I have to admit I was disappointed when I saw you had taken the job at Stephen F. Austin. However, as someone who bleeds the blue and gold, you have to understand that my hope for you to stay here would be biased, but as the brother of a high school coach, I understand the nomadic nature of the profession of being a coach at any level. Like the great Jim Mora said, “Coaches either move around a lot because they are really terrible, or at the top of their field.” You are the latter.
From the moment you stepped onto our campus, things started to change back. Change back to what? 10,000 plus crowds at Memorial Stadium, pride in the blue and gold, contention for Lone Star Conference titles, and excitement for game day. For almost 15 years, our school was lost. For almost a century, East Texas State University was a proud school with both academic and athletic distinction, notoriety for being the best in many things, and a proud tradition of winning in just about every sport. Then, when we joined the A&M System and became Texas A&M-Commerce, it was almost like we were being forced to morph into the North Texas version of Aggieland, something we just never have been and never will be. We had lost our identity. Enrollment was going down, giving was declining, and kids just wanted to go elsewhere.
We tried everything, made some mistakes, but then Dan Jones became President, and then Ryan Ivey became athletic director, and he brought one of the best things that had happened to our school in years. You, and all those you brought with you. You understood what Lion football was all about. You knew the tradition that was Lion football, and you sought to resurrect it, and you did. 7-5 became 9-3, 9-3 became 11-2, and before you knew it, we were national champions, something most of us did not see happening in such a short time. People had no idea who this school was that was scoring 98 points, resurrecting promising college football careers for so many players, being featured on ESPN, having 2-3 games a year on television. For the first time in a long time, the pride in being a Lion was back.
Alums started coming back to campus, facilities that needed dire repair got them, giving was increased, and those of us who had been yearning for success were seeing it happen. The winning did not just get to Football, it spread across campus. All other sports started to see success. We were holding up conference championship trophies in Basketball, Track, Soccer, and Volleyball. Everything seemed better. The band played louder, the fans were more energized, and the sun would shine brighter in Commerce, America.
Build it and they will come, they say. It happened. Record enrollment, record attendance for games, and you helped build that.
Despite all the success, you embraced a man who had done as much for this school as you had done, and made sure he was treated like the legend he was. The first time I saw you talk to Coach Ernest Hawkins, I knew you two would have a relationship that was amazing to watch. Two Coaches who are West Texas boys at heart and gave that heart to a school and a community 400 miles to the east. You showed your humility as well by involving him along with Coach Eddie Vowell, Sam McCord, and others that were instrumental in making Lion football the tradition that it is. You helped us find our identity, our identity of our founding creed of being “Ceaseless, Fearless, Unfettered, and Unselfish.”
Finally, the one thing all of us will appreciate is not just that you won, but that you won the right way. You never cheated or cut corners. You gave kids second chances and made them earn them and turned their lives around. You told players that it was a privilege, not a right, to play football for Texas A&M-Commerce, to wear the blue and gold, and treated it as such. You held the players to high expectations on the field and higher expectations off of it, you embraced our traditions and built on them. You embraced us, and we embraced you, which will make it harder to see you go.
But we thank you for the 6 great years you gave to our alma mater. We also thank Sarah for all she did to help resurrect our Volleyball program, and the mentorship she gave to the young women in our program. Your family has done so much for our University and community.
From all of us Lions, we thank you, and God Bless you, Sarah, and your entire family.