Houston leaves McCallum for Burnet coaching job

Coach earned reputation for excellence on the field, life lessons off it

After being a valued teacher, coach and friend at McCallum for 13 years, special education teacher, head baseball coach and assistant football coach Russell Houston has decided to leave McCallum to become the head baseball coach and an assistant football coach at Burnet High School.

“Leaving McCallum was probably the hardest decision that I have ever had to make,” Houston said. “I am leaving for the ability to get my family and kids to a smaller town and a little slower lifestyle.”

Coach Houston encourages a batter during McCallum's victory over LBJ in March. Photo by Dave Winter.

Coach Houston encourages a batter during McCallum’s victory over LBJ in March. Photo by Dave Winter.

Under his 12-year tenure as varsity baseball coach, McCallum won 228 games and nine district titles, including the last seven in a row.

In addition to coaching baseball, Houston also coached almost all of the football positions during his time at McCallum. He was also a special education teacher, specializing in teaching science to all high school grade levels.

“Coach Houston established outstanding relationships with his students in the classroom,” principal Michael Garrison said. “He made them all feel capable and important. He did an outstanding job with the baseball program. Under his direction McCallum baseball was one of the most successful baseball programs in the greater Austin area. His players were well-coached, acted with class and competed very well. He also was a tremendous asset in football as a varsity assistant. His leadership, his positive and upbeat attitude, his love for his students and players, and his coaching knowledge will be greatly missed.”

Houston began his career at Mac in 2004 as the running backs coach and the freshman baseball coach. 

Over the years, Houston established many traditions within the baseball program. Members of the baseball team recalled Houston driving the team bus on short rides to games and having team dinners on Wednesday nights, off-the-field rituals that created a family atmosphere for all the players.

“Everybody has gotten so used to [the traditions] that him leaving will change up everything the 2018 seniors have learned the last three years,” senior Reace Lane said. “If we have a new coach come in it will completely change the program. Good or bad we just have to focus on baseball. If we do that, it won’t be such a hard transition.”

Houston coached many Knights in two sports, football and baseball, making his impact on their McCallum athletic careers even greater. One such two-sport athlete, senior Davis Roe spoke of the many hours and profound impact Houston had on his McCallum sports experience.   

Coach Houston and then junior Davis Roe at this year's regular season finale against Reagan at Northwest Pony Field. Photo by Gregory James.

Coach Houston and then junior Davis Roe at this year’s regular season finale against Reagan at Northwest Pony Field. Photo by Gregory James.

“Last year, Coach Houston was not only my baseball coach, but also my wide receivers and my special teams coach in football,” Roe said. “He has, without a doubt, had a big impact on my life. In football, coach Houston taught me valuable skills at the receiver position that have made me a better player. He also gave me a lot of confidence by making me a starting receiver and punt/kickoff returner. In baseball, I admired Coach Houston’s knowledge, expertise and passion for the game. There was just something about him that made me not want to let him down and pushed me to become a better player.”

The athletic department now faces the challenge of finding someone to replace Coach Houston. AISD Human Resources will post an opening, and the task of identifying and securing Houston’s replacement will be a group effort by athletic director Charles Taylor, special education department head Julie Rigby, and Garrison. Garrison said that goal will be to fill the position with an equally qualified and caring person.

“Hiring somebody to fill Coach Houston’s shoes won’t be an easy task,” said Coach Jacob Alvarez, who worked with Houston on both the gridiron and the diamond.

“He was able to put together a great program here at McCallum, and his body of work over the last 10 years shows exactly why it will not be easy to fill that spot,” Alvarez said. “The good news is we have a great group of kids here at McCallum, and they have bought into the the program 100 percent. They will help keep the tradition going that Coach Houston started here at McCallum.”

Houston’s influence in the classroom, on the football field and in the batting cages goes far beyond one class of students. A generation of Knights have graduated with lifetime memories and lessons. And many, like Class of 2016 alumnus Quentin Reed, have been able to continue playing baseball at the collegiate level.

“Houston always made baseball interesting; he made baseball an escape from the rest of the school,” Reed said. “He made it your chance to get away from what was bugging you and have fun playing the game you love. … He always wanted the best for his players, whether that be in baseball or life, [and he] always wanted his players push for greatness on and off the field. And that push allowed not just me but four others in my graduating class to play baseball at the next level in college.”

Coach Huston congratulates Quentin Reed as he circles the bases after homering in last year's district-clinching victory over Cedar Creek at NW Pony Field. Photo by Dave Winter.

Coach Huston congratulates Quentin Reed as he circles the bases after homering in last year’s district-clinching victory over Cedar Creek at NW Pony Field. Photo by Dave Winter.

Reed said that 20 years from now he will remember how Houston created the competitive environment that pushed the 2016 team to a bi-district championship. But even in that competitive setting, Reed said, Houston also kept the game in perspective.  After his team lost a tight pitcher’s duel in the area playoff against Alamo Heights last year, Houston put the team’s togetherness before the scoreboard.

“Even in a tense win-or-go-home game,” Reed said, “he kept our team relaxed and calm … even after the loss. The last team breakout with the team and him will always be in my memory.”

That essentially is Houston’s greatest McCallum legacy, according to senior Jackson Masters.

“Houston was a high school coach who teaches you life lesson that aren’t just about sports,” Masters said. “He would call you out if you mess something up, but he never got mad for things you couldn’t control.”

Photos by Gregory James, Adrian Peña, Anne Reed and Dave Winter.

 

 

 

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