Coaches' friendship still strong

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Texas A&M coach Rob Childress, left, and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn meet with umpires prior to a game Friday, May 9, 2014 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. Childress was an assistant coach to Van Horn for 10 seasons.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Texas A&M coach Rob Childress, left, and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn meet with umpires prior to a game Friday, May 9, 2014 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. Childress was an assistant coach to Van Horn for 10 seasons.

HOOVER, Ala. -- Rob Childress had been a graduate of Northwood University in Cedar Hill, Texas, for a day in the spring of 1990 when he was hired by Dave Van Horn and began what has become a college baseball coaching career that led him to Texas A&M.

"Dave's meant everything to my career," Childress said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without him and the opportunity he gave me all those years ago."

SEC Tournament

WHERE Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.

WHEN Today through Sunday

TODAY Four elimination games: Tennessee-Vanderbilt, 9:30 a,m.; Arkansas-Texas A&M, 12:30 p.m.; Kentucky-Alabama, 4:30 p.m.; Georgia-Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY-FRIDAY Today’s winners advance to the double-elimination part of the tournament and face four teams that had first-round byes: Florida, Ole Miss, LSU and South Carolina. Double-elimination format in place until four teams are eliminated with two losses, leaving four teams alive.

SATURDAY-SUNDAY Semifinals and championship game are single elimination.

— Bob Holt

Childress and Van Horn, Arkansas' coach, will be in opposite dugouts at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium today when the Aggies and Razorbacks play in a first-round elimination game at the SEC Tournament.

Before they became SEC West coaching rivals, Van Horn and Childress spent a combined 10 years working together at Texarkana Junior College, Northwestern (La.) State and Nebraska for teams that were a combined 413-179. Van Horn was the head coach with Childress as his pitching coach.

"When you have someone you've worked with and you have a lot of respect for, and then you have to play them and try to beat them, it makes it difficult," said Van Horn, who is 4-2 against Childress' Aggies in SEC games. "But it's just the way it is.

"I'm proud of Rob for being a coach in this league."

Childress said he tries not to think about his friendship with Van Horn when their teams play.

"When the game starts, the friendship is set aside," Childress said. "Then it's just about the game."

How close are Van Horn and Childress?

"I was there when his first child was born," Van Horn said. "He was there when my children were born. That's pretty good stuff right there."

After helping Northwood, an NAIA school, win two conference championships as a pitcher, Childress decided he wanted to coach. Pat Malcheski, his coach at Northwood, knew Van Horn -- Texarkana College's coach at the time -- had an opening for an assistant coach, and he made a call on Childress' behalf.

Van Horn met with Childress over lunch and offered him a job.

"The day after I graduated, I loaded up my truck and went to work for him at Texarkana," Childress said. "I think he paid me $2,000 a year."

That was more than Van Horn remembered.

"I didn't think I paid him anything," Van Horn said with a laugh. "We didn't have a big budget."

While coaching at Texarkana College, Childress worked at United Postal Service and waited tables to bring in extra income.

"But I didn't mind all that, because I was 21 years old and getting to be Coach Childress and having responsibilities for the pitchers, thanks to Dave," Childress said. "I thought I was rich."

Van Horn said Childress' coaching abilities quickly became apparent.

"From probably his second week in, I knew that he had it in him if he wanted to do it," Van Horn said. "He was great dealing with the kids and teaching pitching.

"Rob's a hard worker. He was going to have a lot of success whatever line of work he went into."

Childress was hired as Texas A&M's coach for the 2006 season by then-Aggies Athletic Director Bill Byrne, who as Nebraska's athletic director hired Van Horn. Bryne hired Childress from Nebraska, where he had been promoted to associate head coach when Van Horn left for Arkansas after the 2002 season.

"Bill contacted me about trying to help him figure out who to hire at A&M," Van Horn said. "I just kept bringing up Rob's name.

"Rob was already on his list, but Rob wasn't a head coach then. But I told Bill that Rob would do a great job if he hired him.

"Bill looked at a lot high-profile people, but then he called me and said he was getting ready to offer Rob the job. I was extremely excited for Rob."

Van Horn wasn't as excited when Texas A&M joined the SEC last season. Now Van Horn and Childress compete for recruits from Texas who want to play in the SEC, and they also face each other every season in a conference series.

"When A&M got in the league, I knew it was going to affect our recruiting," Van Horn said. "If he gets a commitment from a kid we're recruiting, we'll jab back and forth, joke with each other.

"I have a lot of respect for all the things he's done throughout his career, and I appreciate all the things he did for me as an assistant coach. He's incredible."

Van Horn and Childress will be working together again this summer when Van Horn serves as manager of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team with Childress as pitching coach.

"It'll be a great time for us to just give it one more shot at coaching together, have some fun," Van Horn said. "We'll get a chance to talk about our families and our kids, and where we started to where we are now."

Sports on 05/20/2014