By Angel Verdejo
The Cove Herald
At its core, Jack Welch says his program's continued success boils down to one word.
Or it's more like two words - quality people.
Since 1994 - Welch's first season in Cove - the Bulldawgs are 158-51-1. They've already clinched at least a share of the District 12-5A title, marking the program's seventh championship since 1999. Eight times, Cove has finished ranked in the final regular season AP 5A poll.
The Dawgs were Division II-5A region finalists in 1998 and reached the 2005 Division II-5A quarterfinals, then back-to-back Division I-4A finals the next two seasons. Cove jumped back to 5A in 2008, and advanced to the Division II-5A semifinals.
Fourteen seniors from last year's 9-2 team moved on to play at the next level, including four (Cody Elenz, Trevor Valdez, Brandon Durant and William Randolph) now with Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
But the trophy case didn't fill up overnight. Nor did it happen solely because of Welch, now in his 18th year at Cove.
"Facilities are important, but not as much as people - people are the most important," said Welch, who has 10 varsity assistants that have been on staff at least nine years. "Weights are weights; it's the people that you're going to be with.
"You can't go over there and get a relationship with that weight. But you can have good relationships with coaches."
Making it all fit
Cove went 5-4-1 in 1994, posting the program's first winning record since 1976.
Welch remembered fans who supported the Dawgs through the tough times coming up to him and joyfully thanking him for 'turning the program around.'
That wasn't the case, he said.
"Winning and losing isn't necessarily turning a program around, and I made it very clear," Welch said.
But for Cove fans, a winning record was monumental. Before Welch's arrival, the Dawgs hadn't reached the playoffs since 1960.
That stretch saw just three winning seasons, the last an 8-2 record in 1976. Two years later the Dawgs started a four-year run of 0-10, 0-10, 1-9 and 1-9.
"I can remember one year, we would have six homecomings," said Joe Lombardi, the radio voice of the Dawgs since 1978. "Five on the road and one at home."
Cove had six one-win seasons, including 1991 and 1993.
Current assistant Kevin Wilburn, a former Cove kicker, started high school in 1991.
"You went to the games because it was something to do," said Wilburn, whose senior year was Welch's first season. "But by the second quarter, you had your mind on other things because it was like, 'Here we go again.'"
Welch was an assistant at Louisiana Tech before coming to Cove and had already proven himself as a coach who could turn around programs.
"Great jobs usually don't come available," Welch said. "You have to take a job and make it a great job. And so you have to see if the people that you're going to work for are willing to make it a great job.
"Are they willing to give you the things that are needed? Are they willing to put the building blocks in place to get the program going like you want to do it?"
The administration supported Welch, just as he says they have in all areas.
Football may be the most visual piece of the district, but Welch is quick to point out Cove's wanting-to-succeed attitude filters down through the halls. Copperas Cove Independent School District received an accountability rating of Recognized for 2011 from the Texas Education Agency; volleyball will play in the second round of the playoffs Friday and the Pride of Cove marching band earned a Division I rating at the UIL Region 8 marching contest last month.
"You can't have an outstanding athletic program and your academic program be suffering because you'll be battling yourselves," Welch said. "You can't have just an all-academic program and your athletic program be down because you'll have a lack of moral and enthusiasm within your school. They both work together hand in hand."
Cove has had its fair share of talented players.
Former quarterback Robert Griffin III has helped fuel Baylor's resurgence in the Big 12 Conference. Former linebacker Tanner Brock was an All-American last year at TCU, while teammate Josh Boyce is the Horned Frogs' leading wide receiver.
The community has also shown its support. Home games are routinely sold out, while expansion projects have also been completed. The fieldhouse was built during the 1998-99 school year.
Bulldawg Stadium was renovated in 2001 and has hosted the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl ever since.
The Dawgs meet Mesquite Horn next week to open the playoffs, the team's 13th postseason appearance in 14 years. A win tonight against Harker Heights would be Cove's fifth 7-0 district record since 2000.
But for Welch, it still comes down to the coaches, just like the district bettering its TEA rating comes down to quality teachers.
Offensive assistants Vance McAnally and Tracy Welch have been with Jack Welch for all 158 wins. So has Tracy Ranes, who started a year before the trio arrived.
Frank Wilson is in his 15th season, while two former Cove players - Wilburn and Jeremy Shannon - are both in their 11th. Three former assistants are head coaches, including Belton's Rodney Sothern.
"The No. 1 is leadership - the school has got to allow you to put the right leadership in," Welch said. "We have teachers that are so dedicated and it bleeds right over. Athletics is the same way. It just goes with the territory - it's an atmosphere.
"That comes from the top. It's a philosophy to be the best ... you get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus."
Contact Angel Verdejo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7564.
Copperas Cove's 2011 coaching staff
Reb Brock defensive coordinator 13th season
Tim Eason defensive line third season
Thed Harris linebackers first season
Braden Kober defensive ends 10th season
Vance McAnally offensive line 18th season
Tracy Ranes offensive line 19th season
Jake Robbins cornerbacks second season
Yancey Sanderson safeties 10th season
Jeremy Shannon running backs 11th season
Keith Stifflemire outside linebackers third season
Josh Welch quarterbacks fourth season
Tracy Welch offensive coordinator 18th season
Kevin Wilburn kickers 11th season
Frank Wilson tight ends 15th season
Ryan Youngblood wide receivers ninth season