By Pat Turner
Richard Stade knew what career path he was heading down as a 15-year-old.
While playing football for Dennis Gorka at Stafford High School, Stade decided he wanted to be a coach. He loved the sport, but the thing that inspired him the most was the way his mentor touched lives.
Stade is doing what he set out to do and enjoying every minute. Now, it’s getting even better. After assistant coaching stints at Mesquite Horn, Houston Westside, Fort Bend Kempner and O’Connor, Stade has moved to the head coaching ranks after taking over Taft’s program this past winter.
“I’m ready to be a head coach,” Stade said. “Everything I do has been directed to that. There’s nothing like being a head coach. It is a different animal. Every day is a new day. Every day is a blessing. There is nothing I would rather be doing.”
Stade comes well-prepared. During his time as an assistant coach, he worked under successful head coaches, including O’Connor’s David Malesky. That was an ideal grooming period as he learned valuable pointers at each stop.
“Each one of them helped prepare me in their own ways,” Stade said. “Most importantly, they taught me to be myself and be confident in my decisions and vision. They told me there will be a lot of critics out there and you can’t let them dictate what you do.”
“My coach (Gorka) taught me a lot,” Stade said. “He cared more about me as a kid than a player. He helped me through some tough times. After that experience with him and playing football, I realized I wanted to do that for other kids. I didn’t have the best grades or the best behavior sometimes. But he stuck with me and that level of caring made me want to do the same.”
Stade has a challenge at Taft. The Raiders have struggled in the win column in recent years, but the optimistic coach believes that can change.
Despite the lean years, Taft has a history of winning, which included a trip to the Class 5A Division I finals in 2001. Stade made a point to talk to remind his players about the Raiders’ success. The way he sees it dwelling on the past can be a good thing when it involves tradition.
“You want to make that connection with the past,” Stade said. “We talked about what has been done here and what can be done here. We want them to believe and have a vision.”
Even though Stade and his players are still getting to know one another, strides are being made rapidly.
“The kids have been wonderful,” Stade said. “They have accepted us and have responded well. They’re working really hard for us. A lot of it has been about relationships. We didn’t want to rush into that. It’s more about the how’s and why’s. It is a process.
“This is a change these kids have never gone through before. We wanted to make sure they take our identity. That is important. We focused on establishing a work ethic, how we’re going to do things and why we’re going to do things that way. It is a mindset and culture thing.”
During the bonding, Stade’s No. 1 priority was making sure the players knew their coaches were in their corner, just like his high school mentor did for him.
“I think once they see you care and have a passion for them and this program, it can be infectious,” Stade said. “It’s about starting with the positives and being passionate about what you are doing. We have to focus on controlling what we can do. If we do that we’ll be fine.”
Stade took a different approach as far prepping his team for the season. The Raiders went through the typical offseason where the focus was getting faster and stronger while putting a new system in place. However, the coach opted not to go through spring training drills. Instead, Taft gets to start fall workouts a week earlier with scrimmages against Kyle Lehman and Roosevelt before opening the season against Lee.
After that, the Raiders jump into the nine-game 28-6A schedule.
“We rebooted our offseason,” Stade said. “We decided spring training wasn’t going to be a priority for us. It was more important to get to know our players. I wanted to make sure we were doing things the right way.
“We still got a lot of our scheme in. The kids have a better understanding. We have expectations and we’re making sure we are headed in the right direction.”
Stade is excited about his coaching staff, which includes offensive coordinator Robert Gomez, who came with him from O’Connor, and defensive coordinator Mike Mull from San Benito, a team O’Connor defeated during last year’s playoff trek.
“I have a tremendous staff,” said Stade, who has seven new assistants on campus. “They have come in and helped me with the full process. You can’t do it without a strong staff. I lean on these guys heavily.”
Talent is present. Offensively, Carlos Herrera is showing positive signs of shining at quarterback. Divonne Tilden is doing the same at running back and Jon Garza is the leader of the offensive line.
Defensively, good things are coming from end Nathan Pierre and linebacker Anthony Guerrero.
While getting to know his players, Stade is also getting a better feel for football in the Alamo City and Region IV. The experience at O’Connor the past two years was a good introduction, especially this past season when the Panthers soared to a 13-1 District 27-6A championship season that ended with a loss to Austin Lake Travis in the Division I Region IV finals.
“The kids I worked with at O’Connor the past two years were wonderful,” Stade said. “It helped me to get to know San Antonio and get a better idea of the culture and environment.
“We’re excited about what’s happening at Taft. The administration has been great. They really understand the value of athletics and want to see Taft succeed. They want to see it become what it once was. That’s our goal.”