CONCORD – Cox Mill finally got its man.
On Tuesday afternoon, after more than five months, the school introduced Hough High School assistant DeShawn Baker as the new Chargers head football coach.
Baker replaces Craig Stewart, who retired in July and took a job as an assistant coach in South Carolina.
Baker is a Charlotte native and a graduate of Waddell High School. He played collegiately at S.C. State University, where he went on to earn a spot in the school’s athletics hall of fame as a running back.
Although Baker doesn’t have any previous head-coaching experience, he has spent several years as an assistant at many levels. He’s had college stints at Johnson C. Smith, Grambling State University in Louisiana, and his alma mater. He also has coached at Waddell, Myers Park, and for the past five seasons has been at Hough, where he worked under former Concord assistant Matt Jenkins, now the head man for the Huskies.
Cox Mill athletics director Philip Davanzo III said he and Principal Andrew Crook conducted an extensive search for a new coach, which included candidates from across the nation with a variety of backgrounds.
“Mr. Crook and I were very deliberate with this process, as we were fortunate to have the ability to take our time and leave no stone unturned,” Davanzo said. “We had former state championship-winning coaches, college coaches, and many more coaches from all over the country apply.
“We were relentless in our pursuit in finding the right coach that fits our framework. Further, we believe Cox Mill and Cabarrus County are destinations because all of our coaches have the ability to build relationships with our youth leagues, elementary and middle schools that will create life-long pride in Cox Mill High School. Our new coach understands the need for this and has the desire to attack the task.”
Baker first got on Davanzo’s radar during one of his previous stops as an AD. Prior to Cox Mill, Davanzo was at Mallard Creek, and that school shared a conference with Hough. Baker stood out to Davanzo then, even as an assistant.
In recent months, as Cox Mill’s search narrowed, Baker did nothing to convince Davanzo otherwise.
“I was able to watch how he interacted with students, coaches, and administration,” Davanzo said. “What was observed pushed him toward the top of a short list of special coaches, as he optimizes what education based athletics is all about. His focus is on building model citizens, model students, and model athletes: And this was confirmed when we spoke to his fellow coaches, administrators, athlete’s families, and opposing coaches.”
Baker, who turns 36 next month, said he plans to run a fast-striking, spread offense. Baker most recently was the offensive coordinator at Hough, and the Huskies averaged nearly 350 yards per game last season. They also averaged more than 28 points each outing.
Offense has been a big part of Baker’s life in the game. As an explosive running back at S.C. State, he finished as the school’s second all-time leading rusher with 3,695 yards and 33 touchdowns. His yardage total was fifth in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference history when he left school in 2008. He spent time in training camp with the Cleveland Browns, but an injury cut short his pro career.
Defensively, Baker said he plans to employ a 4-2-5 scheme that emphasizes a lot of pressure.
He won’t have much time to install his system with his new players. Because of the novel coronavirus, the N.C. High School Athletic Association pushed the football season back several months. Public-school teams statewide begin practices Feb. 8, and the first games start on Feb. 26.
Last year, the Chargers won a share of the South Piedmont 3A Conference title, but Baker hadn’t personally met any of his players as of Tuesday. He had a team meeting via Zoom on Tuesday afternoon.
“I know the process is really crazy right now, with everything happening within a month,” Baker said. “But I’m here for the challenge, I’m up for the challenge. And once I meet the guys and the guys meet me, I want them to know exactly who I am and how I do things. And hopefully, we can hit the ground running.”