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Jackson embraces task of coaching two teams

As far as days go, last Saturday might be a tough one to top if you're Rick Jackson.

Early in the afternoon, Jackson watched his youngest daughter McKenzie hit the game-winning shot in a junior varsity basketball victory over Myrtle Point.

He followed that up by coaching the St. Mary's girls basketball team to a 29-28 triumph over the host Bobcats, snapping the 3A team's three-year unbeaten streak at home thanks to two free throws by Aubrie Street with 15 seconds to play.

While that back-to-back treat may have left anyone's head spinning, Jackson was far from done. He then switched locker rooms and helped guide the St. Mary's boys basketball team to a 52-50 victory over Myrtle Point, with free throws by Logan Harper and Lou Gambee helping stave off the Bobcats in the waning minute of play.

"I don't know how many of those I can take," Jackson says of his whirlwind Saturday.

Given the situation, the 45-year-old head coach may simply have to get used to it. With the Crusader girls (3-0) ranked second among 2A teams and the St. Mary's boys (2-0) ranked sixth, he stands to have many more big doubleheaders to come.

"They're two teams that have the potential to make some noise at the state tournament if everything comes together," says Jackson.

Jackson put himself in the hectic position of leading both basketball programs when an offseason search for a girls basketball replacement for Tim Pflug didn't turn up a better fit.

St. Mary's athletic director James Joy and Frank Phillips, head of the school, were adamant that whomever took over the girls program needed to have high school coaching experience given the level of returning talent. The Crusader girls placed third in the 2A state tournament last season and were to return almost an entire roster of players.

As time went on in the search, Jackson offered up his services to coach both programs should no better candidate come into the picture.

"That person never came forward and so here we are," he says. "In Class 1A and 2A, this is not a precedent-setting thing. People don't (coach both varsity basketball programs) a lot, but they certainly do it."

Jackson's first varsity head coaching job came with the St. Mary's girls team in the 2003-04 season, so he's familiar with the position. He moved over to the boys side the following season and is in his sixth year with that team.

Pflug coached the St. Mary's boys and girls for three seasons beginning in 1998, so it's not like the school is in uncharted territory. Joy says Jackson's desire to coach both teams, along with that prior history with Pflug and a solid core of assistant coaches, made the decision an easy one.

"I had total confidence in him being able to do this," says the athletic director. "I couldn't think of a better guy to take over the girls job. It wasn't a situation where we were getting desperate and asked him if he would just cover us, this was something he wanted to do. (Choosing Jackson) wasn't a Band-Aid, by any means."

In reality, a lot of elements serve to make it all possible for Jackson's double duty.

The first element involved scheduling. Since the boys and girls travel together to compete in Southern Cascade League play, that was not a problem. A closer scan of state-playoff schedules and brackets revealed that there wouldn't be any conflicts there, either. For nonleague contests, Joy says, schools have been extremely accommodating of the Crusaders' situation.

The second element involved the other figures, namely the players and assistant coaches.

This year's boys team is senior-dominated, and the core of his assistant coaches has been with him for five years. Junior varsity head coach Cody Jobanek and varsity assistants Dusty Skundrick, Rob Buckmister, Nick Terry and Justin Duncan help fill the void.

On the girls side, a few players were on a fifth- and sixth-grade Manny Basketball League team coached by Jackson that included his other daughter, junior Jordan. The bulk of the girls team is in its third year together and is boosted by the continued presence of junior varsity coach David Alexander. Jackson says first-year varsity assistant Chandra Benton, a 6-foot-7 all-state performer at Lakeridge High who played collegiately at Stanford, has also provided a key influence, along with assistant Jason Setzer.

"That's a big part of me being able to do this," says Jackson. "I have very good assistants who really make this work."

Jackson says players on both teams have been receptive to his new role, although there was some trepidation in the early going.

"For the boys, it's probably been more of a challenge for them," he says. "Where the girls were kind of relieved because they already knew me as their eighth-grade history teacher and had seen me coach, I think the boys questioned if I was going to be able to commit and give them the time and energy they deserved. That was a legitimate question on their part, and I think all I could do is go and show them I could."

Jackson first began to realize the demands of running both programs in June, when he coached two games per night from Monday through Saturday for three straight weeks.

"That's when it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks that maybe this wasn't such a good idea," he says with a laugh.

Unlike some coaches in dual roles, where one team is significantly better than the other, Jackson has the unique situation of guiding two highly regarded teams. With that, he's made sure to not have any shortcuts. Game preparation and the watching of game film is approached equally, and the teams practice exclusive of one another. One group practices from 4-6 p.m., and the other goes from 6-8 p.m., with Jackson grabbing a quick snack while the second group warms up.

"It's made me have to go back and revisit my practice schedules and refine them and really try to get the most out of them and customize them for each team because we do run some different stuff," he admits.

It's that ability to value his role on each team and lend his total focus and time that has impressed Joy.

"You've got to credit the guy, that's a lot of effort and time he's putting in," says Joy. "I think his coaching style fits well for both the girls and the boys. They're two different teams with different strengths and weaknesses, and he's not trying to put the same system on both teams. He's already showing me he's a great coach for both in the way he's handling each team."

Jackson says that game nights are actually the easiest part of his schedule — other than the sheer intensity of nights like Saturday. In one sense, he wanted to sit and celebrate the accomplishment of his girls, but instead he sprinted across the gym to go over pregame notes with the boys before sending them out on the court. He then went back to the girls for a quick post-game talk before returning to the boys in time for the opening tip.

"It is a little wild and crazy at times," he says. "But it's all worth it."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com