Richard Strickland’s Change in Culture at Overton Has the Mustangs Winning Football Games
Richard Strickland is the first to admit he ruffled some feathers early into his first year as Overton's head football coach.
Strickland came into the job with the No. 1 priority of changing the program's "bad, pity-party culture." He had taken over a program that went 3-8 in 2015 and was now on its fifth coach in a decade.
"Changing this culture has been tough and it's still a work in progress," Strickland said. "I'm trying to teach these kids how to self-sacrifice, play for one another, play through pain and most of all, love one another. And that was a new concept around here."
Strickland said there have been many times where his message wasn't welcome with open arms. He said he started with 60 kids playing football at the beginning of two-a-days, and now he has 30.
"I had five kids quit on one day," the 33-year-old De Queen, Ark., native said.
That alone is enough to make a coach question his methods, but Strickland said he has stuck with his plan despite many times where he had gone home and doubted himself.
"It does make you question yourself and ask, 'Am I doing the right thing?'" he said. "I just kept praying that I would do the right thing, and I've got a strong one at home in my wife who encouraged me and told me to keep going. I'm just much more intense than what they're used to, and I'm really efficient with the time that I'm given. They've definitely not been used to the investment that I've forced on them. Coming in on a Saturday and lifting weights was unheard of. Watching film? What's that? But now I would go to war with these 30 kids every day."
Strickland certainly knows what it takes to win and what it feels like to win. He was an assistant coach under Dickey Meeks on the 2010 state championship team at Henderson and was under Scott Surratt for two state titles in Carthage. Not only does he lean on Surratt and current Henderson Phil Castles for support when he needs it, but he also has brought similar mindsets from two of East Texas' premier programs to tiny Overton.
"When I took this job I wanted to take a combination of everything good that I had been a part of, adapt to some of the current culture that was here and then change what wasn't good," Strickland said. "Coach Castles and Coach Surratt are two mentors of mine who are always willing to help me, and I use those guys because I learned a lot from them and they've won everywhere they've been."
One thing is certain from the new culture: the Mustangs are winning football games. Overton is 5-1 this season and is riding a four-game win streak going into Friday night's game at Timpson.
After a 49-27 loss to Carlisle in Week 3, Overton won its next four by more than 35 points per game, including last week's 57-point win against Mount Enterprise.
But it was the Carlisle loss that left Strickland the most proud of his team so far this season.
"If I'm going to sit here and tell the truth, that was the game my kids realized they could play," Strickland said. "Had we not had two pick-sixes and a couple of things not go our way, it could have been a different game. I had watched two years of film on Overton before I took the job and I had never seen them get down and then fight to come back. It was 21-all going into the fourth quarter against Carlisle after we were down 21-0. I was really proud of how they responded to adversity that night because it's prepared us for this win streak we're currently on."
Currently 2-0 and atop the District 11-2A Division II standings, Overton will finish its season at Timpson, home against Tenaha and at Wortham. Timpson and Tenaha are both also 2-0 in district, which means Friday night's game has plenty of implications.
"Friday night is essentially the district championship game because whoever wins plays Tenaha for the district championship," Strickland said.
While it's another week until the Mustangs take on fifth-ranked Tenaha, their focus is on Timpson, Strickland said, and continuing to improve as they head toward the postseason.
"We're starting to execute under pressure. We make them face adversity through how we coach and work with them on responding to that adversity. If they don't do it right we'll do it again and again until they do it right," Strickland said. "One of my biggest things is continue to get better, continue to compete and it will take care of itself. Just make sure you get into the playoffs and do well once you get there."