PANAMA CITY BEACH — Josh Wright stood at a podium inside Arnold High School’s media center and spoke passionately about what it would take to create the “Blue Army.”
He equated building a football program with that of creating an army, one that can be formidable while also churning out respectable young men. Some of those building blocks in the mission include more focus on academics and behavior on and off the football field, community service and work ethic. Arnold Principal Keith Bland believes all of those traits and more can be instilled by Wright, who was introduced as Arnold’s new football coach on Tuesday.
Wright was the choice out of more than 70 applicants for the position, which came open when James Hale resigned after 13 seasons. Wright spent the past four seasons as head coach at Franklin County, where he tried to change a culture of losing and inferiority in the region at the Eastpoint school, which is a consolidated campus of Carrabelle and Apalachicola.
Wright made strides in that endeavor with 13 victories, which may not seem like much to an outsider, but was a good indicator of growth given how the program was winless for two seasons before he took over. Carrabelle and Apalachicola also had a history of prolonged losing where 13 wins over four seasons would have been considered a breakthrough.
“I’m thrilled and excited, this is a career opportunity,” Wright said. “I thank the interview committee for their endorsement and they will not be disappointed as to how we go about the business of building a first-class program here.”
Wright, 44, also spent 10 years as an assistant coach at Mosley from 1999-2009 and made frequent trips to the area while at Franklin County. His knowledge and ties with Bay County were only two reasons why he was chosen among three finalists. The other two in the running were former Pearl River Community College coach Tim Hatton and Bratt Northview offensive coordinator Ty Wise.
Bland and Wright became friends while Bland was employed at Mosley. Wright’s name immediately surfaced after Hale’s resignation and the murmurs grew louder that he was the favorite for the position. Bland insisted the search was fair and said his friendship with the coach had little to do with the final decision.
“I have a lot of friends in coaching, but if they weren’t qualified for the job I wouldn’t hire them,” Bland said. “We wanted to take this program in a different direction. It’s what’s best for the kids regardless of friendship.”
Bland said he was not involved in ranking the finalists. The remaining five members of a six-person committee provided the final list and Bland made his choice based on what he was looking for in a new coach.
“I knew that he would be ranked highly based on the type of coach he is,” Bland said. “We had some coaches that won state titles. But it was more about fulfilling personal goals for them rather than for the kids.”
Wright spent a few moments of his press conference meeting his new team. The only contact currently was a few handshakes, but Wright said he was anxious to get to work on forming a coaching staff. He is still under contract with Franklin County, but he said he should be released from it soon and hopes to be fully on board at Arnold by March 1.
Wright will meet with some of the remaining football staff and said he has some names in mind to add to the pool of assistants. One of those names is Alan Cox, who was head coach at Choctawhatchee when Wright was an assistant from 1997-99 and also was formerly on staff at Arnold.
Finding quality assistants was what Wright dubbed “Phase 1” of building his Blue Army. The focus will shift to molding Arnold’s program in his vision, which includes building character and accountability, emphasizing a more athletic approach on the field with a Spread offense and continuing the success built by Hale, who guided the Marlins to 80 wins and four postseason appearances.
“I commend coach Hale and his staff on establishing a great level of Marlin Pride and recognize over a decades’ worth of hard and determined work,” Wright said. “We want our players, as well as all the student-athletes at Arnold, to eventually become pillars of the community. We want them motivated and put them in a position to win games.”
Wright was hired to an administrative position at Arnold. His salary will be between $58,565-58,622 based on his previous head-coaching experience.