU athletic director, noted Bachtel faces the challenge of coaching two back-to-back seasons — this spring and the fall.
Sims said HPU’s new football coach “needed to embody to embody three things — one, deeply rooted in his Christian faith, number two, a proven winner, and a champion and a man who man who can lead men to embody those traits as well. Coach Bachtel hits those marks and then some.
“We believe that he’s the perfect fit for Howard Payne University and our football program.”