Photo: Rush Propst (pictured at left) fields a question during the news conference for his hiring as Coosa Christian’s co-head football coach last Monday (Jan. 16). Sitting with Probst is Coosa Christian head football coach Mark O’Bryant. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Mark O’Bryant’s vision of pushing the Coosa Christian football team into the state’s top tier small private school programs took a significant step forward last Monday (Jan. 16) in Gadsden.
Just a month after being selected as Class 1A Coach of Year, the Conquerors’ head coach introduced Rush Propst as the program’s associate head coach and athletic director.
“When I had this vision about 30 months ago of Coach Propst being here, some people said I was crazy and that it wasn’t going to happen,” said O’Bryant. “For some reason, it’s progressed forward, and here we are today. There were so many people who brought this to fruition, and I was just a piece of the puzzle.”
Propst directed one of the most successful high school football programs in state history during his nine seasons at Hoover. From 1999 to 2007, Propst guided the Bucs to a 110-16 record, including a 35-3 mark in the state playoffs; a 45-8 region record; five region titles; five state championships and two state runner-up trophies.
Propst, who was named Alabama Sports Writers Association Coach of the Year in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2004, saw 250 of his players sign college scholarships.
Propst joins a program on the rise in Class 1A. After a 2-4 start, the 2022 Conquerors won their next seven games to qualify for the state semifinals, where Coosa lost to Pickens County, 44-40, on a controversial call on the game’s final play.
“Coach Propst is one of the greatest to ever do it in high school football, and he’s done it at the biggest levels in Alabama and Georgia,” said O’Bryant. “His value system and mine are a lot alike. I’m very much a traditionalist, and I told Rush the very first day we met that it was important for me that his name was restored to where it should be in this state. I don’t think football at the Big Boy level has been the same since he left.
“Regardless of how many [games] you win, if you don’t continue to rock the boat, complacently will set in. In my opinion, you have to shake the tree down every two or three years. So, bringing in [Propst] was a no-brainer.”
In 30 years as head football coach at Hoover, Colquitt County (Ga.) High School (2008-2018),
Alma Bryant (1998), Alba (1997), Eufaula (1993-1996) and Ashville (1989-1992), Propst amassed a 295-96 overall record and went 76-15 in the postseason. He took Colquitt to the state playoffs seven times and won the state championship in 2014 and 2015.
“You’ve got to have a purpose in life, and I’d lost purpose over the last few years,” said Propst. “I’ve spoken at length to Mark, and we’re going to do this the right way. I think the picture of me has been clouded some over the years. I’m now ready to clear those clouds, and I think this is the perfect place to do that. With Jason Ellen and Amanda Justus and Jack Justus, I respect and admire the people here who are running this school. I believe it is God’s calling. Could I have gone to a bigger school with a bigger environment? Probably so, but I truly believe the good Lord had a reason for steering me this way, and I believe that you’d better not fight that calling.”
Propst considers his past two years away from coaching football as overdue in terms of spending time with his family.
“Of all the games and of all the championships I’ve won, I would not trade the last two years of my being a dad and watching my children play sports for any of those things,” he said. “I missed that with my older children, being that I was so headstrong about winning at all costs. Things just passed me by that I could never get back.
“But the main reason I decided to get back into coaching was the opportunity to help kids achieve their life goals. Our kids need us now more than they ever have, and they need that influence from their coaches to help them make the right decisions. I truly believe that kids will learn how to handle life on football field or baseball field or basketball court than they will than in any classroom.”
Propst pointed out that he and O’Bryant will share the head coaching responsibilities on an equal basis.
“I do think that titles are overblown, and to be honest, I don’t think I could do this without Mark. You’ve always got to improve and make sure you have good people around you. I’m not here to re-invent the wheel, but I’m going to look at everything we’re doing – offensively, defensively, special teams, strength and conditioning and nutrition. But Mark has done so much to get things in place, that it makes my job a heck of a lot easier.”
Propst said he is looking forward to having a “personal touch” with his players on a small-school roster.
“I’ve had 130 players at Hoover, but I grew up in a small-school environment [at Ohatchee], and I loved every minute of it. I still cherish the days when I was at Ashville High School. But the demands of winning won’t change, and I won’t coach any differently than I did at Hoover.”
As far as increasing the school’s enrollment, Propst made no apologies about making the school’s campus and facilities as attractive as possible for prospective student-athletes.
“There’s going to be people who’ll say, ‘Rush is going [to Coosa] to recruit.’ We’re not going to do anything to break a rule, but we’re not going to turn kids away, either. If our school is what they’re seeking out, we’re going to recruit the heck out of them while they’re here in this building. Parents should have a choice on what school their children go to.”
O’Bryant mentioned that the school recently received grant monies that will help fund, among other things, a new weight room, locker room and coaches’ offices, as well as the expansion of the press box.
“We’ve got a lot of things going on, and none of it happens without Amanda and Jack and Jason,” he said. “They’ve been behind this and incredibly supportive every step of the way. Also, I want to make sure that everyone knows that our assistant coaches do not get the credit they deserve in working seven days a week helping out without receiving a penny. We’re volunteer-only, and I’d like to see another coaching staff in the state that does that.”
Propst was straightforward about what he ultimately expects from the Coosa football program.
“If a coach doesn’t have the ultimate goal of winning a state championship, then why are they doing it? Chasing a [state] championship is what drives me, and it’s what drives every good football coach. The people who say differently are people who just aren’t winners. Chasing a state championship is unique, and not everybody can do it. I’ve been in 12 championship games, and I enjoyed every one of them, even the ones that I’ve lost.”