Coach Profile: Van Horn's Jeff Tolbert 2/25
By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
It was a long and winding road that brought Jeff Tolbert to Van Horn six years ago. While there were many stops on that road, the experiences helped the Falcons head coach turn around one of the most down trodden programs in the Metro.
Tolbert has been an assistant coach at six schools in the Metro along with spending time at his alma mater Garden City in Kansas. He was also a head coach at Ruskin and each job has brought him something different.
The journey began in high school as a player at Garden City and then continued at Garden City Community College before finishing his football career at Kansas Wesleyan in Salina. After college he began his teaching career at Leavenworth before moving back to Garden City. From there he returned to the Metro and spent time at Raytown, Blue Springs, Ruskin and William Chrisman as an assistant coach. He then left Chrisman and returned to Ruskin as the head coach for two years. After that he moved on to Lee’s Summit North as an assistant for four years under legendary head coach Harold Wambsgans.
The benefit of different stops at different schools and communities has helped Tolbert adjust too many different types of players and students.
“You have to deal with different types of personalities,” Tolbert said. “Every kid brings to the table some different experience, some different problems, some different benefit and having the opportunity to see all kinds of kids and all kinds of settings has really helped me here.”
In 2008 when the Independence School District took over Van Horn from the Kansas City School District Tolbert became the Falcons head coach. Van Horn had long struggled in football and the program was a combination of a new team with old baggage.
Tolbert knew it would be an uphill battle that would take a long time.
“It was maybe more difficult than starting a brand new school,” Tolbert said. “We already had things in place. We had a new situation but we had to start scrubbing in a new mentality here. What was probably more difficult than starting a new school was just replacing the mindset that had been around here for a couple of decades.”
The turnaround came slowly but by the fourth season the Falcons finished with a 7-3 regular season record and advanced to the Missouri Class 3 playoffs. Van Horn would lose in the first round but they have backed up that campaign with winning seasons the last two years.
The culture has changed at Van Horn and Tolbert said something he learned from his other coaching positions helped him immensely along the way.
“Just being relentless is something we had to talk about as a faculty,” Tolbert said of the change at Van Horn. “We had to make a commitment to be relentless because it would be too easy to give up because it was so hard and so difficult. Not just in the athletic sense but in the academic sense as well.
“I imagine it was something I learned growing up, but if there is any characteristic or character trait I’ve had to draw on since I’ve been here is that you cannot under any circumstances give up. You have to be relentless in pursuing your goals and sort of have tunnel vision to do that.”
Tolbert said he has taken a lot from his former head coaches both on and off the field but one man’s influence stands out.
“The top of that list is Harold Wambsgans,” Tolbert said. “I learned about how to be not just a good coach but to be a man. I admire him as much as anyone I’ve ever been around and I’ve been around some good coaches.
“In terms of x’s and o’s (Former Blue Springs coach) Bob Beatty is probably the smartest guy I’ve ever been around in terms of coaching but Wambs is the man. He is special.”
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