In four seasons, Aaron Barnett resurrected rock-bottom Eudora High into a Frontier League champion and Class 4A state football playoff team.
Now, Barnett will try return Topeka Washburn Rural to glory. On Tuesday, Barnett was named head coach of Washburn Rural, a Class 6A program.
"It's another challenge like when I took this Eudora job," said Barnett, who went 30-10 with two state playoff berths at EHS. "I probably respond better when my back is against the wall than when I'm out in the forefront."
Rural, a three-time 5A state champion in the 1980s and 6A state runner-up to Lawrence High in 1992, has struggled since Ron Bowen retired following the 1997 season. The Junior Blues were 6-30 in four seasons under Nick McGrain, including a 1-8 mark in 2001.
"It's a different time there," said Barnett, who will teach physical education and coordinate the offseason conditioning program at Rural. "I'm not coach Bowen. We want to get back to where the bar was raised. With the support of the administration, we'll get it done."
Barnett, 31, has had opportunities to leave EHS before but didn't want to pass on the Washburn Rural job.
"It just felt good," Barnett said. "I always tell my kids when they're looking at schools to go where they're wanted, not necessarily where they want to go. I really felt wanted at Eudora, but I thought I wanted a change of pace and I really felt good about the fit."
Before Barnett's arrival at EHS, the Cardinals were 32-127 with just one winning season and five winless seasons from 1980 to 1997. Barnett credited four factors in Eudora's turnaround.
"As a head coach I get more credit than I deserve," Barnett said. "There's four key ingredients to a good football team. You have to have the support of the administration, and we got that from (principal) Dale Sample and (superintendent) Marty Kobza. You have to have quality assistant coaches, and I felt we had six coaches who were second to none. You have to have good community and parental support, and I've seen that evolve in Eudora. And I think, most importantly, you have to have good players who have talent and a strong work ethic."
Barnett informed his EHS players of his decision on Wednesday.
"There's never a good time to leave," Barnett said. "Not only are they great players. These are kids I'll be in touch with for the rest of my life."
Among those players Barnett is leaving behind is junior running back Andrew Pyle, who rushed for a school-record 2,334 yards last season and was a second-team all-state pick.
Barnett is the second EHS coach in as many years to leave for Topeka. Former Cardinal boys basketball coach Chad Eshbaugh left last season to take over Topeka West's basketball program.
"When you hire young coaches, there's a chance that they'll leave to bigger schools," Barnett said. "There are probably some kids that feel bad about it and some kids ready for a breath of fresh air."
Washburn Rural will play both LHS and Free State in district games this fall.
"I can't think about the seventh week of our season," Barnett said. "Washburn Rural's won just six games in four years."