ON SPORTS: El Campo's Gillis named Texas Football 3A coach of the year

April 24, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.
Updated April 23, 2013 at 11:24 p.m.

El Campo head coach Bob Gillis was named the Class 3A Coach of the Year by Dave Campbell's Texas Football after leading the Ricebirds to their first state title game since 1967.

El Campo head coach Bob Gillis was named the Class 3A Coach of the Year by Dave Campbell's Texas Football after leading the Ricebirds to their first state title game since 1967.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

EL CAMPO - Bob Gillis was caught off guard when Greg Tepper of Dave Campbell's Texas Football called to inform him about his selection as the magazine's Class 3A Coach of the Year.

"I asked him if he was at the championship game," Gillis said of El Campo's 70-35 loss to Stephenville in the Division I state final at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. "I knew he was because I had seen him at the game. He told me he was there, and he was also at our semifinal game against Carthage."

Gillis led the Ricebirds to a 14-1 record that included a 29-25 win over Carthage in the semifinal and into the state championship game for the first time since 1967 and the second time in school history.

Gillis' selection, which will be officially announced when the magazine goes on sale in late June, comes as no surprise to the players and coaches at El Campo.

"He lets you work, he lets you coach, and you know what to expect," said James Harp, who has been an assistant under Gillis since he returned to the school from a stint as the athletic director for the Victoria school district in 2003. "You work hard, but you have fun, and you win, and winning makes it fun."

"His speeches - I don't know how to explain them, but they get you excited, and you're going to give it your all, whether it's in the offseason and you're doing speed weights, which no one enjoys, right up to the Friday night lights," said Cole Hunt, the Class 3A defensive player of the year. "It's really good to have someone like that in your corner. You know he's going to go out there and fight for you, so you might as well go out there and fight for him."

As Gillis approaches his 20th season as a head coach and 16th at El Campo, he discussed the Ricebirds' run to the state final and his coaching philosophy.

Q: The expectations were sky high after you dropped from Class 4A to 3A. How did you deal with them?

A: We have high expectations anyway. When you drop to 3A, you're like the big elephant in the room. We drove into town from realignment, and a billboard at a local gas station said, 'Welcome to 3A, El Campo.' Everybody knew. You couldn't hide it. The pressure was on this team. We expected to be there, but everyone expected us to win region. So when we did, it was a big relief for us, and I was very proud of our guys.

Q: The semifinal win over Carthage surprised a lot people. How was your team able to pull it off.

A: Before the game, I sensed we had a little confidence. We had won the regional championship, so now let's go. One more step and we're at the state championship game. We led 16-14 at half. We played a horrible third quarter. We fumbled three times and had one interception and never had the ball. We were lucky to stay close. We talk about playing four full quarters all the time. A lot of people say that's coach speak, but we believe you've got to play.

Q: Obviously the state final did not go the way you would have wanted.

A: I had like eight films on Stephenville. Yes, they could throw. When they wanted to line up and run it, they were going to run it. You had to play the run, or they would just kill you. They could score quick, and they could hurt you, which they did. I wished we played outside. It was raining that day. That would have helped us.

Q: Despite the loss, did you enjoy the season?

A: You don't have time to think about it during the season because the more you win, the more you want to win. We pretty well grinded for 15 weeks of football. After the state championship game, we were really disappointed. No. 1 we were disappointed we lost. No. 2 we were disappointed in how we lost. After we kind of came back and thought about it - what a great year these kids had - we're not ashamed of anything. We're proud to have been there.

Q: So many teams have changed to more wide-open offenses, and you have stayed basically with the same approach throughout your career at El Campo.

A: I've always felt to win football games you have to manage the game. I feel like with what we do on offense we can manage the game and try not to let it get out of control. We do feel like we can throw it. For the last three years, we've had quarterbacks throw it for over 1,000 yards. We also feel like that our mindset, and what these kids understand and learn from seventh grade on is we're going to come off the ball, we're going to block somebody on offense, we're going to run the ball. Four yards is a big play for us, and that turns into more yards. We have evolved a little bit because we run a little more shotgun than we used to. We hope we're a tough, physical football team. The other thing is that when teams practice against the spread and play spread when you line up and just come right at them, it's just tough defensively. I tease that I'll coach long enough that they'll come by El Campo and say 'They're doing something really weird. They're taking the ball from under center and then turning around and handing it, and he's getting 5 yards.

Q: Are you already starting to get excited about next season.

A: When you finish playing and you have your last meeting with your seniors and the seniors leave and you have your empty lockers, it's kind of like you're kind of sad because you've had them four years. But as you start offseason and you see kids get bigger and stronger - we'll have kids after school who come on their own and lift. They don't think we're rebuilding. They think we're going to do it again. So we have every expectation of doing it again.

Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or mforman@vicad.com or comment on this column at AdvoSports.com



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