Ask most coaches and they’ll agree with Belton’s Rodney Southern.

By Year 3, a program is yours. No longer can a head coach blame the previous coach or staff if the wins aren’t coming. An excuse like “that’s the way things were,” is no longer on the table.

Southern came to Belton from Marshall, where he led the Mavericks to consecutive Division I-4A state title games (2004-05). He took over the Tigers on the wake of the team’s second 0-10 season in three years.

In Southern’s third season (2009), Belton claimed a share of the District 12-5A championship — the program’s first since 2003. The Tigers, behind all-state quarterback David Ash (now at Texas), also won their first playoff game since 2000, finishing the year at 10-2.

But it takes more than just three years to build a successful program. And a lot more than Ash’s right arm, though he led Belton to consecutive playoff appearances and is now starting for the Longhorns as a freshman.

“People on the outside looking in always look at your program and see the seniors ...we are going to lose David Ash. We are going to lose (current junior tight end) Durham Smythe. We are going to lose so and so,” Southern said. “The better programs — the reason you see certain programs like Katy, Euless Trinity and some of the names that are always at the top — are at the top because the program perpetuates itself to a point.”


A program takes what people see every Friday night. Talented players, a passionate fan base, community support and the wins.

It’s what most don’t see that can make or break not just football teams across the state, but athletic programs as a whole. Some of the state’s top 5A and 4A football programs — Lake Travis, Southlake Carroll, Allen — are also perennial contenders in others sports on both the boys and girls side.

Average fans don’t see aging facilities and equipment. They likely don’t see a 5A football program struggling with numbers and thus, not fielding two separate junior varsity teams (they don’t play on Fridays).

Success starts before a head coach is even hired, with many in the area’s recent-hires already showing signs of building contenders.

Harker Heights’ Mike Mullins is in his third year and has equaled his win total from the previous two. The Knights haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006, but are currently locked in a three-team tie for third place in 12-5A.

Lampasas was riding a 20-game losing streak when Joey McQueen took over in 2008. The Badgers made the playoffs in his first season and sit atop 25-3A in his third.

Even neighboring Temple, with first-year coach Mike Spradlin, is much improved.

“It’s always good for the district — the stronger a district is, the better everybody is,” said Copperas Cove head coach Jack Welch, who turned around a Bulldawg program that went nearly 40 years between playoff appearances. “And the more fun it is for the communities because of the rivalries and the excitement of the games.”

Temple is tied with Heights and Belton at 3-2 in district play after a 1-9 season in 2010.

“It’s just reestablishing a belief system which comes from, by the way, a lot of hard work,” Spradlin said. “The key to this whole deal is getting invested, because if you invest in something that’s when you get to the point where you refuse to get beat.”

Belief comes from everywhere. And for the  most successful teams — no matter the sport — it starts at the top.

“What really sold me was our administration here. You’ve got to have support from the top and we’ve got it here,” said Spradlin, who was hired in Temple after turning around Abilene Cooper, which hadn’t posted a winning record since 2003 but went to the third round of the playoffs from 2008-10.

Administrators sell belief to the coaches, who must then turn around and sell it to players, parents, teachers and the community.

For the players, that starts by being around the team, and not just during organized times. Coaches aren’t allowed to instruct their players during spring and summer 7-on-7 games, but most coaching staffs can be seen sitting in the back of the end zone looking on and giving encouragement.

They attend games for other sports, whether it be basketball, volleyball or track, to show participants the commitment coaches are willingly to have. Coaches also go down to the middle schools, letting those future players meet them face to face while at the same time putting their practice and weight programs into place.

“You have to take an interest in them,” Spradlin said. “I gotta know about my kids, I gotta know what hits their hot button. I can’t just walk around treating everybody the same.

“Everybody comes from a different situation. So we’ve got to work as a staff to make sure we understand and know what our kids are about and where they’re coming from.”

Many of today’s coaches are also becoming more transparent with their programs, which can have multiple benefits.

Booster clubs usually meet in the same rooms teams use during the week. The same goes for parent meetings.

In addition to growing the community support, getting eyes on older equipment and building can allow coaches to better convey their messages when its time to address the need for newer facilities.

“We have a moms’ group that meets every week in this building (Belton’s fieldhouse) because I want them to see and come in here and look,” said Southern, whose program is currently building a new, larger fieldhouse. “Then you have to see what other people have ... people don’t get the opportunity to see athletic facilitates like they do classrooms. You have to show them what the need is now and what it is going to be in the future. “You have to have a plan and you have to share it with everybody.”

Contact angel Verdejo at or (254) 501-7564.

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a series looking into what goes into making a successful high school  football program.

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