Eastside head coach Rick Hurst talks with the coaches in the booth trying to decide out the best course of action. Hurst became Newton County’s winningest coach with the Eagles’ 28-12 win over Lumpkin County on Friday. (Staff photo: Erin Evans)
COVINGTON — After Eastside’s 28-12 win over Lumpkin County on Friday, Eastside head coach Rick Hurst did not want the spotlight or fanfare despite the magnitude of the win.
But Eastside’s win over Lumpkin County will go down in Newton County history. It’s not that the game was stupendous or it was played with such finesse that it will never be forgotten. The 16-point, homecoming win gave Hurst his 58th career win in Newton County making him the winningest coach in Newton’s 65-year history.
Hurst beat out Milton McLaney who accumulated a record of 57-49-5. McLaney coached the Newton Rams for 11 years from 1956 until 1966.
“It’s an honor but it’s not something I’ve been concerned with. It looks good and I appreciate it. It’s just nice to be somewhere long enough to be able to do something like that,” Hurst said. “It’s a big deal to a lot of folks, but I’m not one to worry about records that much.”
Hurst, who is in his ninth year, accumulated an overall record of 54-36-0 his first eight years while going 4-3 so far this season.
Before applying for the Eastside job in 2005, Hurst had been an assistant coach at Central Gwinnett where the Black Knights made the playoffs for the first time in six years. He traded the success of a winning program to come to a program that was on a 14-game losing streak.
“I had been working at Central Gwinnett with Jay (Cawthon) and he had told me during that year that the job may open up (position),” Hurst said. “I had interviewed at Newton High School in 1998. It came down to me and Ben Reaves and he got the job. I told my wife that there’s something about that place (Covington). I don’t know what it was but I felt like I might be back there someday.”
Hurst’s start as the Eagles head coach in 2005 did not start out on a high note having lost all 10 games as the Eagles hit a 24-game losing streak. Despite what looked like a disastrous decision, Hurst was given encouragement in the last game of the season.
“About the third or fourth game in I asked Jay if we made a mistake. But the last game of the year we had to go to Salem. They were already the region champs and they beat us 28-7. I’ll never forget coach (Frank) Caputo said, ‘Coach, I don’t know what you’re doing, but that’s the hardest that group had played in five or six years. I know it’s been a struggle but keep doing what you’re doing.’ I think that was a big turning point. I think Frank gave me the confidence to know that whatever we were doing to keep doing it. That’s what I told the staff the next week,” Hurst said. “I was young and felt like I could come in and turn it around on a dime and it just didn’t happen.”
He was able to turn things around starting with the first game of the 2006 season with a close win over county-rival Newton. Hurst has a picture of the scoreboard showing the 21-20 victory as well the game ball in his office.
“That was huge. It was a great feeling knowing we got that monkey off our backs and to know all the hard work had paid off for my staff. I think I was as proud of our staff as I was our kids,” Hurst said. “Coach (Jason) Tester sent me a picture from the paper before this year’s (Newton) game of me jumping in his arms after it was over. It was special, it was real special. All the hard work from the year before and nothing had come out of it. Then you reap the benefits of what you’ve been doing.”
Eastside finished the 2006 season going 5-5. After barely missing out on the playoffs in 2007, Hurst lifted his team to back-to-back region championships in 2008 and 2009. Those two seasons also saw the Eagles go deep in the Class AAA playoffs. In 2008, Eastside lost to Cairo, who went on to beat Flowery Branch 28-14 for the state championship, 23-6 in a game where the wind was pushing the rain sideways the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The following year, the Eagles lost to Peach County, who beat Gainesville 13-12 in the 2009 state championship game, 21-14 in a game what could have gone either way.
In the past eight years, Hurst has led his Eastside team to the playoffs four times and has never had a losing season.
Of the nine coaches at Eastside, three have been with him since the beginning and one, linebacker coach Bryce Smith, was a former player he and Cawthon coached at Central Gwinnett.
The other coaches having experienced the 0-10 start include Troy Huff (assistant head coach/running back coach), Frankey Iverson (video coordinator/wide receiver coach) and Cawthon (offensive coordinator/quarterback coach).
Of the 58 wins the Eagles have put together for Hurst, the games he feel were the biggest wins besides the first one include the 21-9 (2008) and 20-13 (2009) wins over Carrollton in the second round of the playoffs, the 2009, 14-0 playoff quarterfinal win at Jackson and last season’s 35-0 win over then Class AAA No. 4 ranked Monroe Area.
“I thought we had a good chance of winning the ball game but I sure would’ve of gave us that score,” Hurst said.
While those wins were big, the biggest and most memorable win came on a night he was not there.
In the final game of the 2009 season, Hurst and Tester were thrown out the game against Franklin County forcing them to miss the first playoff game of the postseason. In their absence, the Eagles went on to beat Towers 31-13.
“The kids didn’t let it bother them and they just went on and rolled. That let me know that it’s not about me or one coach,” Hurst said. “It’s about a group of (players) having one cause and a staff that does such an outstanding job of getting these kids ready to play week in and week out.”