RICE — Change happens. It’s not always a good thing, but certainly expected.
Especially in the coaching profession.
“It was hard watching him leave,” Rice senior Ragan Henderson said of former coach David Currey. “I had been with him since the seventh grade. He had been around forever, was like a second father.”
Surrounded by almost all of the other seniors in Rice’s program, Henderson admitted it was also understood.
“It’s the life of a coach,” Henderson said. “They come and go.”
New coach Jerry Baldridge has seen it before, seniors feel “dumped on” by a change. They’ve spent their entire high school careers under one head coach, and suddenly – in what should be a pinnacle year for them – they’re faced with uncertainty.
“It’s tough on seniors,” said Baldridge, who arrived on campus in April after being hired in late March. He replaced Currey, who led the Bulldogs to a 4-6 record last year, a four-win improvement over 2010.
“I understand they had a special relationship with Coach Currey, and I am not jealous of that at all,” Baldridge said. “I want to have a good relationship with them too.
“I wanted them to be open-minded and they have been. I want this to be a special year for them. I don’t know if they thought I was genuine about it (in the spring), but I think they know now.”
The tone of the senior class is one of optimism. The transition has gone well. Having Baldridge here for two months before school let out helped.
“We were kind of shocked” with Currey’s departure, Dalton Pike said. “We had went from 0-10 to 4-6, and we thought he was staying. We come in one Monday morning, and he’s gone.”
But since Baldridge’s arrival?
“Things have gone pretty good,” Pike said.
There are differences, as expected. Practices are a little more organized, and more strict, Cody Pair said. The enthusiasm and work ethic are up a tick, he said.
“We’re looking good,” Pair said.
All of that can be expected with a change, a breath of fresh air. But it’s not a guarantee.
“Coach Baldridge’s been good for us,” Junior Pena said.
“You just have to adjust,” Pike said.
That’s all Baldridge could hope for with his seniors. He’ll have several more years to work with his underclassmen, but he didn’t want the short time with his veterans to seem trivial. He wanted to hit the ground and start running, just as fast as he, his coaches and the players could.
“You have to get to know each other just a bit,” Baldridge said. “Once you establish relationships, then you can start coaching them toward your expectations.”
In a few months, the relationship between coaching staff and student-athletes, specifically seven seniors brought up under a different regime, has developed nicely.
“We have high expectations,” Henderson said.