Rulo, Magruder relocate to new prep grid coaching posts

No news in Chillicothe HS coaching search, AD declares

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Head coach Tim Rulo (with four fingers raised at right) addresses his 2019 Chillicothe High School football Hornets team following the conclusion of that season's preseason "jamboree" scrimmages at Moberly. After three seasons in the CHS post, Rulo announced in late January he was resigning to seek a position closer to his parents' St. Louis home. Last week, Rulo confirmed he has accepted the head coaching job with mid-Missouri's Russellville High, a program begun only last year.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Even as departing Chillicothe High School football head coach Tim Rulo begins planning for overseeing the fledgling Russellville High program and Oren Magruder, who guided Southwest Livingston High’s team to a state title and state runnerup finishes in two seasons in charge there, matriculates to back to the 11-man game and his old high school conference haunts as Salisbury’s new gridiron chief, Chillicothe High School’s pursuit of a replacement for Rulo – at least based on the official information shared with the patrons of the school district he’ll be hired to serve – apparently is in neutral some six weeks into it.

Contacted last Thursday by the C-T, Dan Nagel, CHS principal and director of athletics, responded that there was “no news” to share with the public regarding the school’s second search in three years for a new head coach for the school’s Missouri Sports Hall of Fame member program. As then athletics director and assistant principal, Nagel was cited by the district administration then as co-chairman (with then-principal Brian Sherrow) of the 2018 search.

The hiring of Rulo came in the first 10 days of March 2018, not quite three months after predecessor Phil Willard, as much anticipated, announced his official retirement from the job after 20 seasons in mid-December 2017. With that nearly-3-months lag as a backdrop, having “no news” to report publicly might not be surprising, although waiting almost three months to make this decision would put the execution of it in mid- to late-April, seemingly relatively-late in the school year to be doing so, given the familiarization and staff-hiring challenges the mid-March tabbing of Rulo produced.

Rulo personally is in about the same time window with becoming head coach of the Russellville position last week as he was when he came to Chillicothe, but in much-different circumstances.

Rather than assuming the reins of a long-successful program which had state-championship aspirations with a senior-laden team the season before and only two head coaches the prior half-century, at Russellville, about 15-20 miles southwest of Jefferson City, he takes over a program only begun last fall at a school with less than 200 students.

Under Roger Van Dezande, described by Rulo as “a friend,” RHS’ Indians competed in 11-man Class 1 in their inaugural campaign, which, not surprisingly, produced no victories in seven regular-season games and then a loss in its district-playoffs opener. Only a 12-8 loss to Class 2 Hillsboro: Grandview which went 5-4 was not a lopsided loss, perhaps suggesting Grandview might not have been at full-strength that week during the COVID-19-hampered season.

“He and I have talked at length about the roster and personnel of an early program,” Rulo said of his Russellville predecessor. “I am excited about opportunities to meet players, parents, and community members in the coming months. They are excited about football and so am I. We’ll build off one another.”

When disclosing his decision to depart the Chillicothe job, Rulo emphasized the desire, both for his children and himself, to be closer to his St. Louis family. Russellville’s central Missouri location, while still 2-plus hours away from St. Louis, is about 90 minutes closer than Chillicothe and still keeps the family within less than two hours away from Mrs. Rulo’s family in Kansas City.

“We really liked the idea of being halfway between the two,” the coach shared with the C-T this past weekend. “Besides the family factor, I have been extremely impressed with the Russellville administration and their vision for Russellville football. The chance to build a program is something I did early in my career, I enjoyed it, and am excited to do it again.”

Rulo’s first head coaching position was just southeast of Jefferson City at Mokane, where South Callaway High School had not enjoyed much success in football.

After taking over a Class 2 club which had gone 0-10 and 2-8 the prior two years, Rulo immediately improved SCHS to consecutive 6-5 marks before hiking that to four 10-2 seasons in a row. In his seventh season, his team won its first 14 games by 25 or more points before battling emerging Class 2 powerhouse Lamar hard in a 30-15 defeat in the Show-Me Bowl. After a 7-3 season the next year, he accepted the head coaching job at Jefferson City: Helias.

“Young football programs at any school face many of the same challenges,” he responded when asked if he could mine the wisdom he gained from his initial challenge at South Callaway to his new position. “We will be looking to build the brand, tradition, roster size, football knowledge, and excitement around the program.

“…Vision and tradition-building are something I have enjoyed in previous stops. This community wants to grow a program and I am happy to be a part of that.

“… Russellville already supports its youth well. I have no doubt that will be true with football, as well. While football is newer, they have had success in other programs. I am excited for football to join that tradition.”

The ex-Chillicothe coach anticipates his familiarity with the central Missouri football landscape will help give him an advantage in evaluating what he needs to build successfully at Russellville.

Head coach Oren Magruder of Southwest Livingston High School, second from right, watches first-quarter action with assistant coaches Trent Moore, left, and Peyton Hein, right, and SLHS All-State quarterback Wesley Hughes during the Nov. 28, 2020, Missouri 8-man football state championship game against North Andrew in Chillicothe. After the Wildcats finished second in the state in his first year as head coach in 2019, Magruder guided SLHS to its first state championship in 2020. He recently accepted a new job as head coach of Salisbury's 11-man program.

Also heading south from Livingston County’s football environs, but not as far, is Magruder.

Ironically, while a native of the Huntsville area of western Randolph County and 2007 graduate of that town’s Westran High, the 32-years-old “crosses the line” – both literally, in terms of geography, into Chariton County, and figuratively, in terms of long-standing, intense rivalry, especially in football – in taking the Salisbury Panthers’ post.

“The biggest thing for me was getting the chance to come home,” he said, referencing the general area. “My family is a big part of my life and getting to be closer to them was something I took very seriously.

“I also grew up in the Lewis and Clark Conference and getting to be involved in those traditional rivalries is something that excites me. The tradition and history of Salisbury athletics is something that also intrigues me.

“Salisbury has always been a school that has produced great athletes and has tremendous pride and support in their athletic programs throughout the community.”

State champions in 1997 and a regular state-playoffs participant over the next decade-plus, including as recently as 2012, when it was blasted at home by state-champion-to-be Hamilton in the Class 1 semifinals, SHS has fallen on quite-hard gridiron times since 2015.

Over the past six years, the Panthers have peaked at three victories, including one winless campaign, even as its boys’ basketball program generally has remained quite successful, including getting set to play tomorrow in the Class 2 state semifinals. That suggests there remains athletic talent in the school system which Magruder will hope to cultivate and transplant to the football field.

“The biggest challenge will be getting the kids to buy into my vision for the program,” Magruder shared with the C-T. “At Southwest, I was able to build relationships with the kids for a year (as 2018 assistant to Eric Fairchild) before taking over as a head coach. I won’t have that luxury at Salisbury, so I will have to hit the ground running and start forming those bonds during the summer.”

He indicated personal connection with the players is integral to his coaching philosophy.

“Kids have to know you care before they care how much you know,” he states. “I think people naturally work harder for people that they care about and who care about them. This will be the foundation of our program.

“I do my best to make sure that the kids know I love them and their worth isn’t tied to what the outcome is. I feel like this approach led to the success we had at Southwest. We worked hard, but we had a ton of fun and enjoyed being around each other. After games and practices, nobody was in a hurry to leave. We would sit and talk and joke around with each other, even though we might have just spent 12 hours together.”

Having first becoming acquainted with some Southwest Livingston students while assistant coach of the Tina-Avalon/Southwest baseball program in spring 2018 and since being head coach of SLHS’ standalone diamond program (albeit the 2020 season being wiped out by COVID-19) and assistant and then head coach of the football Wildcats the past three school years, Magruder acknowledges it took the understandable lure of returning to his athletic “roots” to uproot him from the Ludlow school and its students.

“The decision to return to Southwest or to take the Salisbury job was one of the most difficult I have ever made,” he disclosed, underscoring that being no small matter by noting he dropped out of college after one semester, spent three years working before enlisting in the Air Force with consideration of making that a career, before opting to get his discharge, resume his education at a community college and, in his mid-20s, return to the same college he had previously dropped out of and complete his degree in physical education.

“I have formed strong bonds with the kids at Southwest and knew that it would be really hard to tell them, if I made the decision to leave. The level of commitment and buy-in (to his football system) from the seventh grade through 12th grade has been phenomenal.

“I think Southwest will continue to have a strong football program for the foreseeable future. The successes of the past two years will hopefully increase interest in participation” among the three cooperating schools (Southwest Livingston, Tina-Avalon, and Hale).”

Once the decision was made a couple of weeks ago, Magruder had to face the moment he’d dreaded – breaking the news to what would have been his team members of 2021 and beyond.

“There was nothing fun about telling the players I had made the decision to leave,” he recounted. “Some were frustrated and some were understanding. I tried to make it clear that it wasn’t a decision I took lightly nor was it a decision based solely on football. I told them I loved them and they gave me a hug.”

A C-T message sent to first-year Southwest Livingston R-1 Superintendent Burnie Schneiderheinze Sunday evening, seeking a status report on that school's "newer" search, did not receive a reply prior to the Monday afternoon submission deadline for this article.