Coach Rush and War Eagles Closing In On Parents’ 9-0 Record

Photograph courtesy of Jim Eastin

Photograph courtesy of Jim Eastin

Oak Ridge second year head coach, Dereck Rush is doing something no one thought was possible. He is winning football games at Oak Ridge.

Why? Well, there are many reasons and we will try and make a dent in those without writing a novel today.

To see how Rush has turned the program around, you have to look at what was wrong with it before he arrived. Back in the early 2000’s, the popular Bob Barrett was hired away from Klein Collins to coach the War Eagles in just their second year in 5A football. Those locally who go back that far remember it was Oak Ridge’s last year playing in the tough Klein district where there were multiple teams and thus less pre-district games to tune up with. Without the benefit of spring football because he was hired too late, Barrett’s first year concluded with a 1-9 record. The team was one player deep everywhere as depth was non-existent but Oak Ridge stayed in every game until late in the season when they were just too beat up and their lack of depth caught up with them.

This was the hurricane year and special UIL rules were made so every team could get in all of their games. Oak Ridge played three of Texas’s toughest teams in the space of 12 days. Considering the circumstances, it was a very respectable first year for Coach Barrett.

In Barrett’s second year, the school moved into a six team district allowing the coach to schedule some pre-district tune up games to get ready. This was a break out year for Oak Ridge football as they won seven games and made the playoffs losing to Klein Oak in a competitive first round playoff game. Things were looking up for Oak Ridge and you’d think the town would be getting on board.

However, although Coach Barrett took Oak Ridge to the playoffs four out of the seven years he was at the helm, the people of Oak Ridge were never completely behind the program. Coach Barrett and his staff coached up the players as best they could and the whole program worked hard. The only problem was when these athletes went home every day, for the most part their parents would suck whatever positive energy out of them the coaches had instilled that day and it would be back to square one the next day for the staff. It was a tough atmosphere to win in and the school was not getting the players moving in.

This went on for the rest of Barrett’s tenure culminating in his exit after the 2011 season. Barrett’s exit was not for a lack of production. If a coach leads a 5A football team to the playoffs better than 50% of the time, that would be considered productive.

After seven years, the powers that be decided a change in atmosphere was necessary so with the help of District AD Danny Long, Dereck Rush was hired away from Tyler-John Tyler where he had compiled a 42-23 record after going 1-9 his first season there. If you are an Oak Ridge fan, you had high hopes because Rush started off 1-9 at Oak Ridge and is presently 6-0 in his second year.

Rush, in his late 30’s, has a strong football background in coaching as well as playing. After playing linebacker at D-1 Mississippi State, he stayed on as a Graduate Assistant under legendary coach Jackie Sherrill. He paid his dues coaching at Ector Junior High, which is an Odessa feeder school, Odessa high school, Midland Christian, and eventually Tyler John Tyler before he got the War Eagle gig.

During Rush’s ascent, along with football he has coached basketball, track, and softball. Rush’s coaching mentor list reads like a who’s who in coaching greats. Jackie Sherrill needs no introduction. Thomas Brooks had been a legend at Jasper before coming to T.J.T. Scott Phillips is a legendary high school coach in Alabama. Dennis Parker won a state championship at Marshall before becoming head coach at the University of North Texas. Kelvin Ratliff won three state championships at Midland Lee. Randy Quisenberry was head coach at Abilene Cooper and Midland Lee. Randy Mayes was head coach at Odessa Permian. Joe Lee Dunn has been a defensive coordinator in every league except for maybe… Stratomatic. His latest gig is a head coaching position at McMurry State in Texas. The list can go on and on.

Not to anyone’s surprise, Coach Rush’s number one mentors have been his mother and father. Dad was a baptist minister and his mom a very busy housewife. The “housewife” term is underrated in any case but even more so when you talk about Mama Rush. Why? The Rush’s have nine children, all of whom have gone to college and all have earned college degrees. It’s tough enough to raise one kid down the right path so when you see someone going nine for nine, you must assume Mom and Dad have some magic formula.

In talking to Coach Rush, I asked him how he has gained the trust of all of the players. It’s not just the trust factor because they like, respect and would go through a wall for him and his staff. Most of the time, a coach can survive with two of the three but rarely do you see a coach have all three.

How many times have you heard… “I respect the coach but I don’t like him.” Rush lets us in on how he has his athletes drinking the same kool-aid. “Coaching is about building relationships. That’s the first thing you have to do. The kids have to truly understand you and trust you. Rush continued, “Kids know if you are real or not because they can see right through you. The trust factor is a must and I told these kids I will never lie to them and I will always give my all for them on and off the field.”

Rush was a linebacker for Mississippi State so it would be easy to assume that he is more of a defensive coach than an offensive coach. He combats that assumption with the following simple philosophy: “The better you are as a defensive coach, the better you are as an offensive coach.”

Some of you may not know this but Coach Rush challenged all of the coaches of all sports at Oak Ridge last year to win. This was a bold move considering he was hired with not much time left in the school year and therefore spring football was cut short. As you do know, Rush’s first year concluded with a 1-9 record but if you were following the team you knew they were in every game except for the Lufkin game. I’m not checking all of the records for every sport in the 2012-13 school year but I believe Rush was the losingest coach in the school. He didn’t care because he’s been a success everywhere he’s been and he knew going in that the program would not be fixed the first year.

So, here we are six games into Oak Ridge’s second year and the team is 6-0. It looks like Rush knew all along this was going to happen because he liked what he saw in his athletes when he arrived. He also has faith in his coaching staff. The coach has also helped turn around the culture that was about as bad as one could get in a high school feeder zone. Before, you weren’t seeing coaches being supported. The culture cannot change when the parents are not on board. Rush has been able to earn the trust of his players and parents. When you have those two, the community will follow.

Guess what? The community has indeed followed. You want proof? The Homecoming game was a sellout and 450 Oak Ridge fans were relegated to the visiting stands. I’ve been covering football in this area for a long time and this is a first for Oak Ridge at Woodforest Bank Stadium. The Woodlands does it all the time and I believe College Park has done it as well. In Lufkin, there are fans climbing the scoreboard to watch.

This just in… Coach Rush makes some serious kool-aid! Let’s not get cocky, though. Oak Ridge is rated 10th in the Houston Chronicle poll but 152 in the state and 1280 in the nation according to MaxPreps. There’s still work to be done.

See you at the Conroe game!

Comments to Doug Sarant at doug@oakridgenow.com

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Doug Sarant, Oak Ridge Now

Born and raised in New England, Doug promises he got to Texas as fast as he could. He earned the much needed "piece of paper" from Sam Houston State, proving to himself he could start and finish something. Doug's interests include coaching and playing any sport and still plays lacrosse competitively. He also enjoys going to dinner theaters, though he complains there just aren't enough of them in the area. Doug was brought up in a cultured environment, having suffered through dozens of symphonies and operas with his way too over-educated mother. At the end of the day, Doug is just a dad and husband and claims to be good at both.

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