On a late August night in 2016 on a rain-soaked football field in Mt. Pleasant, I stood with a 23-year old Rhett Bird who was beaming from ear to ear after winning the first home game of his coaching career.
The first thing he said about the win in the postgame interview was that it was “for the community.” The assistant coaches and players were elated; this win was special, signifying optimism at the very start of a new era of Hawk football.
Five years ago, Bird took the job at 22 and was the youngest head football coach in Utah at the time. His goal has been clear from the beginning: win a championship.
To accomplish great things, one must overcome great obstacles, and the Hawks have had their share in the last five years. They lost their starting quarterback in 2016 to a season-ending injury. They went winless in 2017. In 2020, they had large outbreaks of COVID-19 and then lost their starting quarterback for nearly the whole season, a severe derailment for a spread offense. And then just two weeks ago, nearly a third of their starting lineup was suspended for violating the team’s code of ethics.
Like it or not, facing these kinds of obstacles is what championship programs do, and Bird and his staff are doing about as well as you can expect.
In 2020, I went to St. George to cover the 3A state championship between Juab and Morgan. Juab head coach Mike Bowring, the fifth-longest tenured head coach in Utah, finished his 16th season with Juab’s first-ever state title and this poignant quote: “We’ve been knocking on the door for a long time.”
The title game run in 2018 somewhat obscured the truth of what it takes to succeed in 3A. Getting through the top four or five programs in 3A takes years to accomplish. Bird still has not yet beaten Juab in his career, and barring a massive upset, that likely will not happen this year either.
Players getting suspended is never a wonderful look, but the manner in which it has transpired has showcased a solid foundation within the Hawks staff and program. The suspension length transcends the UHSAA minimum length, even in a part of the season where the Hawks desperately need their players back as soon as possible. In addition to that, players, not coaches, were the ones to report the infractions, thanks to a culture of accountability instilled by Bird’s staff.
“Football in the end is just football,” Bird said after last week’s loss.
Bird is not exempt from that accountability culture. The young coach has, on several occasions after losses in the last few years, attributed losses to missteps of his own, whether bad play calls or inadequate preparation of the team.
Despite being in year six with the Hawks, Bird is not only the youngest coach in the entire 3A South, but also the least experienced, going up against the likes of Bowring and Cole Meacham every year in region play.
The Hawks are going to grow from this experience and be all the better from it. This is what championship programs are made of, and in 3A football, it doesn’t happen overnight.