PLEASANT GROVE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR AND HEAD FOOTBALL COACH JOSH GIBSON REFLECTS ON HIS CAREER AND LEADING THE HAWKS TO BECOME THE 2017 4A-DIVISION II STATE CHAMPIONS
by LINDSEY MCMILLAN
The Pleasant Grove high school football team succeeded in grasping a goal many years in the making with an undefeated (16-0) perfect season, winning the 4A state championship in 2017. This is a dream Hawk fans have been waiting for and one which was made possible with the help of Josh Gibson, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach. Arriving at the end of the 2013-14 school year, Coach Gibson met some energetic eighth grade players and instilled a motto which remains today, stronger than ever. He told them then to strive for success by putting their hearts and souls into the program. This theme of heart and soul has energized and inspired the entire team under Josh’s leadership. Now those eighth graders have just graduated, nine of them receiving college athletic scholarship offers, a school record.
Josh has been so impressed with the growth of the team as a whole as well as the superior encouragement and support from parents, teachers, and the entire Pleasant Grove community. Within four short years, the football team, along with other athletic team accomplishments, have cemented the district within a solid, competitive playing field. Emphasizing family, the success the team experiences is always celebrated as a tightly-knit group. And the accolades in 2017 were plentiful.
Recently named the 2017 Texas 4A Coach of the Year by both Texas Sports Writers and Dave Campbell and also the recipient of the 2017 ETSN Coach of the Year, Josh’s love of football and coaching began at an early age. The son of educators and administrators, he claims to have “lived at the field house from four years of age,” growing up watching his father coach at both the high school and collegiate levels. His father, Vance, has spent 43 years coaching football and is currently the Head Coach at Frisco High School.
Growing up in Huntsville, Texas, Josh witnessed his mother, Linda, interact with her students and his stepfather, Robert, who also coached at Sam Houston State University with his father. After high school, Josh earned a football scholarship to Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, where he played all four years and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and History. He refers to his father as his hero and pillar of strength, saying it was an honor and privilege to play under him both for high school and college.
After one year teaching and coaching at Granbury High School, Josh transferred to Plano High School where he remained for three years. His father had coached at the college level for over 20 years and when he landed at Frisco High School, Josh was able to join him for what he says were nine great years working alongside both his dad and brother, Justin. When Josh moved to Pleasant Grove to accept the AD/Head Football coaching position, Justin was alongside him once again, serving as the Assistant Head football coach and Offensive Coordinator at PG.
Deeply committed to family, Josh claims that he always had good examples to follow who helped him every step of the way. He notes that his grandfather instilled in him the value of belief and confidence in others. He met his wife, Jennifer, while in middle school, and she also is an educator, serving as PG’s Director of the Career & Technology department and received the district’s Teacher of the Year award in her second year there. The Gibsons have a son, Jackson, who is 13 and attends Pleasant Grove Middle School and their older daughter, Jordan, is a student at the University of North Texas. Brother Justin’s wife, Summer, is also on staff at PGHS working in the Special Education department, and she is also the recipient of the Teacher of the Year award. Josh’s sister, Jennifer, and her husband live in College Station where he also works in athletics with Texas A&M University and previously worked as a street coach with the Dallas Cowboys. It was his brother-in-law, Darby, in fact, who helped him develop the program at PG with the building of the Strength and Conditioning class offered to students of a variety of ages every summer. The first summer, 25 students participated, and it grew dramatically to include 125 students the following year. It is this steady progress and development of the athletic program Josh envisioned upon first arriving at PG.
Intending to “close the gap” to better the football team, the first season after Josh’s arrival, PG finished by making the playoffs. By his third season, PG finished three rounds deep and were competing against top-ranked teams. In a quick turnaround, PG clenched the state title, defeating West Orange Stark High School 41-21 in Dallas last December. Josh says, “We were coming up against the Goliath and close to accomplishing my goal to build an elite football and athletic program which was the best in the state.”
The team and Coach Gibson received a myriad of awards during the past four years, earning praise from leaders in the community, teachers, students, and their families. Such accolades include the MaxPreps Tour of Champions where the team is nationally-ranked as one of the top 50 programs in the country and the 2017 Army School of the Week, where in the seventh week of the season, PG defeated Gilmer, the first school to do so in 17 years. This win was particularly important seeing as it was a victory in a district game on their home field. One accomplishment Josh is particularly proud of is PG’s performance in what is called the Lone Star Cup, where points are given for achievement in the area of athletics, academics, and the fine arts. This acknowledgment is given across the state, ranging from 1A to 6A schools.
All-around development in Coach Gibson’s players centers around four core values. This he believes sets the foundation for a prominent player and program. The first of these is the building of relationships. Josh says that this is paramount, having a relationship with his athletes and their families. He refers to his players as his “kids” and goes through the ups and downs with them every step of the way. He believes this is important in setting a firm foundation for the future and Pleasant Grove football parents can attest to this, commending his attention and direction for their sons. The second core value is growth, and this is concentrated in more areas than on the playing field. Josh expects all of his players to give as much effort to their academics and extracurricular activities as they do to their sport. The growth of the football program since his arrival has been incredible; the athletic programs, boosters, and school district support has improved in many areas. This continuous building of his athletic program and establishing well-rounded players is the future challenge for PG. The third core value he emphasizes is that of accountability. Coach Gibson expects his players to meet the high standards expected of them in all areas of their life. This is achieved best by discipline and expecting all athletes to behave accordingly following all rules set for them or to “reap what you sow,” as Coach Gibson says. The fourth and final value of importance is that of belief. This is not only the belief in oneself but belief in their coaches, teachers and school. It is in this belief that he says a student can find his or her unlimited potential.
When asked what his vision is for Pleasant Grove athletics, Josh emphasizes how his journey to PGISD has been one of great accomplishment in a variety of areas and where he is proud to be part of such an exemplary school district. Seeing the excitement and support from the students, parents, grandparents, and community as a whole is everything to him. This is what he loves most about PG, saying that it is just like the district’s motto, “PG is for me.” His family is happy here in Texarkana and despite having received recent offers to move to larger school districts within the state, the Gibsons are at home, adding that this has been his greatest challenge: serving others and offering his best to those who have become a second family to him. His immediate reaction/feeling after winning the state football championship was that of gratitude, feeling blessed at having the opportunity to work with the best people, people he frequently gets emotional about. For a coach centered on family, dedication and servitude, Josh Gibson most definitely has achieved one impressive goal by way of heart and soul.