Still in its infancy, relatively speaking, the Ponder football program has seen a lot of changes.
When Russ Phillips left his head coaching gig at Ponder recently to take over as an assistant coach at Guyer, the Lions were left frantically searching for their third head coach in four varsity seasons.
Unlike the school’s two previous head coaching searches, Ponder athletic director Jude Stanley was looking for someone who had a wealth of head coaching experience and a history of building programs from virtually nothing. To make matters worse, he was doing it on an accelerated timetable with two-a-day practices set to begin in just more than two weeks.
Luckily for Stanley, he still had some resumes on hand from when he hired Phillips last year, one of which led him to a coach he said he feels is the right guy.
Enter veteran head coach Glen Schuelke, who resigned from Prairiland in March with the intention of retiring from teaching and coaching. He had a change of heart in June and accepted a head coaching job in Idabel, Okla.
When Stanley reached out to Schuelke last week, the pastures looked a bit greener for the 29-year coaching veteran.
“It was an easy decision,” Schuelke said. “You don’t normally take a job in the middle of July. We have a daughter that’s going to be an eighth-grader, and it was just a good family decision.
“It’s [Ponder] in a good area. I’ll be closer to my family, and it’s something that me and my wife and daughter had talked about to get back toward that area. I applied there last year, and generally I don’t apply unless I want a job. It’s just happened to work out, and I think it’ll be a real good fit for everybody.”
Schuelke oversaw a stunning turnaround in sports at Prairiland as the athletic director, but the football turnaround was perhaps the most dramatic.
From 1990-99, the Patriots had a combined record of 18-82. In the next 10 seasons under Schuelke, the Patriots were 75-33, including a second-round playoff loss to eventual Class 2A runner-up Argyle.
Those numbers sparked Stanley’s interest in the veteran coach.
“He was in our top group from when we interviewed last time,” Stanley said. “It just worked out where we were able to get him at this point. I definitely think we got the right man for the job.
“[Phillips’ departure] definitely put us in a short time frame to make a hire because we’re two weeks away from having two-a-days [Aug. 5]. It squeezes your time frame down in a hurry. You don’t have the time you would’ve had if you had a resignation in May. We had a short time, but we definitely made an excellent hire.”
Schuelke said he immediately sensed the Ponder administration’s desire to bring in someone with a proven ability to build programs from rough patches. In their first three seasons of varsity football, the Lions are 9-21, with their best season coming in 2011 when they finished 5-5 under Rubin Covington.
“I was the athletic director there for 14 years and the head football coach, and we won at everything,” Schuelke said of Prairiland. “We had a strong athletic program. That didn’t all happen overnight. I’ve been a part of building everything — facilities and programs. There’s not too many things I haven’t seen, and I think that had something to do with them wanting me. They wanted someone who’s seen a lot and wants to be there for a while and give it some stability.
“It’s a similar situation. I’ve done it before, and it can be done again.”
Now, with two-a-days just around the corner and with Schuelke in a mad dash to sell his house and find another in Ponder, there is no rest for the weary. Schuelke said he is ready for the challenge.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be a challenge,” Schuelke said. “There’s not too many people coaching as long as I have been that would jump on something like this. But there’s no doubt we can do what we need to do to be successful. Football isn’t as complicated as people think, and I think the kids can grasp our system. It’ll be a good adjustment. I just hope we get things rolling quickly.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.