WHITESBORO — With history and a murderous district schedule conspiring against him, Eddie Gill overcame both and took Whitesboro farther than it has ever gone in the cutthroat world of Texas high school football.
But despite eight consecutive playoff appearances after none at all in their first 100 years of football, Whitesboro ISD has chosen to move forward without him in 2019.
Gill’s contract was non-renewed by the district’s board of trustees on Monday night. The final vote was 4-3 not to renew, going against the recommendation of superintendent Ryan Harper. The votes not to renew came from T.R. Fletcher, Jeff Patterson, Carol Pike and board president Joel Russell.
Because Gill is on a year-to-year contract along with other WISD administrators, his contract will expire June 30.
Gill survived a similar vote each of the last two years, getting a 4-2 board result approving his renewal for 2017.
“I’m still a Bearcat,” Gill told the Herald Democrat shortly after the 2017 vote.
Gill’s 72 total victories in Whitesboro are the most in school history, far surpassing the 38 won by the late L.M. Combs in two stints from 1932 to 1946 while pulling double duty as school superintendent.
In a part of North Texas known for high coaching turnover, Gill lasted 13 seasons at Whitesboro. Along with Pottsboro’s Matt Poe, who like Gill began his current tenure in 2006, only seven high school football coaches in Grayson County history have lasted so long with one school.
As a perennial playoff contender, it’s easy to forget that at the beginning of this decade, Whitesboro was the team on the outside looking in every year. The Bearcats were the Chicago Cubs of Texas schoolboy football — close a few times, but no cigar.
Of course, the Cubs finally did win their World Series in 2016. And in 2011, for all intents and purposes, the Bearcats won theirs.
The University Interscholastic League did the Bearcats no favors the year before, placing Whitesboro in a district with three teams — Argyle, Gainesville and Pilot Point — which had played for or won state championships within the previous six years; a Sanger team led by future Division I quarterback Dane Evans; and a fifth team, Aubrey, which at the time was home to Texas’ all-time winningest coach, G.A. Moore.
In 2011, with a large senior class of 18 players, the Bearcats entered their centenary campaign with high hopes of giving a playoff berth their best shot.
And indeed they did, with a district-opening win at Gainesville setting the table. The Bearcats came away with a crucial 20-16 road win at Aubrey and then slammed the door shut with a 60-7 rout of Pilot Point, snapping a 35-year on-field winless streak against their rival.
The Bearcats, just happy to be there that first year, lost to Commerce in the bi-district round.
Whitesboro dropped in classification in the 2012 UIL realignment and continued its success there, finishing as co-champions of District 5-2A (Division I) in 2012 and outright champs in 2013, and adding a third district crown in 2017.
Under Gill, Whitesboro developed a reputation for being a tough out in the playoffs, no matter its record. Case in point: In 2014, the Bearcats were ravaged by injuries and finished the regular season 2-8 — but thanks in large part to an early upset of Van Alstyne, they slipped into the postseason and got a few of their core players healthy. All they did was advance a school-record three rounds deep, upsetting 10-0 Sunnyvale and Winnsboro before losing a rematch with rival Pottsboro.
In 2015 and 2016, the Bearcats battled eventual Class 3A Division I state champion Mineola to a late 21-15 loss and followed a year later with a 50-33 setback against the same team, both at Greenville.
A slow build
It took five initial years under Gill for Whitesboro to ramp up after a few close calls, but the Bearcats have actually been to the playoffs more often than not under his watch.
At Whitesboro, Gill took over a rebuilding project started by predecessor Adam Rupert and immediately posted a 14-16 record over three seasons between 2006-2008.
That doesn’t sound special, but it was an amazing accomplishment at the time for a school that had gone 13-117 between the years 1991-2003, had posted 20 consecutive losing seasons, and was famous for one reason: Having never made the playoffs.
In 2007, Gill coached the Bearcats to a 7-3 season, equaling a 21-year high-water mark for wins for Whitesboro’s program. The highlight was a 31-28 home upset of a Prosper squad which would win a state championship a season later.
However, a late-season loss at Pilot Point threw the Bearcats into a tiebreaker for the last playoff spot, where they came up short.
Whitesboro slipped to 2-8 in both 2009 and 2010 before embarking on its current run of success.
Before coming to Whitesboro, Gill coached for five years at Poteet, a 3A school near San Antonio, leading them to three playoff appearances. In 2005, he skippered Poteet to its first district championship since 1958 and was named District 28-3A coach of the year. Prior to that, Gill coached at Cisco from 1996-2000.
Gill played for the legendary Gordon Wood at Brownwood High School, and regularly pays tribute to the late coach by wearing a coat and tie on the sideline during games. In the steamy early part of the season, the coat is usually optional.
Gill was a starter on the 1977 Brownwood football team that finished state runner-up, and went to the University of New Mexico, where he competed in the shot put and discus.
A couple of his former Whitesboro charges found success, each at rival Texas universities.
Hayden Baillio was a champion thrower and made three consecutive trips to the UIL state athletics championships from 2007-09, winning five combined gold medals and one silver in the shot and discus before going on to a successful four years at the University of Texas.
Travis Labhart was a late bloomer who walked on at Texas A&M, won a football scholarship, and eventually found a spot briefly in the NFL with the Houston Texans in 2014.
Whitesboro also excelled in other sports under Gill’s watch as athletic director. The Bearcat baseball team reached the state semifinals in the spring of 2017 for the deepest advance by the school in any team sport, boys or girls, since 1995. The school also sent numerous qualifiers to state competition in cross country, track, golf and tennis, with Zach James winning a state gold medal in golf in 2014 and Nic Butts doing the same in cross country in 2015.