STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — With their new roles in Marble Falls Independent School District athletics laid out before them, athletic director Rick Hoover and high school head football coach Mike Birdwell are ready to get down to business.
“This is a great opportunity to do great things in a great town,” said Hoover, who is also the Marble Falls High School boys soccer coach.
“I think it’s a win-win, I really do,” Birdwell said. “I’m excited going forward.”
The MFISD Board of Trustees approved naming Hoover the athletics director and solidifying Birdwell as the head football coach during its regular meeting Dec. 18 based on recommendations from Superintendent Chris Allen.
Allen noted Hoover’s experience on several athletic levels gave the soccer coach a good foundation for the athletic director position.
Hoover is the head coach of the Marble Falls High School boys soccer program, which earned a top-five ranking in Class 5A polls last year and finished second in District 26-5A. The team was 18-2-6 overall and won a bi-district championship.
However, it was Hoover’s implementation of a plan that involved athletes from elementary school to the high school that caught Allen’s attention.
Hoover created a soccer program at the middle school about a year after he joined the district in 2014. Prior to the middle school soccer program, kids coming up through youth soccer found a giant gap at the middle school level. Many joined other middle school sports teams.
The middle school program helped bridge that gap. It also gave Hoover a chance to teach his schemes and tactics to younger soccer players before they got to high school. Hoover also spent a great deal of time attending youth soccer games to meet the kids and their families. He knows it’s about building relationships as much as building a soccer program.
“The seniors who play for me now have known me since the seventh grade,” Hoover said. “The fourth-grade soccer players know me because I go to their games. I know their families.”
Both Hoover and Birdwell understand Allen’s directive: aligning Marble Falls youth sports, Marble Falls Middle School athletics, and Marble Falls High School athletics. In short, they know they must do everything they can to get the middle school athletes in better physical shape before they enter the ninth grade.
“Dr. Allen really wants all of our athletic programs to be successful,” Birdwell said.
“We have to change the mindset, we have to change the culture,” Hoover said. “There is no magic wand, there is no magic potion. You have to change how the kids feel from the (youngest) levels all the way up.”
Hoover acknowledged there’s been a lot of talk about alignment in Marble Falls sports for a long time, but few have been able to effectively install a model that works. One reason, he said, might be because of trust.
“The kids have to know you’re going to be here,” he said. “The kids know I’m not going anywhere. If all of your programs are doing the same thing, if your basketball coach is constantly at Young Guns and Little Dribblers games, if your football coach is at the Marble Falls Youth Football games, they’re going to get to know these kids and kids will get to know them.”
The other important factor is getting more student-athletes to play more than one sport, Hoover said, and that includes his soccer players.
While Hoover and Birdwell will work closely with the boys, Hoover said he hasn’t forgotten the Lady Mustangs. He noted that he, Birdwell, and MFISD girls athletic coordinator John Berkman are a “three-way support staff.”
“We have a three-prong athletic administrative staff that’ll be there for everything,” Hoover said. “That’s a very valuable system we have set up here.”
Birdwell became the interim head football coach and athletics director in early June when Matt Green resigned to take the same positions at Llano Independent School District. Birdwell guided the Mustangs to a 3-7 record, including a 35-21 win over Seguin in District 26-5A, the varsity’s first division victory since 2014.
Birdwell said he gave the job everything he had and believes his new duties will allow him to get the football program moving in the direction to be successful because he will be able to go to the middle school to get to know those players.
“Going forward, I’m absolutely looking forward to diving in,” Birdwell said. “Going to the middle school, those kids are the foundation going forward.”
He noted that statistics show that when a football program is successful, academics improve, student discipline issues are down, and other extra-curricular activities excel, too.
The football coach said he believes the way the athletics department will be structured helps every student-athlete at Marble Falls.
“We definitely want to build a winning program,” Birdwell said. “I think this is something that’s a positive for our district.”
Both Hoover and Birdwell complimented the other for their knowledge of their sports and ability to teach them to their student-athletes.
“Mike and I have a great relationship — beyond great,” Hoover said. “I think the world of him. I think he’ll do a great job. The structure is going to benefit all of our sports. I think it’ll help across the board, boys and girls.”