CELINA — Historic Texomaland head coach G.A. Moore has no secret to coaching for a long time. He simply won a lot of games and kept doing it.
“That wasn’t my goal when I started out,” Moore said last year. “Things just happened to work out that way. I had lots and lots of help along the way.”
Moore is the massive exception to the rule in Texomaland. Only a select few head football coaches are afforded the luxury of sticking around for longer than three or four years.
The longest-tenured coach at one single school in Texomaland history is the late W.J. Harris, who coached Gunter for a total of 26 seasons non-consecutively from 1946 to 1977.
However, the coach with the most longevity overall in the area is Moore, who coached for 20 seasons at Pilot Point, 19 at Celina, and two in Sherman for 41 total.
Moore stepped away from coaching in 2004 but later returned for three more seasons at Aubrey, adding 19 more wins to his resume.
Moore’s 426-career head coaching victories had been the state’s all-time record until last November, when Corpus Christi Calallen’s Phil Danaher passed him to become No. 1.
Moore has left a legacy of coaches who have extended his family tree with long stints at high schools.
That includes Butch Ford and Bill Elliott at Celina; Jerry Jones at Pilot Point; Danny David at Collinsville and now at David’s alma mater of Pilot Point; and Chad Worrell, who played for longtime Moore assistant Jones at Pilot Point, coached Tom Bean to its deepest-ever playoff advance, assisted Ford briefly at Celina, and won a state championship at Brock, where he built a program from scratch.
But far more often, schools experience high turnover. Coaches leave for the next rung up the ladder, depart for personal reasons, or get the heave-ho from an impatient school board.
In fact, there are only three local schools who’ve seen only three head football coaches in the 21st century: Celina, Denison and Whitesboro.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Celina, with its eight state championships in the trophy case and strong Moore legacy, would be tied for the lead in low coaching turnover.
The Bobcats transitioned almost seamlessly from Moore’s six state titles at the school to Ford in 2002, and then to Elliott in 2011. Ford coached the Bobcats to state championships in 2005 and 2007 and to runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2008. Elliott got the Bobcats to the 2015 state finals.
“I knew I wanted to be a coach, and I knew it was my calling to be a coach,” said Elliott, who first joined Moore’s staff in 1993. “When I started here I had played for Coach Moore and Coach Ford, so there was a connection there. As time went on and I started a family, I realized I wanted my boys to grow up in one place. You see so many coaches who move around a lot. When they started kindergarten, they got to stay with that same class the whole way. I thought that was special.”
Denison has been successful as well, although not to the crazy extent as future football rival Celina.
The Yellow Jackets have fully embraced what success they’ve had, and have maintained a culture of continuity. They haven’t won a state title since 1984 under Marty Criswell, but came close three times in a row against La Marque from 1995-97 and reached the state semifinals in 2009 under Cody White.
Former head coach Bob Brown, who took over for Criswell in 1992, stayed at Denison until retiring after the 2006 season, then Brown was succeeded in turn by White.
White left after five seasons for Tennessee, where he led Brentwood Academy to back-to-back state titles in 2015 and 2016. Chad Rogers arrived in 2012 from Snyder and has been in Yellow Jacket land ever since, leading Denison into the playoffs last fall and coaching the Jackets to four straight wins in the Battle of the Ax.
But by far, the biggest surprise among the local trio of stable football schools is Whitesboro.
With no playoff appearances in their history prior to the 2011 season, the Bearcats were known statewide as the Chicago Cubs of Texas high school football. Expectations for gridiron success were nil, which made the Bearcats a very low-pressure place for coaches to work by the time Eddie Gill arrived from South Texas in 2006.
Gill, who had never coached at any one place longer than five years in his career, put down roots in western Grayson County and the Bearcats finally blossomed. After a couple of agonizingly-close brushes with the postseason, Whitesboro busted through the glass ceiling in 2011 and hasn’t missed the playoffs since.
Adam Rupert, who is now on Elliott’s staff at Celina, took over for Bryan Brittain in 2002 and did a respectable job in his four years before Gill came to town, going 14-26 and almost matching Whitesboro’s win total from the previous 13 seasons.
Chain of command
Clearly another example of a place where continuity pays off is Gunter, which celebrated its first 16-0 season and state football championship in 2016.
Going all the way back to Rick Cohagan, the coach who started Gunter’s modern 11-man football era in 1978, the Tigers have stayed mostly in-house when it comes to coaching football. The only outside hire was Hart Jeanis, who won 29 games from 1996-2000 and started the Tigers’ impressive run of 18 straight playoff appearances.
The current head football coach, Jake Fieszel, has been coaching the Tigers for 11 seasons and has won 107 games in that span against only 23 losses.
After Jeanis left in 2000, defensive coordinator Kevin Worthy took over as head coach, then Worthy’s defensive coordinator, Roger Reed, succeeded Worthy in 2003 and Fieszel succeeded Reed in turn in 2007.
Both Worthy and Reed left coaching to enter school administration. Worthy is now superintendent of Royse City ISD, and Reed is high school principal at S&S High School.
Additionally, David Gage, who was head coach at Gunter from 1992-95 with a 31-10 record, has come out of retirement once again and is helping coach the Tigers’ offensive and defensive lines.
“Gunter is an awesome community,” Fieszel said. “We have great parents who really care about athletics, not just football but across the board. It’s a really fun town to be a head football coach and athletic director in.
“Our administration and school board are super supportive of athletics and they give us what we need to be successful,” Fieszel added. “And the quality of kid here is outstanding. Hard-nosed kids who are competitive and want to win. There’s not a lot of places from that standpoint that’s going to be much better than what Gunter is.”
Celina’s Elliott echoes the same sentiment about his own community. Elliott said he had opportunities to leave for a bigger school as a younger man, but chose to stay in Celina.
“Celina does so much for their kids and surrounds their kids, with the Quarterback Club, the Bobcat Moms organization and the community,” Elliott said. “It’s not just for football, it’s for every sport and extracurricular — band, cheerleaders. They love their kids and do so much for them. It’s a special place for a kid to grow up and experience that kind of support.”
The presently-active dean of Texomaland head football coaches is Leonard’s Shane Fletcher, who has been in place since 2005.
The Tigers had some success in the 1980s and 1990s, but the 2000s saw them embark on a 25-game losing streak under three preceding coaches that was finally snapped in 2003. Fletcher, a former Bonham assistant, took over in 2005 and coached the Tigers to a 6-4 season in his first year.
Leonard missed the playoffs in Fletcher’s first four seasons, but the Tigers were patient and stayed the course. It finally paid off in 2013 with a trip to the Class 2A Division II state semifinals.
Here’s an amazing statistic: Since Fletcher assumed the reins at Leonard, an incredible 89 other head coaches have either come or gone across the other 28 football-playing schools in Texomaland.
The last coach to move in Fletcher’s era was Collinsville’s David, who was hired at his school the same year Fletcher was, but jumped at the chance to return to his hometown of Pilot Point last spring.
Right behind Fletcher are Whitesboro’s Gill and Pottsboro’s Matt Poe, who both took over their respective programs in 2006.
Poe, who was the offensive coordinator for Ronnie Tipps and Drew Young at Sherman, took over a Cardinal program in disarray that had gone 0-10 on the field in back-to-back years. But a drop to what was then Class 2A (now 3A) made Pottsboro an attractive place to coach, and with Poe at the controls, the Cardinals took flight.
In just three seasons, Poe’s Cardinals reached the state semifinals, and they made it to the state quarterfinals in 2014 and 2016 while running off six district titles in a row. Poe earned his 100th victory as a head coach last fall.
Before this season, 31 head football coaches in Texomaland history had served 10 or more seasons at one school. Fletcher joined this exclusive club in 2014, Poe and Gill in 2015, and Fieszel in 2016.
This fall, Blue Ridge’s Kevin Wiggins becomes the 32nd head football coach as he marks a full decade in charge of the Tigers.
Blue Ridge, which will celebrate 80 years of football this fall, doesn’t have a lot of history to go with that, with only two playoff wins in nine total appearances all-time. But Wiggins’ Tigers did accrue one of those postseason wins in 2015, outscoring Rivercrest, 53-20, in the Class 2A Division II bi-district round.
Wiggins, who is Blue Ridge’s all-time wins leader with 39 over nine previous seasons, helped push for a refurbished stadium with a turf field which made its debut in 2015.
Texomaland high schools ranked from fewest to most head football coaches starting in 2000 and inclusive of upcoming 2017 season:
(Note: Melissa, Savoy, Tioga, Texoma Christian and Trenton all began their current football programs after the 2000 season and are not included.)
Celina: 3 (G.A. Moore, Butch Ford, Bill Elliott)
Denison: 3 (Bob Brown, Cody White, Chad Rogers)
Whitesboro: 3 (Bryan Brittain, Adam Rupert, Eddie Gill)
Collinsville: 4 (Ronnie Wilson, Aaron Keesee, Danny David, Dale West)
Gunter: 4 (Hart Jeanis, Kevin Worthy, Roger Reed, Jake Fieszel)
Leonard: 4 (Jason Marshall, James Moore, Gerald James, Shane Fletcher)
Pottsboro: 4 (Rick Cullum, Mike Crowe, Jim Verden, Matt Poe)
Van Alstyne: 4 (Ronny Williams, Randy Matthews, Brian Polk, Mikeal Miller)
Anna: 5 (Kevin Harris, David Ryon, Chris Dodd, Curren McMahon, Jason Heath)
Callisburg: 5 (Gary Damron, Jerry Bomar, Kevin Hayes, Ritchie Pinckard, Gary Jack)
Pilot Point: 5 (Eddie Baca, G.A. Moore, Blake Feldt, Rob Best, Danny David)
S&S: 5 (Stephen DuBose, Billy Edwards, Ashby Porter, Garrett Patterson, James Gage)
Sherman: 5 (Ronnie Tipps, Drew Young, Gary Kinne, Bill Patterson, J.D. Martinez)
Wolfe City: 5 (Dale Trompler, Todd Palmer, Travis Smith, M.K. Hamilton, Darren Anderson)
Blue Ridge: 6 (Glenn Pittman, Daren Childs, Dave Westfall, Bret Cranford**, Joe Watson, Kevin Wiggins)
Bonham: 6 (Ronnie Hill, Larry McFarlin, John Hall, Dale Trompler, Cody Bounds, Tony Johnson)
Honey Grove: 6 (Robert Manley, Todd Morrison, James Fuller, Sammy Burnett, Brian Lewis, Gary Schultz)
Gainesville: 7 (Mark Copeland, Jeff Cordell, Matt Young, Ricky Lock, Lance Gary, Keith Hall, James Polk)
Howe: 7 (Davy DuBose, Larry McFarlin, Woody Martin, Stony Coffman, Cory Crane, Joe Watson, Zack Hudson)
Bells: 8 (Gary Reeves, Scott Smithey, Danny Williams, Charles Boles, Aaron Whitmire, Rayce Guess, Randy Hitsman, Scott Ponder)
Fannindel: 8 (Winfred Essix, Mike Lide, Phillip Burnett, Greg Hendrickson, Ted Burden, Randy Jones, Gabe Lane, Erik Pevey)
Tom Bean: 8 (Chad Worrell, Darren Anderson, Brent Graham, Tal Sanders, Torrey Price, Allen Cross, Truman “Pepper” Nix, Tim McFadden)
Whitewright: 9 (Jodie Stringer, Charles Boles, Chuck Lipsey, Dale Trompler, Jodie Stringer, Jack Wylie, Wes Rhoten, Joe Williams, Mason Edwards)
** - shared duties with Danny Henderson in 2004