DRACUT -- Feeling a need to re-energize a football program that went 5-17 over the past two seasons, Dracut High on Tuesday promoted assistant coach Jay Rivers to replace Jason Houston.
The Middies overall went 18-27 over Houston's four seasons as their head coach, which included an 8-4 record and a Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title in his first season, 2010.
After Dracut finished 3-8 last season, Houston's one-year contract was not renewed.
"Both (Rivers and Houston) are tremendous educators," said Dracut High athletic director Tim Woods. "But (Rivers) has a different approach. He has been with us for 10 years, and I just think he brings some things to the table that we need right now to revive the program. We're not satisfied with the way things are going."
Dracut won three straight league titles (2008-2010) during a run that included an EMass. Div. 1A Super Bowl title in 2008 when Jeff Moore was the head coach.
Last season Dracut started 0-7, then won three consecutive games against non-playoff qualifiers before losing to Methuen on Thanksgiving. Rivers ran practices for three weeks last season while Houston was on leave after his son was born prematurely.
"I'm very excited to coach these kids here at Dracut High," said Rivers, 42. "This situation (replacing Houston) wasn't easy on me, Jason, the rest of the staff or the kids. It's been a difficult period for everyone. Hopefully we can all move forward and get ready for next season.
Told the job was being opened to other applicants, Houston reapplied for the position he hoped to keep.
"I have a lot of great memories with players and coaches I've worked with, and with members of the community," said Houston. "It's disheartening and sad that my 10 years as a coach (in Dracut) is ending this way. But I wish nothing but success for the kids in the program going forward."
Houston, a former Lowell High and University of Richmond standout, intends to coach on some team's staff this coming season.
"I can't picture myself not (coaching)," he said.
Rivers played tackle on an Ayer High team that went to the 1988 Central Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl, losing 15-0 to Worcester South. His father, Sam, was an Ayer assistant coach. Rivers played football at Eastern Arizona junior college and Midwestern State University in Texas.
Rivers was an assistant coach at Ayer under Pat Murphy, who then followed Murphy to Dracut when Murphy became the Middies' head coach in 2004. Highly regarded, Rivers was a finalist for the Dracut head coach job in 2010 when Murphy's successor Moore left Dracut for the Lowell High job. Dracut at that time promoted Houston while Rivers remained the Middies' line coach.
Rivers returned to his Ayer roots in 2012, succeeding Jamie Lamoreaux as Ayer Shirley's head coach when Lamoreaux stepped down. Rivers stayed one season, with the Panthers going 1-10, before returning to Dracut's staff last season.
"I enjoyed my time at Ayer. But football takes a lot of energy and it doesn't pay the bills," said Rivers, who was commuting to Ayer without having a job in the school system.
Rivers resides in Dracut and works in the Dracut school system's special-education department.
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