The Richland Springs Coyotes took the practice field this week with their third head coach since they last played a football game in the state quarterfinals of the 2018 Class 1A Division II playoffs.
Jerry Burkhart, who coached the Coyotes to a 192-10 record and eight six-man state championships from 2003-2017, was hired last week to return to the school for a third stint as athletic director and head football coach.
“My mother-in-law is 70 and lives near Richland Springs, and my grandpa is 86 and lives in Gustine (70 miles from Richland Springs). Getting closer to family was the deciding factor on why we came back again,” said Burkhart, who had been an assistant coach at Rankin -- 100 miles west of San Angelo -- since midway through the 2018 fall semester.
“This is it for us. I’ll be here (Richland Springs) until I retire -- unless they run me off. We’ve left twice and were paid more money, but family has outweighed money both times and we came back. You live and learn.”
Burkhart resigned for the second time at Richland Springs after the 2017 season to try coaching 11-man football at Class 3A Division II Stanton. Thomas Tipton, a longtime Burkhart assistant, was promoted to head coach and guided Richland Springs to an 11-2 record last season, including an 11-game win streak and a berth in the state quarterfinals. But Tipton was reassigned last spring, and has since taken a coaching and teaching job at Class 6A Austin Vandegrift.
Jamie Rigdon, a Richland Springs assistant last year, was promoted to head coach in April. But Rigdon lasted only four months as head coach before being reassigned prior to last week’s school board meeting in which Burkhart was rehired.
“He was just reassigned. Things happened in the spring,” Richland Springs superintendent Don Fowler said of Rigdon, whose sons Matthew and Griffin will be among the Coyotes’ top returning players this season. Matthew Rigdon compiled almost 3,000 total yards last season.
Asked to explain how his school could have three head football coaches in seven months, Fowler said, “It is unusual. This is the way it works. We all make decisions in life, and sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“Being in the news doesn’t bother me. I’ve been at Richland Springs since 2002, and we do what’s best for the kids and hope it works out. A lot of small schools struggle to fill all their coaching openings. I’ve had other superintendents calling me today (Monday) looking for head coaches. We’re fortunate at Richland Springs to have all our coaching positions filled. We’re still hanging in there,” Fowler said.
Burkhart compared his third stint at Richland Springs to former coach G.A. Moore, who is second on the Texas high school career wins list with 426. Moore coached three separate stints at Pilot Point and two stints at Celina, neighboring 11-man schools located north of Dallas.
“I’m not going to dwell on the past and the year I was gone from Richland Springs,” the 47-year-old Burkhart said Tuesday. “G.A. Moore went back and forth between Celina and Pilot Point. People get used to somebody. I think coming back will be good for me and my family, and good for Richland Springs.”
Also returning to the Richland Springs staff after a two-year absence is Shawn Rogers, the Coyotes’ former offensive coordinator and an assistant coach for seven of their eight state championships. Rogers was named head coach at neighboring Rochelle in January, but decided to return to Richland Springs as offensive coordinator in April.
Burkhart said Rigdon would remain at Richland Springs as an assistant coach in football (special teams’ coordinator) and track, plus as boys’ head basketball coach. Rigdon came to Richland Springs last year, which means he and Burkhart have not previously coached together.
“This is the route the school wanted to take,” Burkhart said of replacing Rigdon as head coach. “Coach Rigdon brings a lot of attributes to the program. He and I both have the opportunity to do something special for the kids at Richland Springs.
“It’s not about one person. It’s about the whole staff and the kids and our team chemistry. Our first practice together Monday was awesome.”
Additionally, Burkhart will bring his son, Landon, with him. Landon Burkhart rushed for 333 yards in Stanton’s lone win last season, but after being the victim of a physical violence incident, he left Stanton in mid-season. He transferred first to Sterling City and then to Rankin by the end of the 2018 fall semester.
Jerry Burkhart said Landon, a junior this season, wouldn’t be eligible to play on the Richland Springs varsity until Oct. 29 -- in time for the final two regular-season games, plus any playoff games. Coach Burkhart said Landon would play on the Coyotes’ JV team until Oct. 29.
Granger Huntress, owner of sixmanfootball.com, the Bible of Texas six-man football, said he was torn on whether to rank Richland Springs or two-time defending state champion Strawn as his preseason No. 1 team in Class 1A Division II.
“Richland is either No. 1 or No. 2. I’ll tell you that much,” Huntress said. “I actually have Strawn with them at No. 1 or 2. But Burkhart’s return does change things. It vaults Richland into the top echelon.”
Richland Springs was ranked No. 3 in 1A DII by Texas Football magazine -- even before Burkhart’s return.
After Landon Burkhart left Stanton last fall, Jerry Burkhart stayed for a few more weeks. But he resigned as Stanton’s head coach with a 1-6 record and three games remaining in the regular season. Jerry Burkhart took an assistant coach’s position in Rankin, where he remained until last week.
“Rankin offered us a job when we had nowhere to go,” Jerry Burkhart said. “They were gracious to hire us, and they were good to us. They’ve got oil money out there so the pay was great. But we chose getting closer to family over money.”
Burkhart also left Richland Springs for Gordon, another six-man program, in 2013. But he resigned from Gordon in less than two weeks and returned to Richland Springs without a job. He eventually was rehired to his former position as AD/head coach, and led the Coyotes’ to their seventh and eighth state championships in 2015 and 2016. The eight titles are tied for the state record along with 11-man powers Katy, Southlake Carroll and Celina.