For 16 years, Russ Phillips patiently waited for his first head coaching job.
His diligence and perseverance finally paid off.
The Ponder school board approved Phillips on Thursday to become the second head football coach in school history.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but it never has worked out,” Phillips said. “This is a terrific opportunity for me and my family. I can’t wait to get going.”
Phillips, formerly Ponder’s wide receivers coach for the past two seasons, takes over for Rubin Covington. Covington went 7-13 in two years before accepting the offensive coordinator position at Mansfield Lake Ridge.
Previously, Phillips was at Lewisville for 13 years, including three years as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Ponder athletic director Jude Stanley said Phillips brings a strong combination of high ethical and moral standards and a solid football background, making him the best candidate for the position.
“He definitely knows our kids, and he’s a super high-energy guy,” Stanley said. “We feel like those things he brings to the table will give our kids someone who’s going to have the qualities we want in a head coach.”
Phillips played high school football under Ronnie Gage at Justin Northwest before going to Southern Arkansas to play quarterback. When the offense changed from the veer to the “I” formation, Phillips switched to cornerback, starting all four years.
When the time came for Phillips to become a coach, Gage turned his former player into his pupil. When Gage re-entered coaching and took over the head coaching job at Mont Belvieu (Texas) Barbers Hill in 2010, Gage tried to bring Phillips.
It didn’t work out, as Phillips went to Ponder instead. Gage echoed Stanley’s sentiments about Ponder’s new hire, and also stated that his former student will be a good fit with the Lions.
“He’s always had a passion for the game, and he’s always been a student of the game and it’s always been important to him,” Gage said. “He enjoys what he does. What he lacks in knowledge and experience he’ll learn by working at it and he’ll learn to adjust.”
Ponder’s football program has only been around for the past two seasons. Covington almost led the Lions to the postseason last year, posting a 5-5 record.
The Lions’ road to the postseason will get increasingly difficult as Pilot Point, Whitesboro and Bowie all drop from Class 3A, joining Ponder in District 5-2A.
To combat its new district foes, Ponder will have plenty of its starters returning, including quarterback Reid Sanders, running back Brennan Sooter and wide receiver Tanner Yeager. Those players, along with the rest of the Lions, will look to lead Phillips and Ponder to its first playoff berth.
“I think we can compete with all those guys,” Philips said.“The challenge lies within ourselves. It’s just continuing what we’ve started and building every day.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .