Brandon Craig is the high school football coach in Oologah, Okla. I’ve never met the man, but I’d like to shake his hand for what he accomplished in four seasons at Campus.
From 2003-06, with Craig at the helm, the Colts were 19-19. It doesn’t seem like much until you consider that Campus was 2-16 in the two seasons before Craig’s arrival and is 6-52 since he departed.
Except for occasional of luke-warm success, they’ve been trying to figure out football at Campus for decades. But no matter what the Colts do, the hill remains steep.
Now, though, there’s a proven winner coaching the Colts. Greg Slade, who led Rose Hill to a Class 4A championship and was 96-61 during his tenure with the Rockets, has been handed the reigns. And heading into Friday’s game against Salina South, Campus has been on the wrong end of three blowouts.
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Slade, though, is not deterred. After being an assistant to Tom Young during some glory years at Derby, Slade inherited a Rose Hill program that had endured 14 losing seasons in 17 years. Whereas others might look at the Campus football program and see futility, Slade sees a future.
“These kids are working extremely hard,’’ Slade said Friday morning. “We’re getting better every week. We’re doing some good things.’’
Considering Campus has been outscored 137-19 in its three losses, “good things” are in the eyes of the beholder.
Slade knew what he was getting himself into. Not only was he taking over a program that has never had much success, he was also jumping into probably the toughest football league in Kansas, Division I of the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League where the likes of Derby, Hutchinson and Salina South rule. Not to mention Salina Central has a great history or that Maize and Newton are getting better in a hurry.
The last Campus coach, Mike Schartz, came with an impressive resume as one of Rick Wheeler’s top assistants at Heights. But Schartz couldn’t get it turned around and left after four seasons, six wins and 31 defeats.
What makes Slade different?
“He came into this situation with his eyes wide open,’’ said Campus athletic director Richard Elliott, who was the Colts’ football coach from 1991-2000, a 10-year stretch when Campus was 33-57. “We have to improve a little bit at a time. And how many schools get a coach who has won a state championship wanting to come? It’s very exciting to have a coach who has already turned a program around.’’
Slade welcomed the change, even if it does mean embarking on the biggest coaching challenge of his life.
“Sometimes you need something like this to make a difference in what you’re doing as a person,’’ Slade said. “I saw down with my wife, Lisa, and talked about this a lot. We look at everything closely. And we’re in this. We’re in this for the long haul.’’
Problem is, so are all of the other teams in the AV-CTL. And unlike Campus, all of them have some degree of football tradition, tangible success.
Slade, meanwhile, is left to talk about what could be. Not what is.
“There were people who questioned why I would take the Rose Hill job when I left Derby,’’ Slade said. “But nobody knew who I was then.’’
Which is the way Slade prefers it. He said he’s always reluctant to do media interviews, but understands it’s part of the job that can’t be passed on to someone else.
“Nothing against you guys,’’ Slade said. “I always do the interview but I’m not — let’s just say I’d rather talk in front of 200 high school kids. I’m more comfortable in that setting.’’
Slade has been talking to a bunch of high school kids, from those playing football for him to those who show up on Friday nights to show support, including a group of about a dozen who paint their torsos black and white and spearhead the student section.
So far, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about. Slade, 46, is confident there will be.
“You have to cultivate,’’ he said. “One of the big things is getting these kids out for football and then keeping them out. We have more than 100 kids out, so it’s not a numbers issue. I’m working hard to make sure these kids understand what’s expected. And we’re trying to make them better football players.’’
It’s a slow, tedious process. And it’s one that has been ongoing at Campus for as long as anyone can remember.
Under Craig, Campus had a seven-win season in 2004. It’s the only seven-win seasons the Colts have had since 1969. They went to the playoffs in 2004 and again in 2005.
Nothing good has happened since.
“We have a good junior football program in Haysville,’’ Slade said. “Our two middle schools have quality football coaches and they’re running a lot of our stuff.’’
Slade sees the facilities and the dedication from the administration and when he adds everything up, he sees a chance to turn this around. But Campus football is a double-wide on a two-lane road. Turning it around is going to take some maneuvering.