Assistant football coaches, like offensive linemen, don’t often get the credit they deserve from outsiders when the team is successful.
Stephenville’s remarkable drive deep into the Class 4A, Div. I playoffs this season has come in the third season of head coach Greg Winder’s stint as the head coach. Winder’s Yellow Jackets were not predicted to win the District 8 championship, coming off of a 4-7 mark in 2015 and 3-8 record last season.
But under Winder’s leadership the Jackets overcame a few key injuries this season and rebounded from back-to-back non-district losses to win eight games in a row going into tonight's state semifinal playoff against Kennedale.
Both Winder and the players have been quick to credit the coaching staff for the importance of their work in the team’s return to elite status, five years after the last of Stephenville’s state championship seasons, in 2012.
Winder’s varsity coaching staff includes offensive coordinator Jeremiah Butchee, defensive coordinator Cody Moore, running backs coach Joe Carter, special teams coordinator and safeties coach Nolan Vosberg, secondary coach Jessie Fanning, offensive line coaches John Harrell and Eric Rivas, defensive tackles coach Kreg Kimple, cornerbacks coach Casey Hamilton, defensive ends coach Brad Wisener and kickers coach Casey Weil.
Moore, along with Harrell and Vosberg, were the first three hires he made as Stephenville’s head coach.
“Those three were critical, huge hires for me,” Winder said, adding that Rivas came with him to Stephenville in 2008 for Winder’s second stint with the Jackets after they had been assistants in McKinney.
Winder had been promoted from offensive coordinator under previous head coach Joseph Gillespie when he was named head coach in March of 2015.
Moore was promoted to defensive coordinator going into this season, and veteran varsity players have emphasized over and over how much his presence and the new 4-2-5 scheme (five defensive backs) he learned while playing for TCU has helped the Jackets improve on that side of the ball.
Other than a 63-34 blowout win over Pampa in the area playoff round, the SHS defense has given up more than 28 points only one other time — a 30-14 road loss to Graham. Even Class 5A Lubbock Monterey managed only 20 points in Stephenville’s other loss (20-17).
“It’s a special coaching staff,” Winder said Wednesday. “They’re very talented.
“I feel very fortunate. Those guys have been very loyal to me. They do a great job in the classroom. I don’t have to worry about when I delegate something to the staff. I know it will get done.”
The staff is filled with young, enthusiastic coaches who had a knack for making a personal connection with the players that Winder said has been crucial to the success.
Vosberg, in his third year with SHS after a successful stint as the defensive coordinator at Hico, agreed.
“I think our staff does a great job of of building relationships (off) the field,” Vosberg said. “They spend more time with (the players) than they do with their own family. Basically, they treat them like their own sons.
“There is a real family aspect here. You can really tell that through the community support, like with the Jacket moms. That definitely builds up the kids’ confidence, knowing they have people behind them.”
While Winder, of course, has the final say on calling crucial plays during games, Butchee and others who coach the offensive unit can give their input as well.
“The good thing about it is, they bring in fresh ideas,” Winder said. “That’s why you hire them, to bring in other ideas. I ask them their opinions.”
Under Vosberg’s leadership, Stephenville’s special teams have truly been special. He said that in the playoffs alone the Jackets have scored touchdowns on a punt and a kickoff, and came up with about eight turnovers on kicks.
Vosberg credits Winder for allowing plenty of time to work on the special teams, rather than making a last-minute afterthought in practice.
“We designate a lot of times to special teams,” Vosberg said. “The kids take it very seriously and their attention to detail is very, very good.”
Winder, a longtime assistant with the Jackets knows as well as anyone that the head coach can’t just wave a magic wand and see a winning coaching staff appear out of thin air.
He said that when he brings in a coach to be interviewed for a position on the staff, his questions aren’t really focused on the Xs and Os of the job.
“What I do is, I start contacting coaching friends of mine and I ask if they recommend anyone, and go from there. I want to know more about his relationships and how he is with the kids,” Winder said, noting that other factors also come into play, such as the teaching category requirements needed for the classroom part of the job. “You’re not just hiring a coach, you’re hiring a teacher.”
If the candidate for the job has the right teaching background, Winder said it doesn’t take him long to decide if it’s a good fit.
“Normally in the first five minutes I can tell you if he’s going to be part of the our staff,” Winder said. “You can teach them Xs and Os. I want to see the kind of energy the individual has, just by watching. If he doesn’t ask questions, I’ve got a problem with that.
“I’ve been fortunate hiring the guys I’ve got on the staff. I truly believe I’ve got one of the best staffs in the state of Texas. Not just coaching, but with what they do in the classroom and how they bond with the kids.”