COMMENTARY: Spradlin resurrected Temple's winning tradition; Stewart's Wildcats keep on adding to it
FAMILIAR FACE, NEW COLORS: Rockwall-Heath second-year head coach Mike Spradlin holds the gold ball trophy while speaking to his players after the host Hawks beat Garland 42-14 in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game last Friday. Spradlin coached Temple from 2011-15 and guided the Wildcats to a 44-17 record and four playoff berths, highlighted by a 5A Division I state runner-up finish in 2014. He'll face his former team when Rockwall-Heath (8-2) battles Temple (10-1) in an area-round showdown at 7 p.m. Friday at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. Wildcats fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart was Spradlin's defensive coordinator at Temple from 2014-15. (Photo courtesy of Rockwall ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
When the 2010 high school football season ended, Temple had zero positive momentum. The Wildcats' 1-9 record marked their ninth losing season in 11 years, and from 2000-10 they struggled to a 37-77 record with only three playoff appearances and one postseason victory under three head coaches: David Beal (2000-02), Tam Hollingshead (2003-04) and Bryce Monsen (2005-10).
Eighteen years removed from Temple's second state championship and 11 years after legendary head coach Bob McQueen retired following his wildly successful 28-season tenure, the Wildcats were hungry – maybe even desperate – to find a leader who could reinvigorate their tradition-rich program and resurrect the winning ways of the players who wear the blue-front, white-back pants.
They found him in Mike Spradlin.
After arriving in Temple in early 2011 following a successful five-year run at Abilene Cooper, the energetic longtime coach immediately went to work on changing the program's culture, restoring its blue-collar work ethic and promoting strength training with the mantra “Win the Day." And the Wildcats' results from 2011-15 were unmistakable: a 44-17 record, three consecutive district championships, four playoff berths and one appearance in the Class 5A Division I state championship game, followed by a trip to the 5A D-I Region III final.
“I'm just really proud of all the coaches and kids and fans and everybody that bought into it. That's the key, is that everybody wanted what we were trying to offer. It was a process,” Spradlin said Tuesday as he prepared to coach Rockwall-Heath (8-2) – he's 13-7 in two years with the Hawks – against Temple (10-1) in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game at 7 p.m. Friday at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. “I can't take credit for it. The credit has to go to everybody who was involved. It's a team effort. If you can build relationships with people and kids and coaches, you can do it. Period.
“I go back to Coach McQueen. He and I had a conversation when I'd been on the job a day or two. He came in and we sat down and talked for a while. I'll never forget one thing he told me. He said, 'Coach, if you get 'em going, these are going to be the toughest, hardest-playing kids you've ever coached.' And he's right. They just like it.”
But one month after the Wildcats' 12-2 season of 2015 concluded, Spradlin decided to leave coaching at age 60 and accept an offer to become the athletic director for the Magnolia school district. That left Temple searching for another head coach, but this time its mission wasn't to find a guy who could rebuild the program; it was to find the man who could continue to win and propel the resurgent Wildcats toward greater heights.
It found him in Scott Stewart.
The fiery Troy graduate came aboard as Temple's defensive coordinator in 2014, and in two seasons together he and the offensive-minded Spradlin helped lead the Wildcats a 25-4 record (12-0 in district) and eight playoff victories. At 41, Stewart never had been a head coach, but then-Temple superintendent Dr. Robin Battershell – who hired Spradlin – had a hunch and took a chance that Stewart would be the right man for the job of succeeding Spradlin.
Upon announcing his departure from Temple in January 2016, Spradlin said, “It's the best job I've ever had and the best in the state. This place is unbelievable and the leadership here is outstanding. They can do it without me. It is sustainable.”
Just like McQueen was right about what Temple players can accomplish when everyone pulls in the same direction, Spradlin also was right: Temple's success has been sustainable.
SUCCESS ON THE SIDELINE: In five seasons as Temple's head coach, Scott Stewart has guided the Wildcats to a 48-15 record (the most wins by any Temple head coach in his first five years), a 30-5 district mark, two district championships and a 9-4 playoff record, featuring a march to the Class 5A Division I state championship game in his 2016 debut season. Stewart was the defensive coordinator for Temple head coach Mike Spradlin from 2014-15, and they'll meet again when the Wildcats (10-1) challenge Spradlin's Rockwall-Heath Hawks (8-2) in a 6A Division II area-round playoff duel at 7 p.m. Friday at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
In Stewart's head coaching debut in 2016, he guided the 12-4 Wildcats to their second 5A D-I state title game in three years. In 2017 Temple was back in the Region III final, its fourth consecutive season to advance at least to that point. Now Stewart has been Temple's head coach as long as Spradlin was, and he's compiled a 48-15 record (30-5 in district) with back-to-back district championships, five playoff berths and a 9-4 postseason mark – all with a different senior starting quarterback in each of those five seasons.
Add the five-season head coaching records of Spradlin and Stewart together and it's clear that Temple has produced a decade of astounding success. The Wildcats are 92-32 (.742 winning percentage) in the last 10 seasons, including 57-11 against district competition (.838) with three outright championships and two shared titles.
They're 8-0 against rival Belton and 17-8 in the playoffs (.680), highlighted by their 16-4 run from 2014-17 with two state finals and two other regional finals. Since Stewart arrived in 2014 and revamped the defense, Temple's overall record is even better: 73-19 (.793).
Stewart knows that his shot to become a successful head coach of a premier program such as Temple came about because Spradlin showed confidence in him to come in and fix the Wildcats' defense.
“I'm very fortunate. I mean, I wouldn't be in this chair right now if it wasn't for Mike Spradlin,” Stewart said Tuesday, taking a break from watching video of Spradlin's high-scoring, balanced Rockwall-Heath offense. “Not to say I got promoted because of him, but I wouldn't even be in Temple if it wasn't for him, so the opportunity wouldn't have even been there.”
Spradlin's favored offense – power running mixed with big-play passing – was an instant hit at Temple, but during his first three seasons with the Wildcats their defense had difficulty containing top-notch opponents. It all culminated on Nov. 16, 2013 at Waco's Floyd Casey Stadium, where Temple led eventual 5A Division II state champion Cedar Hill 28-7 at halftime but then couldn't withstand the potent Longhorns in the second half of a crushing 39-35 bi-district defeat.
“I always go back to that 2013 Cedar Hill game. Even though we didn't win that game, it changed the fact of the matter that we knew we could,” said Spradlin, whose Wildcats dropped to 5A Division I in 2014, the year 6A was introduced. “Once you get that, that's the key. You either get it like we got it against Cedar Hill, or you get it by winning (a playoff game), which we did here this year. It's similar.”
Spradlin's Wildcats were 19-13 with zero playoff wins in his first three seasons, and he knew that a leadership change was needed on defense. Enter highly experienced defensive coordinator Stewart, who's as serious about playing strong defense as anybody you'll encounter at the high school level.
Spradlin hired Stewart in early 2014 and turned him loose, with the no-nonsense directive to construct a defense that could transform Temple from playoff qualifier to state championship contender.
“I loved it. He said, 'We've struggled on defense around here, for various and sundry reasons. I don't want to have to come in that (defensive meeting) room, so here's the deal I'm making you: I'm handing you the keys to the defense, and if I have to come in here, I'm going to find a new you,'” recalled Stewart, whose Wildcats have allowed six points in their last two games. “What man doesn't want to hear that? 'It's all on you.' That's music to my ears.
“Because I've worked for guys where it's, 'You're the defensive coordinator, but I want to run this.' It was the first time in my career I had complete autonomy. He made that very clear beforehand. He was like, 'Look, if I come in that room, it's just because I want to see what y'all are doing. If I feel like I have to come in that room . . . you just have to understand that going in. What do you think about that?' I said, 'That's the best thing I've ever heard in my life.'”
Seven years into his time in Temple, just down the road from his hometown of Troy, the only thing that has eluded Stewart is winning a state championship. He recently cleared two big hurdles. The Wildcats won the District 12-6A championship at 7-0 for their first outright title in the state's largest classification since 2007, and last Friday they ripped bi-district opponent Waxahachie 38-0 at Wildcat Stadium for Temple's first playoff victory in the largest classification since 2003 and its first in 6A.
Stewart isn't exactly satisfied and almost certainly won't be until the Wildcats bring home their long-awaited third state championship, but he realizes that a full decade of winning football is a stellar achievement in itself.
“I'm the guy that says there's only one person every year who leaves happy and he's the (head coach) who holds up that big (state championship) trophy. So obviously year in and year out it's, 'What could we have done differently?' But to have sustained success is one of the hardest things to do, because how do you keep kids from getting complacent?
“I've coached places where they didn't win before, and they were like, 'Whatever you want, however you want.' I mean, you could do whatever and those kids would just eat it up. Over time, let's be honest: 10 years ago, how old were these (Temple) kids? Second grade? And that's the seniors. All they've ever seen is (success). So what you have to try to thwart and fight is the expectation that it's just going to happen. That's where as a coaching staff you better show them the reason it's happened.
“A big part of my job description is getting these kids ready to play, and that's from December to August. That's where I earn my paycheck. Why do you think I disappear into the woods for two weeks (after each season)? Because I know as soon as I get back, we are grinding. Because if you don't, then kids are going to be kids and say, 'We're going to win because we're Temple.' And that's just not the case. It's not what you do; it's how you do it.”
As for Stewart's predecessor, Spradlin believed he had coached his final game when he left Temple following the 2015 season to become Magnolia ISD's athletic director.
“If I'm coaching, I'm coaching right here (in Temple),” he said in January 2016. “It's a lifestyle change, an administrative role, and I told the kids that. I've been walking the sideline for a long time and want to get off that hamster wheel. I have a lot to offer for a lot of years. I'm excited about this new chapter.”
However, as much as he and his wife, Roxanne, enjoyed living in Magnolia, Spradlin underestimated how much he would miss coaching football and serving as a role model in the lives of young student-athletes.
“I missed coaching like you can't even believe. I missed the kids, missed that fire,” Spradlin said. “When you coach 30 games in two years, you look up and you make a decision kind of at the wrong time. You never make those decisions right after football season, right? But yet, that's when those jobs come open. You don't just wake up one day and say, 'You know what? It's time for me to go be an AD.' Those jobs just don't come along (very often). I had a chance to go (to Magnolia), and I talked myself into it, to be honest. It's like, 'OK buddy, you're 60 years old. It's time to make that lifestyle change. You'll last longer.'
“The answer, I found out, is not only would I not last longer; I was shortening every year. The first year is always the best year when you do something new. It probably was in Year 2 when I began to realize, 'I don't know if this is gonna get me through.' I told myself, 'No one's gonna hire your old (rear end).' And then somewhere in Year 3, I knew I had to either get back in coaching or . . . it just wasn't a track I felt good about staying on. I started thinking about retirement, because I was just bored to tears, to be honest. (Magnolia was) great people and a great place, but I just decided, 'If I ever have chance, I'm going to coach again, because I want to retire with my cap and a whistle.'”
When Mickey Moss retired as Rockwall-Heath's head coach after the 2018 season, Spradlin expressed his interest in the Hawks' job by contacting Dr. John “JJ” Villarreal, the former Temple ISD administrator and Wildcats assistant football coach who became Rockwall ISD's superintendent in 2016.
“JJ's an awesome guy and he put me in touch with the athletic director (Russ Reeves) here. JJ didn't influence it; he just got me in the room. Russ and I hit it off and the next thing I know I'm sitting in this chair,” Spradlin said. “And it's where I'll retire from. I'll coach my last game here at Heath High School. I have no idea when that's coming. It's rejuvenated me. I'm going to try to outlast (longtime Dallas Highland Park head coach) Randy Allen.”
In an interesting twist, Spradlin is only one of three former Temple head coaches to make an impact on Rockwall-Heath's program. Hollingshead had an outstanding 8-4 debut season with the Wildcats in 2003 but sputtered to 2-8 the next year and then left to build Rockwall-Heath's new program from the ground up. Hollingshead went 9-11 in the Hawks' first two varsity seasons, then Moss took over in 2008, went 13-1 in his first season and coached seven playoff teams in 11 years before retiring.
When Spradlin landed the Rockwall-Heath job and began to build his staff, he hired Monsen – who had been Belton's defensive coordinator – to coach the Hawks' inside linebackers. The affable Monsen was Temple's head coach from 2005-10 and guided the Wildcats to an outright district championship in 2007 and another playoff trip in 2008 but was 5-15 in his final two seasons before Temple did not renew his contract.
“I got to know Bryce a little bit when I got to Temple. Bryce is just such a great person. He walked into my office the first day I was on the job and said, 'Coach, I just want to wish you the best.' That's the kind of person he is,” Spradlin said. “There's nobody who loves kids more, and our kids love him. I do. He's an unselfish, hard-working, fun guy and he's doing a great job for us.”
Also boosting Spradlin's staff at Rockwall-Heath are two former Temple standout players in wide receivers coach Joey Haag – a former Temple running backs coach and son of former longtime Wildcats assistant coach Chuck Haag – and quarterbacks coach Chad President, whom both Spradlin and Stewart characterize as a rising star in the coaching profession. President was the star quarterback who helped drive Spradlin's 2014 Temple squad to its breakthrough 13-2 season, including a 49-45 loss to top-ranked Aledo in the 5A Division I state championship game in front of 40,000-plus fans at Arlington's AT&T Stadium.
(Editor's note: More about Joey Haag and Chad President will appear in an upcoming Temple vs. Rockwall-Heath game preview story.)
Spradlin never has been a coach to stay in one place for a long time. In fact, his five-season stints at Cooper and then Temple were the longest tenures among his six head coaching stops, including Midland Christian, Navasota and Round Rock Westwood. From 2003-05 he coached the Houston Cougars' offensive linemen for then-head coach Art Briles.
Spradlin specifically takes pride in building programs up to the point where when he departs, his assistant coaches can elevate into positions as head coaches and/or coordinators, either at the same place or elsewhere. For example, Stewart was promoted to Temple's top job and former Wildcats assistants Ben McGehee (Sweetwater), Craig Martin (Magnolia), J.D. Berna (Magnolia West) and Blake Joseph (Magnolia West) became head coaches. When Spradlin left Magnolia, Berna succeeded him as the district's athletic director.
“If you're going to do right by the people you're working for . . . one thing I'm proud of is that the places I've been have gravitated toward (hiring) guys who were on those staffs and places I've gone have gotten guys (hired),” said Spradlin, who's 137-78 in 19 seasons as a head coach. “Everybody wins, right? That's what I like about it. To me, if you do it right and bust your tail and you try not to make it about you and you try to get good people, then everybody wins.
"The good Lord has blessed me with having great people around me. I'm so fired up that I'm getting to coach in a good place and around good people.”
Now five seasons into his own successful five-season run as Temple's head coach and an integral part of the Wildcats' last seven years of winning, Stewart consistently has said many of those same things about his situation. More than anything else, the defensive-minded Stewart picked up something from the offensive-oriented Spradlin that continues to benefit Temple's current boss and his Wildcats to this day.
“I learned an important lesson from Mike Spradlin that I try to apply moving forward: You've got to hire people you trust,” Stewart said. “You've got to hire good people and you've got to turn them loose.”
It's been a winning formula for both head coaches who helped transform Temple's previously adrift Wildcats back into being big-time winners, and it will be on full display – with playoff survival at stake – under McLane Stadium's bright lights on Friday night.