Nov 21, 2014

After 22 Years, Anderson Football Coach Finds His Dream

Jeff Rhoads waited 22 years to get a head coaching job, finally succeeding at Anderson High School in North Austin. Here, he reviews past plays with the team in preparation for their game against Del Valle. Photo by Andie Rogers/Reporting Texas

Anderson High School football coach Jeff Rhoads reviews past plays with his team to prepare for their Oct. 17 game against the Del Valle High School Cardinals. Rhoads waited 22 years to get a head coaching job. Photo by Andie Rogers/Reporting Texas

By Brooks Kubena
For Reporting Texas

The head football coach’s office at  Anderson High School is easy to find. Located in the south end of the school, the office neighbors two courtyards that lead to the gym and locker room. A few doors down on the left of that hall is the office.

Four head coaches in the last four years have committed that path to memory at the high school in North Austin. First to leave was Mark Reiland in May 2011, after he’d coached the Trojans to their first playoff win in more than three decades. He later was convicted on a theft charge. The interim coach, Bill Ramzinsky, failed to get the team into the playoffs and resigned. Next, Darin Shaw was reassigned within Austin ISD after finishing 1-9 in his first two seasons.

Hope arrived with the fourth coach on Feb. 28. And Jeff Rhoads understood hope. After 22 years of assistant coaching and moments when he thought his dream might never come true, Rhoads had his first head coaching job and an office beyond the blue double doors at Anderson.

It’s noon, Aug. 28, 2014.

In seven hours, Anderson opens the season against city rival McCallum, which had beaten the Trojans the last two years, as fewer students signed up for the team. Jeff Rhoads sits in the head coach’s office behind his L-shaped desk, leaning back in a black leather chair. Boxes still line the back table, filled with items that soon will join the mementos of years past that already spread across the room like a museum, displaying Rhoads’ journey that reached across three decades.

To the right of the door, a document embroidered in red, and hung in a cracked picture frame, reads:

Rhoads’ Rules: 1. Know your role. 2. You get what you give. 3. The rules are non-negotiable.

It’s 1999 again.

Rhoads is the quarterback coach at Katy High School, listening intently to another assistant coach explain each rule, point for point, right down to the funny yet stern end. He held onto them, hoping one day to use those rules when he became a head football coach like his father, who coached the Katy Tigers from 1972 to 1980 before becoming the district’s athletic director.

Now, the words hang for each player to see as they sit in Rhoads’ office at Anderson.

They might also hear him talk about his years at Texas Tech. Rhoads was a walk-on there. He followed his father’s advice to be in the presence of Texas Sports Hall of Famer Spike Dykes and his coaching staff.

“Spike was a guy who looked at the big picture,” Rhoads said later in an interview with Reporting Texas. “I gathered from Spike that everybody’s different and has different perspectives and a team needs all those things. We all come together for 48 minutes to do a certain job a certain way. But where they are before that is a thousand different places. And your job is to find the trigger that pulls them together.”

Starting in 1992 with his first assistant job at Andrews High School in West Texas, Rhoads put every quarterback he coached through the same drills. Success followed. Three quarterbacks he mentored earned scholarships to Division 1 colleges: Andy Dalton, during Rhoads’ seven years at Katy High; Tanner Price, when Rhoads was hired as an offensive coordinator at Westlake in 2009; and another Westlake quarterback, Jordan Severt in 2013.

“He was great with those quarterbacks,” said Katy head coach Gary Joseph, who was the defensive coordinator while Rhoads was there. “Paid attention to details. There was no doubt he was going to be a good head coach some day.”

Tanner Price smiles with Rhoads at the 2009 5A State Championship in a large picture on a table in the corner of Rhoads’ office. Rhoads arrived at Westlake in 2009, taking on his third offensive coordinator job. That season, Price became the District 25-5A MVP and was named to the All-Centex second team, leading the Chaparrals to the state final, where they lost to Euless Trinity, 41-38.

In the picture, they seem to smile with both satisfaction and sadness, knowing that the moment represented an end. The next year, at Wake Forest University, Price set freshman passing records in yards, percentage, passes attempted, passes completed, starts and touchdowns. Rhoads began applying for head coaching jobs.

A year passed. Then two more.

No offers.

It’s Feb. 24, 2014.

Westlake had just made another run through the playoffs, losing in the third round to A&M Consolidated. Another Rhoads quarterback, Severt, would be leaving to play at Southern Methodist University in the fall. Dalton had just finished his third season as a Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, after leading Texas Christian University to a Rose Bowl victory in 2011.

But Rhoads would be staying again.

After three years of searching, Rhoads stopped sending applications and resumes. The walls of Westlake seemed permanent.

“I had come to a place where I had to say, ‘You know what? Maybe I’m just going to be an assistant coach for my career. Can I live with that?'” Rhoads said in the interview.

Then his cell phone rang. It was Anderson Principal Donna Houser. A week before, Rhoads had sent his last application to the school, where 90 other coaches had applied. Now Houser wanted to interview him.

“We were looking for someone who was with a winning program. Our kids didn’t know that. What was it like to win?” Houser said. “I knew of his head coach (at Westlake), and I liked him a lot. He was a gentleman. He taught his players to play cleanly with lots of sportsmanship. I just thought Rhoads would bring the same kind of respect.”

That call opened Rhoads’ eyes again.

“I started to think, ‘I can do this,’”‘ he recalled.

They visited briefly on the phone, and Rhoads was invited to an in-person interview, as were six other applicants.

Two days passed after the interview. Rhoads drove up and back from Westlake with renewed hope. After 22 years of assistant coaching, Rhoads believed this time would be different.

Then, his cell phone rang. It was Houser. He had the job.

Rhoads called his wife, Trisha, with the news. She screamed into the phone.

Six months later, Rhoads and his 45 players arrived at House Park in downtown Austin to open the season against McCallum. Anderson was a heavy underdog to the city’s 10th-ranked team. There, under the city lights, the Trojans delivered a 33-23 upset.

“The second they came in, something had changed. It was a lot harder,” senior linebacker Braden Buckman said later. “But just that first game, it was more of a piece, I would say. And I feel like our senior year I feel a real sense of family with our football team. That’s something that with leadership in the past years hasn’t really followed that.

The next morning, Rhoads was carrying the rivalry trophy across the school courtyard to his office. Its gold-painted football is based on a heavy stone slab. Rhoads was carrying it with both hands at the waist. Soon, it became heavy, and he hoisted it on his shoulder – almost like he was sporting it for the kids in the courtyard to see.

As Rhoads crossed the courtyard, the students stood and applauded as he and the trophy passed by. When he reached his office, he spoke to his assistants about the walk: You won’t believe this. The strangest thing just happened to me.

“That revealed to me exactly where this program had been,” Rhoads said. “I didn’t know how deep the want to win was. Just that one win alone produced that.”

Anderson eventually finished its this year’s season with three wins and seven losses, missing the playoffs for the fourth straight time – but with more wins than the previous two seasons combined.