Saturday marked the 100-year anniversary of Titantic sinking prior to completing a once-promising maiden voyage.
John Tyler’s premier two sports — football and boys’ basketball — enjoyed smooth sailing the past three years with a combined record of 107-29. Now the tide could be turning on the two programs after JT’s basketball coach of the past three years stepped down and the football coach recently threw his name in the hat elsewhere.
JT’s football team brings back a boatload of starters next season, all but a handful from a team that reached the Class 4A Division I state semifinals last December. With the possibility of winning a state championship as high as ever, JT followers now wonder just who will be righting the ship next year.
Dereck Rush, who has led the Lions to 10 playoff victories the past three seasons, interviewed for the open job at Conroe Oak Ridge earlier in the week. Conroe ISD athletic director Danny Long, part of the group which approved Rush for hire at JT in 2007, met with the JT boss, multiple sources confirmed. That connection alone makes the process intriguing and perhaps scary for Cujo Nation.
The Oak Ridge post opened in late March when the school district relieved Bob Barrett of his duties as head football coach and campus athletic director. Oak Ridge finished 1-9 in 2011. In seven seasons at Oak Ridge, Barrett compiled a 28-45 record with four playoff appearances while competing alongside the likes of Lufkin and The Woodlands.
In comparison, JT went 54-33 with six playoff appearances over the past seven seasons. Under Rush, JT holds a 42-23 mark in five years, including 35-8 the last three years.
Rush made the list of finalists for the A&M Consolidated job last year. Perhaps the lure of 5A — JT’s longtime home until realignment dropped the Lions down a level in 2010-11 — holds sway.
While head coaches often apply elsewhere for whatever reason, the numbers of the two programs, not to mention JT’s more storied history and immediate potential, leaves many scratching their heads.
Coaches often preach commitment, expecting student-athletes to give their all until graduating. And while everyone deserves the right to pursue employment elsewhere, what about the most important element? After all, journalists hear time again from coaches how “it’s all about the kids.”
Past history at John Tyler, reveals just how important consistency at the top is.
Looking back at JT’s glory years in football and basketball, stability on the coaching staff played as big a part as the players running and shooting the ball. JT’s last state football championship came in 1994, the first senior group under former coach Allen Wilson.
The JT basketball team experienced one of the program’s most successful years in history with 31 victories in 1994 under former coach Carl Love, his first senior group at the time.
Going a step further, Rush’s first senior group challenged for the state title in 2010, reaching the Class 4A state quarterfinals. The 2009 Lions made the 5A state quarterfinals. JT figures to be the top-ranked team starting the 2012 season.
On the flip-side, take JT’s basketball season. The Lions won 21 consecutive games until a late-season shakeup seemed to take away the team’s focus off-the-court, and ultimately on it. The Lions lost three of their last five, a stretch which began a day before former head coach Tony Pinson disappeared from the campus. Pinson recently resigned after a TISD investigation paralleled a hospitable stay for heart problems. Pinson cited health reasons for stepping down; all while rumors of improper conduct (not with a student the school district confirmed) swirled through the community.
With Pinson’s familiar face on the sideline, JT posted a 70-19 mark, including 25 consecutive district wins.
Assistant Cedeno Clark, who led JT in its final five games, appears primed to take over the program according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Clark helped JT win its district finale, clinching the 14-4A championship.
Even the soccer program, after shuffling through multiple coaches after Demetrio Hernandez’ memorable reign during the 1990s, finds itself reclaiming past glory under Howard Story. Recently Story guided the Lions to their first district title in 16 years, and to the playoffs for the fourth straight year on the job.
Past course indicated JT has the athletes to be competitive in their bread-and-butter sports. But they need the right person navigating them, and one willing to stay for the long haul.