COVINGTON, Ga. — Rick Rasmussen said he isn’t the kind of guy to go scouting out opportunities.
But the way the former Newton boys basketball coach, and now newly minted North Oconee program leader’s faith is set up, when an opportunity looks like it’s got divine intervention stamped all over it, Rasmussen has to listen.
“I’ve spent 21 years at Newton, and at some point I guess I figured God would lead me to leave Newton,” Rasmussen said. “But up until now it had never happened. Twenty-one years at Newton with God leading me one year at a time. And I feel like God is leading me in this move.”
It definitely checks all the boxes of convenience. Two years ago, Rasmussen and family moved to Oconee County to be closer to family. That meant his daily commute was a 50 minute drive through winding backroads and side streets populated with deer and other wildlife.
Now, among the things Rasmussen’s most excited about with his shift to Bogart is the reduction of his travel time.
“From 50 minutes to 10 minutes now. That’s going to be a big difference,” Rasmussen said. “I hit a dear earlier this year driving back home in the dark. This will be a bit of a safer commute for me.”
The coaching move itself, though, is definitely out of Rasmussen’s comfort zone. At Newton, the only head coaching job he’s had, he enjoyed seven years gleaning from Ron Bradley, the dean of Georgia high school basketball, before stepping on his shoulders to continue the success of an already strong program.
Not so much at North Oconee.
Rasmussen will take over a basketball team that’s won just seven games in the last two seasons combined. Not exactly the kind of place one may expect a coach with Rasmussen’s resume to land. But then again, there’s where that faith thing comes in.
“This is new for me,” he said. “My entire career has been at Newton. This is a different kind of challenge. It’s a different school than Newton, but kids are kids. You know, I love the challenge of building something and putting a team together year in and year out.
“That’s probably one of the things I relish most about coaching. I’m not the kind of guy to bounce around or hunt for talent or look for big opportunities. I’m a traditionalist. I believe in building from with. Every year at Newton I’ve done what I felt God was calling me to do. I’m doing the same thing here.”
Rasmussen said he saw where North Oconee posted the job about a month ago, and after praying about it and contemplating, he felt the nudge to apply and “just see what happens.”
As it became more obvious that the move would be made, Rasmussen said he became more convinced that it was time for a change.
“The people at North Oconee were very welcoming and encouraging, and it just felt right,” Rasmussen said. “And with our senior class at Newton, this morning when I told them, I told them how special they are. And it just made me feel even more like the timing was right. “All seven of our seniors at Newton have been there all four years, and it’s just a great group that I’m glad to have the chance to end things with.”
As for North Oconee, Rasmussen said he was taking the remainder of his Tuesday to go meet the players and other program faculty at North Oconee. And while he hasn’t had the chance yet to take a good, in-depth look at his new players, he said he’s seen enough of the school’s overall energy regarding athletics to be optimistic.
“They’re a (Class) 4A school,” he said. “They’re football program has really turned it around with a new coach. (Basketball) has some good, young talent, and we’re going to get started going through the process of sifting through all that. This summer will be extremely important to build on next fall. Like I said, it’ll be a different kind of challenge. I’ve never been through the changing of schools, but I’m not afraid of that challenge.”
Rasmussen said he’ll remain at Newton through the duration of the school year and finish his duties, not just with the basketball team, but as Newton’s golf coach. He said he wouldn’t dare miss the opportunity to see his three Division I prospects through to their signing day.
Tre Clark is already committed to VCU while Tyrease Brown is pledged to Fort Valley State. Meanwhile, Armani Harris informed Rasmussen Tuesday morning that he just picked up an offer from Division I Stetson out of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Harris has said he’d likely be making his decision in early to mid April.
But when the time comes for him to fully shift his energy toward North Oconee, Rasmussen said he doesn’t plan on pushing his thoughts and love for Newton away — especially regarding the relationships he’s made over the years.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “That’s what coaching is. I’m still going to be rooting for these guys to keep it going. I know they’re going to find someone who cares about the kids first and foremost, and I know they’ll want to look for an experienced basketball coach to keep the tradition going. I’ll offer any help I can have, but I know they’ll want to put their own stamp on it.
“But I’m still going to be pulling for the players, guys like Shawn (Smith), to go on and finish their careers strong. I’ll be look out for TJ Clark who I think is a potential D-1 player. I know they’ll be fine, and I’ll always root for their success here.”