Former TWU head coach Richie Bruister will be introduced today as the first head coach at Texas A&M-Commerce, the only Lone Star Conference school that had not previously installed a softball program.
Bruister spent five years at TWU, building a previously flat softball program into a national contender with his opportunistic recruiting and commitment to hard work on the field and in the classroom.
With the Pioneers and Bruister fresh off a run to the national tournament in Salem, Va., and the core of the team returning, some have asked why he would leave an established program.
Bruister said he feels comfortable with what he helped cultivate and is ready for a new challenge.
“That was a question I asked myself many times and tried to talk myself out of it,” Bruister said. “I tried to find everything bad about that there was Commerce and I couldn’t. The more I did the research, the more excited I got about the opportunity. People look at why you’re leaving a national-caliber team and they know the type of team you have coming back. But for me, at the end of the day, it was a no-brainer.”
Despite TWU’s recent success, the opportunity to deliver softball to Commerce was too appealing to pass up, along with the return to a small-town atmosphere that Bruister and his wife, Kim, and three children, Cole, Anna Claire and Logan, will feel comfortable in.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Bruister said. “I was presented [a chance] to start a program at a university that is booming, so it was just a good opportunity for my family and me. I’m a hunting and fishing kind of guy. I enjoy East Texas and what it has. I’ll have time to spend time with my family and spend time with them doing that. I think it’s the best of both worlds.”
Along with the excitement of getting in on the ground floor, Bruister is slightly apprehensive about the responsibility but eager to leave his imprint.
“It’s kind of nerve-racking,” Bruister said. “It’s exciting, no doubt, but I’m a humble person and I hope I do it right. The experiences I’ve got in coaching will allow us as a university to do it right. My mentality is for us to get back to the World Series. That’s what I left this year, and that’s my plan for this team and for them to have the opportunity sooner than later. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m up for the challenge.”
With A&M-Commerce set to begin play in 2015, Bruister couldn’t ignore the school’s swift-rising stature.
“The infrastructure and things that are in place over there will make my job easier and my staff’s job easier, but you still have to put in the same hard work. It’s definitely exciting to have your hand in everything and help build it. In essence, it’s easier to come in because you’re not coming in behind another coach. It will be your philosophies.
“The infrastructure that [A&M-Commerce athletic director] Ryan Ivey and their athletic department have was something I didn’t want to compete against. I think they are going to be a major player very soon in Division II, and I want to be a part of that. There are a lot of elements that play into it.”
With the allure of a new project in front of him, Bruister said he feels confident in the coaching blueprint he fine-tuned at TWU and Henderson State and the shape he left those programs in. Bruister compiled a record of 183-97 at TWU and at Henderson was 163-93 in five seasons.
“As a coach, you come into a program and you want to leave it better than when you found it,” Bruister said. “That’s the goal. To know that I left TWU better than I found it and to know that I left Henderson better than I found it — that’s my job.
“For all the alumni that take pride in TWU, the administration and fans, you’ve done your job. It’s time to take that work to a new place and to a university that has wanted softball for many, many years.”
Bruister said he will miss being in his former players’ lives. In two seasons, he will have to coach against them.
“There’s never a good time to leave your kids and the relationships you’ve built with them, and with the NCAA, you can’t even talk to them now,” Bruister said. “That’s frustrating because you’ve mentored those young ladies and been a part of their life for three years and longer. When they get done, we’ll be able to have that personal relationship that you built with them, and I’ll be their biggest fan rooting them this year.”
Bruister said the road ahead of him is built on a winning foundation.
“I get a year to recruit, so I don’t have to coach against them this coming year,” Bruister said. “That would be tough. I’m happy I don’t have to.
“I don’t like losing, and I will be recruiting the best people that are out there. Champions don’t make excuses, and my goal is to put a very good product on the field the first year. I’ve very excited that Commerce is in the conference, so we know what we’re up against.”
The next step for Bruister is getting his team together. That starts with recruiting players, hiring a staff and getting the city of Commerce ready for college softball.
“I’ll be out on the road a lot through November,” Bruister said. “Essentially, I will have to have a team that can compete in the best conference in the country in three months. I’ve already started that process, and I’ve got a lot of good contacts and friends out there that will help. There are a lot of people excited about softball over in Commerce. There are a lot of good players that will want to play for that wonderful university.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873.