When Waco ISD athletic director Johnny Tusa hired Waco University alum Rodney Smith to take over the Trojans football program two years ago, he posed a rhetorical question.
“How many people can you hire or pick that bleed that particular (school) color?” Tusa said. “It has to be infused.”
Indeed, how many football coaches can and do get to come home to their old stomping grounds to take charge of the latest group of players wearing the same colors on the same field as they once did?
The answer locally? Not all that many.
It has occurred on occasion and to spectacular results. With three active area coaches steering football programs — Cameron Yoe, Salado and Lampasas — at the same school for which they played, numbers are perhaps running above average. Until Rosebud-Lott’s Brad Ballard left the sideline a few months ago to serve strictly as the school’s athletic director, there were four alums in charge at the same time the last few years.
In most cases, coaches typically have to cut their teeth elsewhere before the opportunity presents itself at their old school, if it ever does.
However, that hasn’t been so much the case in Cameron. Tommy Brashear, a 1992 Yoe graduate, spent several years as an assistant in Joshua and Gatesville before returning to Cameron in 2004. He plied his trade as the Yoe head baseball coach and later as head basketball coach, all the while serving as a football assistant.
Brashear was promoted to head football coach in 2016 after the wildly successful Rick Rhoades left for Gregory-Portland. Brashear’s three Yoe teams have gone 26-12 with a pair of 11-win seasons.
A predecessor and colleague of Brashear, Randy Sapp, never strayed from home professionally. The 1975 Yoe grad returned to Cameron after graduating from Sam Houston State. Sapp was a first-year assistant when the Yoemen won their first state title in 1981 and was a link between that title and the three that came under Rhoades 30 years later.
During Sapp’s long tenure — during which he had successful runs as the baseball and golf coach before retiring in 2014 — he also took a turn as head football coach from 1996-2002. Sapp’s teams went 61-27, putting him among the winningest coaches in Yoe history. His teams made the playoffs in six of his seven seasons.
But coaching in the same town, especially one’s hometown, from start to finish is the exception rather than the rule.
Alan Haire, a 1988 Salado graduate, reignited the Eagles football program upon his return in 2016. It’s his second term in Salado, where he originally returned soon after a football career at Tarleton State to coach basketball and softball and serve as offensive coordinator under Joe Mullins before embarking on a 13-year run at Lago Vista.
After Salado won just 13 games over seven seasons before Haire took over the football program in 2016, the Eagles are 23-13 under his guidance. That includes a 12-2 record in 2017 for just the fourth double-digit win season in Salado’s history.
“Some say it is hard to come home once, much less twice,” Haire said. “It had always been a goal of mine to come back and give back to the community and football program that meant so much to me and made me who I am. I love Salado. The pressure I face, I put on myself.”
Troy Rogers, a star quarterback at Lampasas in the 1990s, has settled down the Badgers program since taking over in 2016 after Lampasas had gone through four coaches in the previous eight years. Last season, Rogers’ third, he led the Badgers back to the playoffs after an extended absence.
Of course, the area standard bearer for coming home to lead his alma mater is Bob McQueen, who came back to Temple and returned the Wildcats to statewide prominence from 1972-99. Temple won 243 games and its two state titles during that term, becoming one of the state’s winningest programs in the last quarter of the 20th century.
McQueen, like most, had to go elsewhere to build his resume. He led Mexia to four winning seasons (1965-68) before spending three years on Hayden Fry’s staff at SMU. In a narrow vote by Temple ISD trustees, the 1956 Temple graduate returned to his alma mater in a historic career. He has often said he wanted to come back to Temple to give his family a hometown. He proved that by remaining while batting away offers to leave.
Other notable alums to take the reins in the recent decades were Belton’s Jay Warrick, Gatesville’s Mike Morgan and Troy’s Mike McMurtry.
Warrick, a 1975 Belton grad, built his head coaching credentials in Giddings where he led the Buffaloes to a string of playoff appearances. His nine seasons in Giddings (1988-96) give him the longest tenure of any Buffaloes coach. His 10-year stint leading the Tigers (1997-06) is the second longest of any Belton coach. At the time, his teams’ four straight playoff appearances (1998-01) were the Tigers’ longest such run since the 1956-59 campaigns.
Morgan, a 1989 Gatesville grad and now an assistant superintendent in Belton after serving a couple of years as its athletic director, came back to Gatesville in short order after college and was an assistant on the Hornets’ state title team in 2000 before replacing Kiff Hardin the next season and winning 40 games over six years.
After assistant roles around the county, McMurtry went back to his native Troy and led the Trojans for 14 years (1990-2003) — longer than any other coach — highlighted by a 10-2 mark in 1998 before retiring.
Certainly there have been others in the area through the years, though it’s occurred with relative infrequency. With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, local coaches have shown they can go home again — and be successful head football coaches.