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Mission accomplished
After helping build the program, Rick Hurst steps down from Eastside with a job well done

On Wednesday Eastside football coach, Rick Hurst confirmed that he had accepted the head coaching job at Pepperell High School. Hurst has been a coach for 21 years, having spent 10 of those years at Eastside, which some may consider a lifetime for high school football coach.

Rick Hurst was the longest tenured head coach in the county, having joined Eastside in 2005. He has compiled a 66-46 record during his tenure after overturning a dormant football program into a widely recognized team.

“Before we arrived here there was no thought of competing at the state level, they were just trying to survive. Now to look up and you see our banners hanging and you see kids that have gone on and played at a very high level, those are the things that you’re proud of as a head coach and that’s what I’ll take from here,” Hurst said. “It’s not the wins as much as I’ve enjoyed those, those are great, but it’s seeing those guys go off and come back and be a part of our program that’s going to be here for a long time and it’s in great shape. It’s in good hands.”

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. It’s not me, it’s not I, it’s we, and that means the staff, the administration, the players, the community, the parents...everybody’s involved in making a program,” Hurst added. “When you go to these big places like Valdosta and Carrollton and Cartersville, it’s not the team, it’s everybody. Everybody has to buy in, everybody has to be sold on the vision of the leader. Yeah, it’s been my vision, but everybody has to buy in to it. That’s what’s satisfying. To know that so many people had a hand in getting this thing where it is. That’ something I’ll never forget.”

Hurst echoes something that Anderico Bailey said a week ago about turning Eastside recognized program. Bailey – currently an Eastside assistant coach – was a part of Hurst’s first team, as they came in together. Eastside Athletic Director Dr. Bruce McColumn’s first year was also in 2005, along with Hurst and Bailey.

“He’s a program changer. We were in dire need of our football program being turned around,” Dr. McColumn said. “From what I understand – I was not a part of the interview process – but I understand that he said what he’s gonna do and he did everything that he said he would do.”

McColumn said Hurst’s best characteristic was his high expectations for all of his players.

“He didn’t care about the color, he didn’t care about the size. His mission was to give them all high expectations and make them into men. That’s more than just a football thing and that’s what I appreciate more,” McColumn said.

Hurst says that when the job became available at Pepperell he made his interest known and Pepperell let him know that the interest was mutual.

“I’ve always — as a head coach over the last few years — circled areas that I’ve felt like that at some point if the job became available that I would be interested in. Rome is 65 miles from where I grew up in North Georgia. The school system up there has always been a very good one. Pepperell is the best program in the county. When it came open I applied for the job and heard from the principal within – I don’t even think I got there and he had a chance to read it all,” Hurst said laughing.

Hurst says that the principal got back to him within a day. They talked on the phone and were very upfront with each other, and didn’t want to waste one another’s time.

Hurst went up and interviewed and took a tour, which combined, lasted four hours.

“I came home and told my wife I felt like it was a fit. I felt like that it was a lot like here. I just felt at home. I felt like that the administration was a key,” Hurst said. “As the head coach, that’s one thing you can’t miss on. You’ve got to have administrators like I’ve had here that will allow you to do things necessary to win.”

“Mr. [Phil] Ray, the principal there has been phenomenal in this process. I look forward to working with him,” he added.

Ray kept in touch with Hurst and made sure he was interested. A week ago, on friday, while he was in Orlando at a coach’s clinic, Hurst got the call and they offered him the job.

“Lot of prayer. A lot of talking and discussions with my wife,” Hurst said on what went into him making his final decision. “We just felt like it was the best thing for us and the time was right. It’s been a wonderful experience here. I can’t say enough about this community and especially the Eastside community and what they’ve done for my family. And Newton County, I’ve had lifelong friends here, people that I’ll never forget.”

“Like I told one of the students, it’s not like I’m moving to Europe,” Hurst chuckled. “I know any kind of change is tough. It is on us and it was hard today. It was hard to look those kids in the eye that you’ve been with, some of them for four and five years, and explain why you gotta go.”

Some of the players took the news better than others. Hurst said he saw some tears, some anger and says there were a lot of mixed emotions, but he felt the team understood because Hurst and his staff did a good job with the way they explained things with assistant coaches that left in the past.

“Any time that you lose those kind of guys it’s hurtful with the players,” Hurst said. “Throughout that whole process I try to tell them, ‘Look, you never fault a man for bettering himself.’ Yeah you can have emotion, you can be mad, you can be sad, but you’ve got to understand that deep down people have got to do what’s best for them and their family.”

“They’re resilient kids. You saw that this year, and they’re not gone quit. I told them that the program is bigger than any one part. I’m just a little part of it. It’s in good hands. I’m leaving it in better shape than I took it, and that’s what I’m proud of,” Hurst said.

Hurst goal was that he wanted Eastside’s program to be bigger than Newton County, and after all of his success, most people should consider it a mission accomplished.

“My goal was to have it [the Eastside football program] respectable throughout the state of Georgia. As a coach, as an assistant coach all over the state before I took this job that was my goal. I didn't want us to be respectable in Newton County,” Hurst said admirably. “I wanted us to be respectable across the state of Georgia and I think we’ve accomplished that.”

“I think when you make it to the state semifinals, the state quarterfinals and you beat teams like Carrollton and you’re in games with Peach County and those kinds of environments you put this kind of place on the map and that was the goal. To get us to be able to compete at the state level.”

There is no word yet on who Eastside is looking at to replace Hurst. Check back with the Covington News for updates.