Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Basketball coach Walt Aikens named interim football coach at Harding

Harding boys basketball coach Walter Aikens will also coach the Rams' football team this fall, he told the Observer Wednesday.

Aikens, 48, was named interim coach this week, replacing former Carolina Panther Deveron Harper. Harper said he was forced to step down while he finished requirements for his N.C. certified teacher's license. He hopes to complete his requirements this fall. In the meantime, Harper said he would continue as an assistant coach with the Rams, who won one game in 2012.

Harper, who played two seasons with the NFL Panthers from 2000-01, was head coach at Harding for the past two seasons.

Aikens has been a Rams' assistant coach for five years, working primarily with defensive backs. With Harding having to make a coaching move just a few weeks before the start of the season, Rams athletics director Michael McRae said Aikens was an easy choice.

"Aikens can do a good job," McRae said. "He's got a great rapport with students and families and he's well-respected."

McRae said he wasn't concerned about Aikens' responsibilities coaching football and basketball at Harding at the same time.

"If anybody can do it," McRae said, "it's coach Aikens."

Aikens was one of six finalists for the college basketball job at Queens this summer. He is one of the best players in Queens' school history. But Aikens said he grew up loving football and only choose Queens basketball for college because he didn't get a full football scholarship offer from the school he wanted to attend.

This winter, he'll start his 11th season as Harding basketball coach, and he's rebuilt the Rams into a regional power. Last season, Harding played in its first N.C. Western Regional.

With football, Aikens aims for similar success.

"My thing right now is to not really worry about what the record is going to be and get them competitive day-in and day-out," he said. "If we can manage to get several wins out of that, that will be great. It's about needing to be competitive again like it was in the past. We've got to make a commitment and be dedicated and bring back the tradition to Harding."