Lee Hays says Tarleton State University and the community of Stephenville have always intrigued him.
So has the idea of working with Tarleton head football coach Cary Fowler.
Now, Hays has the opportunity to get to know Tarleton, Stephenville and Fowler better than he ever imagined.
Hays, who played at Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1996 and has spent the majority of his coaching career at either TAMUK or West Texas A&M, is bringing his version of the "air-raid" offense to Tarleton as offensive coordinator.
The hiring became official just recently, after long delays associated with hiring limitations on campus.
Now that Hays is under contract and hard at work preparing his offensive staff and players for the upcoming spring ball, Fowler is breathing a sigh of relief.
"It was big for us to get him in here before spring ball not just so he can start implementing his system, but so he can be here to communicate with these kids, developing relationships and building trust with them," Fowler said.
"He's one of the best recruiters this league's ever seen," the head coach continued. "I remember recruiting against him, and you knew if you were going heads up against him for a kid, whether he was at Kingsville or WT, you knew you were going up against the best.
"Then you research the offense he took to WT," Fowler added. "Even when he didn't have a lot to work with they were putting up big numbers, then in 2005 they just took off."
Hays' offensive unit led WT to its best season in 55 years in 2005. The Buffaloes won the LSC championship and reached the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs, thanks largely to impressive averages of 40.3 points and 477.2 yards per game.
"This offensive system was originally studied by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach at BYU, then they took it to (Division II) Valdosta State and had success," Hays said. "So they took it with them to Kentucky, then Leach went to Oklahoma (as an assistant) and had success there before he got the (Texas Tech) job.
"You spread the field and set up the run by throwing," he continued. "It's a flexible system that can be changed from year-to-year based on personnel. That's what I like about it. That and it pressures the defense both horizontally and vertically."
He says as complicated as the system looks, it is surprisingly simple.
"It's a very simple system that has a lot of checks based on what the defense does," Hays said. "It's based on the repetition of a lot of simple routes. The concept is simple, yet you can do it out of multiple formations so it adds a lot of stress to the defense."
Hays took off to the Division I ranks after WT's big 2005 season, serving as offensive coordinator at Baylor in 2006 and 2007. The 2006 Bears averaged 23.6 points per game, their best in a decade. Baylor broke virtually all its single game and season passing records that season, finishing third in the Big 12 and 11th nationally with 275 passing yards per game.
Even with all the passing records, Hays values the ability to run the ball.
"We're going to have some good backs here," Hays said. "I've been studying some of the things Nevada and Tulsa do with their running games (out of similar offenses), and I like what I see there."
Hays was offensive line coach at Sam Houston State in 2009 and served as an offensive assistant at the University of Houston last fall.
Prior to playing for TAMUK, Hays served in the United States Marine Corps from 1987-1996. He completed Marine Coprs Sniper School and rose to the rank of staff sergeant.
"He's a former Marine, and that's the type of discipline he demands," said Fowler. "He has exactly the kind of discipline and character I want on my coaching staff."
Hays replaces Scott Carey, who resigned in December to take a similar position at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. He has since left Coffeyville, choosing instead to return to Colorado School of Mines, where he served previously.
In addition to serving as offensive coordinator, Carey also coached the offensive line at Tarleton.
Hays is currently splitting time between helping with the offensive line and the offensive skill players. The long-term plan is to hire an offensive line coach so Hays can coach quarterbacks and 2009 quarterbacks coach Justin Carrigan can lead the receivers.
Spring ball begins March 23 at Tarleton, the third day students will be back from spring break.
That's when preparations for the 2011 season will take another leap in intensity. In the meantime, Hays has enjoyed reacquainting himself with Stephenville and the Tarleton campus.
"The last time I came here was for the (de facto) conference championship in 2005," Hays said. "When I first got here and drove through campus, I hardly recognized the place because they have made so many changes.
"Stephenville is the type of place where you want to raise a family, the type of place you hope to stay until you retire," he added. "You think about those things when you have (two young children)."
Hays, 43, and his wife, Roxanne, have a daughter, Shanlee, and a son, Cade.
"The quality of living here is great," Hays said. "And at Tarleton, they have done a great job of making everything as close to Division I as you can get in a Division II environment. I've always been intrigued by Tarleton."
And Hays and Fowler have always been intrigued by one another.
"I've always known about Coach Fowler from afar," Hays said. "I've known for a long time what kind of defensive coach and recruiter he is.
"As a coach you always want to work with coaches who have the same beliefs and philosophy as you do," he continued. "Our beliefs and philosophy are definitely on the same page."
Fowler couldn't agree more.
"We were watching film of (WT in 2005) the other day and one thing we noticed was how hard his kids play for him, and that's how hard my defensive kids have always played for me," Fowler said. "We've decided to put those systems together and see what happens."