AFM’s 2010 High School Coach of the Year Tony Heath Pearland (TX)
© February 2011
Euless Trinity, Southlake Carroll, Katy, Cy Fair, Northshore, Lake Travis. Imposing programs all poised to win Texas 5A Championships in any given year. There is very little debate that this is the toughest state championship to win in the nation. They’ve got the biggest stadiums, the biggest crowds and the most pressure.
Enter Pearland High School outside of Houston, also a 5A program.
When Tony Heath considered the head coaching position at Pearland in 1997, his biggest concern was not the team’s losing record – Pearland had gone 0-10 in 1996 – but rather the administration’s support for football. “The administration had been supportive of other sports but, at the time, not football,” said Heath, AFM’s National High School Coach of the Year for 2010. “The superintendent told me that I had the complete support of the administration and that in terms of facilities, resources, booster support, help with my assistant coaches, and the like, they would be there 100% behind the program.”
Heath took the position and the rest, as they say, is history. More than anything else, Heath and his staff changed the culture at Pearland. The school had a 6-63-1 record over the seven seasons before Heath’s arrival. While the team finished 2-9 his first year, Pearland got better each fall and responded with a 13-1 record in 2001. They have won at least nine games each year since. This past fall, the Oilers went 16-0, won the Texas State Class 5A Division I Championship with a 28-24 win over previously undefeated Trinity Euless before a crowd of 43,000 at Cowboys Stadium.
When Heath arrived at Pearland more than a decade ago, athletes were reluctant to wear their letterman jackets. The new coach changed the school’s image by designing a new logo and uniforms and replacing the oil derrick on the school helmet with the letter ‘P.’ Pearland moved into a new facility, the ‘Rig’, a 9,200-seat stadium. Both image and attitude changed.
“When I left coaching Le Marque High School for Pearland, I wasn’t convinced it was the right fit until talking to the school’s superintendent,” said Heath. “We were able to hire the right assistant coaches and establish a feeder system within the community. Some of my assistants have stayed with me over the last decade and it’s helped establish stability within our overall program.”
After completing an undefeated regular season this past fall, the Oilers ran through four playoff games including an overtime 38-35 win over Katy High School. “This year’s class had outstanding senior leadership and that was definitely a difference,” said Heath. “We kind of self-destructed in 2009 and were our own worst enemy, finishing with an 8-3 record. We then started last January to evaluate the upcoming season with input from all of our athletes and it was then that the seniors made the decision to put the team first and be completely selfless.”
Part of the off-season program was a ‘boot camp’ that Heath and his staff conducted to get his players mentally prepared for the 2010 season. “It was a way of team-building,” said Heath. “We discussed what went right and what went wrong from the 2009 season, how to improve and how to deal with adversity. It got our athletes mentally ready for spring practice and, ultimately, the fall season.”
Offensively, the Oilers adapt yearly to the personnel they have. “We traditionally use both a multiple I and spread formations and run both the inside and outside zone,” said Heath. “We use a lot of play-action, sprint-out passes and will have a no-back set to a three-back set, depending on the situation. Our offense is fast-paced and up-tempo with no-huddle and we try to snap as quickly as we can to keep the defense off balance.” The Oilers were led by tailback Dustin Garrison who rushed for 2,827 yards and ended the season with 51 touchdowns.
Defensively, Pearland uses a 4-2-5 defense, the same scheme that has helped TCU be so successful. “We change formations all the time and get into any front, depending on the offensive formation of our opponent,” said Heath. “Our terminology comes from the sidelines to instruct our defense every play. We will sometimes play a three-man front and use – in the secondary – man-free, quarters, or a cover-3 look.”
From that first year and a 2-9 record, Heath and Pearland have had 11 consecutive winning seasons. But their crowning achievement is winning the Texas 5A title this year. Heath’s overall record now stands at 133-38 in his fourteen years. With a strong feeder system in place, it looks like the winning tradition will continue. p