Tom Horn, director of athletics at George Mason High School and, for the past 15 years, head coach of Mason’s football team, announced Wednesday that he will be stepping down as coach.
Horn told the News-Press he made the decision because he has been offered an opportunity to expand his administrative role with the school, and wants to ensure that the football program has a leader whose sole focus is the success of that program.
“It requires nothing less than singular focus on that one professional goal, and that is to be a successful football coach,” Horn said. “For years, that was my path. But over the last five or six years, the other side of my profession – the athletic director side – has started to receive an equal amount of attention to professional growth in that realm. At some point you have to let one not be as successful as it should be.”
Horn joined Mason’s athletics program in 1996, filling a temporary vacancy for the athletic director position, and began coaching the football team in 1997. At first he didn’t intend to return after the end of his temporary term as athletic director, but stayed on when given the chance to combine both positions. “It was a no-brainer,” he said.
Only 14 players showed up to his first practice. Horn said, “There was not a clear expectation that football players did x, y, and z.” The challenges of the position early on were making sure players knew what level of commitment was required to be on the football team, and transitioning the program from one that filled its season with private-school matchups to one that took on single-A football teams.
“The ability to win a district title seemed so far fetched in the middle 90s,” Horn said, but the team earned three in Horn’s tenure. He admits that the accomplishment may seem slight, but from where the program started, he says those achievements are significant.
Horn said the more recent challenge has been staying focused on the football team while Mason’s athletics program has “blown up” (in a good way), with new sports being added and sports programs stepping up to consistently prove themselves on not only the local, but also the state level.
The past 15 years have seen growth not only in the football program, but also in Horn’s training off the field. He’s taken courses to earn certification as a teacher and administrator, and is currently president-elect of the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
Looking back at his time as football coach, he remembers the great game moments and the tales of players who transformed themselves into strong athletes through the program – those players who might not have had a shot at a bigger school. But his biggest source of pride, he said, is seeing how the players have taken what they learned on the field with them into their lives after Mason, with some former football players choosing to become police officers, fire fighters, and members of the military.
“To have been a part of that and to see them as grown men serving our communities, for me, after 15 years, that’s the thing I think about most, and most often,” Horn said.
Mason will soon begin the process of finding the next coach to lead the football team, and Horn promises to “continue to do for football anything that helps the football program.” But Horn is glad that now the school can find a coach to be fully focused on the football team.
“I’m not going anywhere, I’m not abandoning anything,” Horn said. “I’m thrilled with the confidence that the school administration has shown in me to grow professionally, but still be able to make sure the school athletes can continue to succeed.”