When Wes Beachler took over at Republic in February, he addressed his players about all the usual tenets for kick-starting a high school football program, as he had done so many times before.
The players needed to be rededicated to the weight room, concentrate on the little things, win each play and best keep those haircuts short, nice and tight.
Wait, what was that last one?
“To me, it’s all about Republic,” Beachler said of his George Steinbrenner-esque requirement. “When we get off the team bus or out in the community representing Republic football, I don’t want anybody to stand out for one certain feature. And that includes a spiked hairdo or anything like that.
“I just want them to know they are just Republic football players.”
Call it old-school or whatever. But calling it a winning formula would be accurate, too. Attention to detail has long defined Beachler in a career in which he has revived three struggling football programs.
But his latest venture perhaps piques the most interest.
Republic is a growing town whose high school is aiming to rival nearby Ozark and Nixa in athletic success.
In fact, the past two years Republic’s girls and boys basketball programs each won state championships.
Football would seem to be the next logical step. To get there, expect the Tigers to sport a clean-cut, All-American look.
“To us, it was kind of a shocker. He came in and basically said, ‘Things are going to be different; it’s going to be my way or the highway,'” senior James Desjardins said.
“We all kind of looked around and said, ‘You know what? Let’s just buy in and see what he can do.'”
And after turning around programs that weren’t traditionally strong at Houston, Parkview and Nevada, why wouldn’t the Republic Tigers follow Beachler’s edict?
In his first Missouri head coaching position after two in Kansas, Beachler took lightly regarded Houston to two state semifinal games at the end of his three-year stint.
He then ended two historic losing streaks at his next stops — Parkview (58) and Nevada (15) — before leaving those programs in much stronger shape than they had been before his arrival.
It’s not nearly as bleak at Republic, as former coach Kurt Thompson led the Tigers to a 5-6 season last year and finished 24-37 (.393) in his six seasons on the job.
Still, it’s obvious the Tigers are second-class citizens in the Central Ozark Conference Large Division compared with state powerhouse Webb City, along with area stalwarts Ozark, Carthage and Nixa.
The goal is to raise the level of Republic football program to its basketball counterparts.
Traditionally strong on the hardwood, both boys and girls programs got over the hump recently. The girls won state two years ago for the first time in eight years and the boys won last year for the first time in 50.
In Republic, Beachler sees a community to raise his four boys with his wife, Sarah.
The growing community has expanded from a population of less than 9,000 in 2000 to 15,371, according to the Census. The school district also is now led by Superintendent Chance Wistrom, of the Webb City football Wistrom family.
With the growing numbers probably means an eventual jump to Class 5, perhaps as early as next season. But it also means a pick of more intriguing athletes, such as sophomore Darion Hall, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound running back/linebacker.
Fortunately, there is no tug of war in competing for athletes, either. Boys basketball coach Trevyor Fisher, who says the programs can share, emphasized upon his arrival in spring 2012 that athletes participate in multiple sports.
Fisher knew of Beachler’s background and said they share common visions for programs, spending a little time together during summer school teachings and weight sessions.
“I think he’ll fit in well with the community,” Fisher said. “He’s a down-to-Earth guy who talks about working hard. He talks about trying to do the right things with discipline and becoming a better team as the season goes along.
“The kids seem to be buying in pretty good right now.”
For evidence, consider that two of Fisher’s rising players have joined the football program for the first time, in part on Fisher’s caution not to feel regret later on.
In Beachler, the Republic administration sees a coach committed to all aspects of building a program.
“What I saw with coach Beachler is he is very authentic and genuine as a person. As a coach, he believes his purpose is to use his passion at football to grow boys into men,” said Wistrom, who was principal at Parkview when Beachler was hired in 2006.
“I think he has a program in mind that, when he comes into the community, he fully invests himself and his family in that community. He’s just a unique individual that has the capacity to see the big picture for his program.”
Wistrom played for Jerry Kill at Webb City. Wistrom’s brother, Grant, was a nine-year pro, winning Super Bowl XXXIV with the St. Louis Rams, and Chance Wistrom is a former player at Central Missouri and head coach at Seneca.
“I feel very fortunate that I think we have another great coach to join the rest of our staff of great coaches and great extra-curricular activity directors,” Wistrom said.
Xs and Os
Beachler’s teams have had offensive success in part because of Beachler’s double-wing offense, a scheme based on timing and deception.
He hopes to sprinkle in some shotgun formation looks as well, pointing out that the Tigers could pass more than in his stint at Parkview.
Beachler took the Vikings to the playoffs in 2010 for the first time since 1995 largely following the lead of All-Ozarks running back Darin Francis.
“The first step in getting to a deep caliber playoff team, you have to learn to take it one play at a time,” Beachler said. “You have to win this play. The last play doesn’t matter, good or bad, the next play doesn’t matter. It’s all in the moment. We’ve got to get to that point where we’re just playing in the moment.”
Waiting in those moments will be teams like three-time defending Class 4 champion Webb City, along with rivals Nixa and Ozark. Republic has lost 10 consecutive games combined against Nixa and Ozark, and have not beaten the Ozark Tigers since 2005.
Republic senior Colton Peltz said he researched Beachler’s past and was encouraged with what he found.
“Being seniors we were all curious about who our coach was going to be. And all we heard was how he was the ‘Comeback Coach,’ and everything,” said Peltz, a two-way contributor. “It brings a little excitement, but you’re still a little bit skeptical because he’s your new coach and it’s your last year of high school football. But he’s done a good job.”
Desjardins said he talked to his brother-in-law, Josh Stone, who played one year for Beachler when Parkview was at the bottom of the Missouri high school football landscape.
But despite losing every game of his senior year, Stone had good things to say.
“I knew he was going to come in and turn things around and be intense, and get everyone on the same page,” Desjardins said.
Desjardins and Peltz are both getting reps at wingback, a key part of Beachler’s double-wing timing offense.
Beachler said he has two or three candidates for his starting quarterback position, and more than a half-dozen running backs that should get carries.
The Tigers open Friday night against Central, opening a new era of Republic football, and a new challenge for the “Comeback Coach.”
“I think some people shy away from that because you’re kind of concerned about what you are getting into — and some of those turnarounds have been tough,” Beachler said.
“But I think your rewards are trying to do the right thing and trying to make kids better young men, and that’s what it’s all about. For me, it’s not about wins and losses. If I can impact a young man’s life, that’s what it’s all about.”