Average is the enemy.
These four words were the first of many that Madisonville’s athletic director and head football coach Rusty Nail and his staff would instill into the minds of his athletes when he took over in 2016. In his short tenure, Nail has put the Mustang football team in the Regional Playoff round and continues to change the town’s athletic culture.
“Other than women’s basketball, most of the accomplishments here have been Bi-District,” said Nail. “We want to go further than that and not just football but in all sports for both genders.”
Nail’s coaching aspirations were realized for the first time in Huntsville in the late 80s. He was a college student hired as a part-time coach to help run their seventh-grade program as well as scouting.
“That’s where I got my start in football,” said Nail. “My mother had some brothers who coached so I was exposed to it a lot growing up. I originally planned on being a baseball coach.”
Instead, Nail continued to progress on the gridiron sidelines and was hired full-time to coach Mustang seventh-graders in 1991. He would experience a lot of successes along the road that lasted two decades and ultimately led to his return to Madisonville.
“I was with Madisonville for five years the first time around and then I went back to Huntsville,” said Nail. “From there, I went to Runge in south-central Texas to take my first defensive coordinator position.”
The coaching road took Nail all over the state of Texas as he continued to hone his craft. Eventually, he found his way to Mart ISD and accepted his first athletic director and head coaching position in 2006.
“Mart was a storybook job,” said Nail. “It was an established program with a lot of tradition and success. They had just graduated a great class when I took over so it looked like we could be in for a down year or two.”
Instead, Nail led the Panthers to a 2A State Championship over Cisco in his first season. In his nine years at Mart, the Panthers would reach the title game five times and won it all twice. They either won state or lost to the team that did eight times in Nail’s tenure.
“We won over 100 games at Mart,” said Nail. “My kids got to experience that and learned a lot about football but also handling traditions and the power of all that.”
After the Panthers fell in the semifinals in Nail’s ninth year in charge, he felt it was time for a change. There was a coach on staff who he felt was ready to step in as Mart’s head coach and he knew he wouldn’t be there forever. Nail interviewed for some other coaching positions, but decided to get into insurance and accepted a job at New York Life.
“This was a lucrative position but the extra time I had on my hands started to drive me crazy,” said Nail. “After over 20 years on the sidelines I wasn’t used to the business life and controlling my own schedule. I didn’t just miss football, I also missed working with kids and other coaches.”
After a few months in insurance, Nail realized he wanted to get back on the sidelines. His longtime friend and former Mustang head coach Greg Morgan would visit with him to go over the offense and encouraged him to take his position when he felt it would become available.
“I really felt like Madisonville was my first real job all those years ago,” said Nail. “I’m reaping a lot of the rewards from coach Morgan because he had these kids when they were younger and took his lumps with them. A lot of the football stuff was already in place when I got here, and the previous staff had a lot to do with that. That should never be overlooked.”
Nail credits Morgan as well as Superintendent Keith Smith with ultimately persuading him to come back to Madisonville. He continued the long tradition of winning at Mart and now seeks a new challenge.
“Madisonville has had some tremendous football players but are traditionally a 500 program,” said Nail. “People really considered this as a basketball school. I wanted to bring what I’ve learned here and apply it to all sports as well as the classroom. The culture change here really has nothing to do with the X’s and O’s of football or any sport, it’s all about the mindset and involving ourselves in the lives of these kids.”
While working to change expectations for the athletes that have quickly become his family, Nail is excited for his future with the ones who matter most. His oldest son has graduated and is working and he also has a son who is a sophomore at Sam Houston State. His youngest and only daughter is a sophomore at Madisonville.
“My daughter will graduate a Mustang,” said Nail. “Beyond that, I’d love for my wife to have a chance to advance her career. She has her doctorate degree and has shown interest in some superintendent-type positions. She’s spent the last 26 years allowing me to live out my dream, so it’s all about her. As long as I’m with kids and coaches I’ll be happy.”