Andale senior Parker Bruce headed out for the Indians’ first summer football workout under new coach Dylan Schmidt and there it was.
A large speaker that remained in storage during Bruce’s time playing for Schmidt’s predecessor, Gary O’Hair, had found daylight near the practice field. Tunes filled the air.
“It can get pretty quiet out there,” said Bruce, a veteran wide receiver and defensive back. “He just kind of knew it was something we’d like to have. He lets us listen to music and it livens things up.”
Schmidt, an assistant for part of O’Hair’s hugely successful 15-year run as the Indians’ head coach, even gave players some say in the musical selections. At least, Bruce said, until some questionable lyrics in a couple rap songs caused the coach to mandate a steady buffet of ’80s and ’90s hits.
There are standards, after all, that have been set at programs like Andale and Bishop Carroll. And while the perennial powers move forward this season without coaches who combined for 343 victories and five state titles, expectations remain high.
Schmidt, a multi-sport standout who graduated from Andale in 2001, was chosen in December to replace O’Hair, who had announced prior to last season that it would be his last. In February, Carroll also stayed within its program, selecting longtime assistant Dusty Trail to fill the void left by Alan Schuckman, who surprised many by stepping down after winning 193 games and two state championships in 22 seasons.
While Schmidt unveiled his new twist at a team camp and Carroll players say Trail’s offseason regimen wasn’t for the faint-hearted, any radical changes for either program will easily fit on one page. Administrators at both schools favored continuity in their coaching transitions, and found it hard to argue against Schmidt and Trail.
“I think we have a lot of motivation to go really hard and show nothing has changed much, and prove that we’re the same Carroll team,” said Riggs Robben, the Golden Eagles’ senior linebacker.
Paths to the top
While there is plenty of comfort among the coaching staffs, players and fans with both hires, there is also irony.
Trail, 51, will make his head coaching debut Aug. 31 when the Eagles travel to Northwest. But the Osborne native interviewed for the position prior to the 1995 season, when Carroll selected Schuckman.
“It’s funny how that all fell into place,” said Trail, who was serving as an assistant at Princeton (Texas) High. “I applied and got an interview. They decided on Alan, but they also needed science teachers, and I was certified in physics.
“Alan called me after he was hired and we talked for about an hour, hour and a half. After that, I hung up and said, ‘I think I can work with that guy.’ ”
With Trail as the offensive coordinator and Jim Nance guiding Carroll’s defense, the Eagles evolved into a remarkable force during Schuckman’s tenure. Carroll posted its 21st consecutive winning season with a 7-3 record in 2016.
The Eagles have reached the 5A playoffs each of the last 14 years and broke through with Class 5A titles in 2012 and 2014. They won 12 City League championships under Schuckman, who remains at the school as an assistant principal.
“I think they knew from our very first team meeting that we didn’t plan to change a lot, and it was something we talked about,” Trail said. “Even though I’m in a new position and the guy who’s been leading this for 22 years is now gone, I was with him for 22 years and a lot of our guys have been with him for at least 20 years.
“We helped build the program. We know what went into it. We kind of helped him set the direction the program needed to take. That’s not going to change.”
A similar dynamic exists at Andale, where a veteran staff – many with longtime ties to the school – helped O’Hair guide the Indians to playoff appearances each fall after he returned to Andale from Southwestern Heights in 2002.
O’Hair averaged 10 victories a season, posting a 150-30 record, and won state titles in 2006, 2007 and 2014.
Whatever fits those achievements – icon, legend, star – Schmidt knows what it’s like to replace one. He spent the 2011 season at Wellington as the successor to Linn Hibbs, who won two state titles and reached the playoffs in all 15 seasons with the Crusaders.
“It’s very much the same,” said Schmidt, who returned to Andale in 2012 and was on O’Hair staff the past five seasons. “Linn is a guy I had a ton of respect for and I’ve reached out to him a lot.
“The fun thing about going to places like Wellington and Andale and following coaches like that is that regardless of the athletes you have, the procedures and organization are in place. Those are two great coaches who are very much the same in terms of the way do things. Their expectations of being organized and disciplined is why they were successful. At the 4A level, it ebbs and flows with talent and you need program guys. At the end of the day, players at Andale and Wellington are program guys.”
Carroll senior quarterback Braden Howell says personality – not philosophy – differentiates Trail from Schuckman. Trail’s role as coordinator put Howell in daily contact with him in practice.
“He maybe doesn’t bring as much energy as Coach Schuckman – a little slower talker,” Howell said. “But I feel like the work is a little harder. Some of the workouts, we’re getting after it with Coach Trail.”
The biggest change for Trail has been adjusting to the administrative duties of a head coach. Media interviews and parent group coordination were some of the responsibilities that Schuckman oversaw with little fanfare.
“He handled it and didn’t talk much about it, and let the assistants do their jobs,” Trail said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. A lot of it is just time management.”
While Trail has been cautious to delegate responsibilities in his first season as head coach – instead trying to gain a complete understanding of every aspect of the job – he started his tenure with leadership courses for some of his players in the spring. Howell and Robben said they benefitted as they moved into greater roles as seniors.
“He doesn’t want us to show any weakness, especially when you get tired,” Robben said. “He wants us to know that others are watching and you need to be a good leader no matter what you’re doing and show pride in what you do.”
Schmidt has repeatedly said the biggest thing he noticed working with O’Hair is the way he treated people. It’s an approach Schmidt respected and has molded into his own vision.
“It’s still football practice,” Bruce said. “We still come to work every day and we’re doing the same things because it’s worked for us. With a younger coach like Coach Schmidt, it been pretty fun and upbeat. You’re looking forward to coming to that practice.”
Players at both programs are aware of the perception that proceeding without their cornerstone coaches may make them vulnerable. It’s a theory they are determined to dispel.
“That thought crossed my mind earlier with Coach Schuckman leaving,” Howell said. “It definitely has put a chip on our shoulder that we’re going to work just as hard or harder.
“Some of those other teams are probably looking at us and saying maybe this is our chance. We’re definitely going in looking at it like we want to make things stay the same.”
First-year coaches in the area this season
Andale: Dylan Schmidt (Andale assistant)
Andover: Cade Armstrong (Derby assistant)
Carroll: Dusty Trail (Carroll assistant)
Cheney: Shelby Wehrman (Derby assistant)
Circle: Logan Clothier (Topeka assistant)
El Dorado: Bill Shaw (El Dorado assistant)
Independent: Eric Swenson (Independent assistant)
North: Scott Moshier (Meade)
South: Paul Lopez (South assistant)
Southeast: Erik Dobbins (Sheffield, Ten. assistant)