Starting from scratch
New Texas high school is building an athletic program from the ground up
It’s not yet 9 a.m. on the last Friday of April and the thermometer in Leander, Texas, is stretching toward 80 degrees as Rob Schoenfeld pulls another set of boxes from the back of a truck. The challenge isn’t the unloading any more, he’s used to that after three months on the job. Now it’s finding a place to put all of them.Schoenfeld is the head football coach and athletic coordinator at Tom Glenn High School, which will open its doors to students for the first time in August. The new, modern building is still under construction so space for the staff is at a premium for now. In the meantime, Schoenfeld is gathering the materials he needs to build a successful team and a full athletic department from the ground up.
“We’ve got one cubicle that has become the dumping ground for all athletic orders,” Schoenfeld said. “We’re just about out of room. We’ll get some access to the facilities and some storage soon.”
Leander, a booming suburb just north of Austin, is in the process of adding its third new high school in the last decade. Schoenfeld’s role in what’s becoming a familiar process in that area is to build a program that he hopes will quickly become a point of pride and help develop a sense of community around the new school. Getting there won’t be easy. Starting from scratch is a complicated juggling act that requires organization, creative problem solving and, most importantly, patience.
Patience was the first attribute that Lee Bridges, the school district’s head of athletics, saw in Schoenfeld when he went looking for one of the first hires at the new school. Bridges went through the same process as the head coach of an upstart football team at Stevens High School in San Antonio. Schoenfeld twice took over 0-10 teams at small Texas schools, turning them into playoff contenders, before winning a couple state championships as an offensive coordinator at nearby Cedar Park High. So when Bridges saw Schoenfeld’s résumé, he knew he found someone with the credentials to earn the community’s trust and the patience to keep it.
“(Glenn) is not going to be one of our schools that’s on top the first year,” Bridges said. “Building a program, knowing what the long term goal is and keeping that in mind as you work with the kids is key.”
Glenn will be open to freshmen and sophomores this fall. The football team will compete on the junior varsity level for the next two seasons before moving up to varsity. That being said, Schoenfeld is adamant that he has no intention of waiting very long for success or setting low expectations.
“We’re not going to win a state championship in the first two years,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, we’ll have a state championship caliber program in the way our sports are administered. There was never any doubt from day one that we’ll have high expectations for the program. I think that’s huge.”
The trick is finding milestones and short-term goals that let Schoenfeld and his staff remain demanding while allowing time for the players to develop. He said that’s a lesson he learned at his last two head coaching stops. It was also the blueprint used by Vandergrift High School, Leander’s last expansion school, when it took the field in 2008.
Vandergrift coach Drew Sanders borrowed a phrase from Kansas State’s Bill Snyder to set the tone for his team in the early days: “I’ll judge your progress, not the scoreboard,” he told his players. Sanders zeroed in on a few small parts of the game that he could harp on during practices and then point to as signs of growth when his players and coaches needed some encouragement.
The plan worked. Vandergift made a trip to the state semifinals in 2014 and to the quarterfinal round last fall.
Playoffs are still a speck on the horizon for Glenn and Schoenfeld, who has barely had time to catch his breath since starting the new job in February. His first week was spent trying to line up opponents for the next couple years before Glenn starts competing in varsity games. Since then, he estimates he’s spent 40 percent of his time hiring a staff, 40 percent of his time ordering supplies (“From shoelaces to blocking sleds and everything in between,” he said) and every other waking moment getting to know the students and families that will fill Glenn’s halls starting this fall.
While the box-sized game of Tetris he’s been playing in his one cubicle of storage space has been difficult, Schoenfeld’s toughest puzzle so far has been finding a way to hire 18 quality coaches to fill the department. All high school coaches in Texas must be teachers, making the task even more challenging.
With only underclassmen at the school for the next couple years, and therefore half the normal faculty size, finding talented folks that fit their needs in the classroom and on the sidelines is a painstaking process.
It’s also a crucial one. Every time Schoenfeld makes a quality hire his considerable workload gets a little bit lighter. With everything crowding his plate in the coming year, he’ll need all the good help he can get.
Bridges, Sanders and Schoenfeld all agree that building a brand new program isn’t a task for clock-watchers or the faint of heart. It takes a dedicated team working long hours and heavy doses of elbow grease to build something that becomes a rallying point in towns like Leander. That’s the impact that Bridges saw in San Antonio and what Sanders helped build at Vandergrift. Both of them said they’re happy they took the time to do it — once.
“It is a lot of fun,” Sanders said. “But as a head coach I’m not sure I’d ever do it again.”