A joke from a former Northwest Missouri State University football coach turned out to be prophetic for Doug Ruse.
A one-time quarterback at Northwest, from 1981 to 1985, he played for Jim Redd and then Vern Thomsen. It was Thomsen who then told Ruse – rather than asking – that he would be a graduate assistant in 1986.
The Independence native, who played at Truman High School, was a physical education major and was leaning toward going into coaching.
He got a little nudge from Thomsen which helped Ruse rise steadily up from Division II to Division I in a coaching career that has lasted more than 30 years.
“He told me I’d be a hell of a lot better coach than I was as a player,” Ruse said of recalling the talk with Thomsen. “He was right. He was joking with me, but he was right.”
Ruse earned degrees from Northwest Missouri in 1986 and then in 1988, earning a master’s in education administration.
Shortly after Ruse received his second degree, Thomsen was dismissed as the coach and Bud Elliott arrived in advance of the 1988 season.
Elliott, who went 26-50-1 as the Bearcats’ head coach, hired Ruse as a wide receivers coach and by 1990, the former option quarterback was moved up to offensive coordinator.
He held that role until 1993, when Elliott and his staff were dismissed following a 3-8 record and only two winning seasons in his tenure.
Ruse, 54, left Maryville after 13 years and started his way up the coaching chain.
He landed at Northwestern State, a Division I-AA school, for eight years following Northwest. Ruse ran the offense for the final four years and later made the move to Arkansas State. A short stint as offensive coordinator at Western Illinois followed before Ruse intersected his coaching career with that of Willie Fritz.
The one-time Central Missouri leader headed to Sam Houston State and hired Ruse as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in 2011.
Ruse’s offense ranked in the top 10 of Football Championship Subdivision schools in 2012 and Ruse was a finalist for the FCS Coordinator of the Year Award given by FootballScoop.com. That year, Sam Houston State became only the third team in FCS history to score 600 points in a single season.
Sam Houston State reached the national championship games in 2011 and 2012, both times falling to North Dakota State.
The final year at Sam Houston State saw the Bearkats lead FCS in rushing yards, scoring and total offense.
Georgia Southern hired Fritz prior to the 2014 season and Ruse followed, coaching there for two years in his first stint at the Division I FBS level.
In two years, Ruse’s offense averaged 37.7 points per game and led Division I in rushing both seasons. The 363 yards rushing per game in 2015 led the nation and helped the Eagles go 9-4 and win the GoDaddy.com Bowl game.
The success at Georgia Southern led to Tulane hiring Fritz as the head coach prior to last season and Ruse followed again.
Tulane went 4-8 last year and completed spring ball last month heading into the second season.
He hopes the Green Wave’s offense starts to resemble the ones he had at Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern. While he still hopes to run the ball successfully, Ruse wants Tulane’s offense to be more balanced.
This year, two of the first three games for Tulane pit them against powerhouses Oklahoma and Navy before jumping into conference play.
“We will get it turned around, but it isn’t a quick fix,” Ruse said. “Willie has a vision of the way he turns programs around and he will do the same thing at Tulane. We will get it turned around, no doubt in my mind.”
All told, Ruse has spent more than 20 years of his 30 years coaching as an offensive coordinator. Now he is in one of the top conferences in the country. Tulane competes in the American Athletic Conference, which featured top 10-ranked Houston last year, as well as bowl teams Tulsa, Memphis, Temple and Central Florida. Add in a loss to Wake Forest last year, the Green Wave lost to six teams that went to a bowl game.
Ruse keeps up with Northwest’s football team regardless of where he has been in the coaching profession.
He said each week he checks the Northwest football score and carries a lot of pride with him whether he has been in Louisiana, Georgia or Texas.
“I’m proud as I can be with what they have accomplished,” Ruse said. “No matter where I am, it comes up where I played and started my coaching and everyone knows about Northwest Missouri State for their history of the program and the reputation, and that is what it should be. I’m very proud of my time at Northwest for cutting my teeth and getting into the coaching profession.
“I can appreciate I started out by lining the football field and worked my way up. I progressively worked my way up the chain and I’m glad the way it happened.”
Ruse still returns to the Maryville area often. He met his wife, Sandy, while he was a graduate assistant. His in-laws still reside in Maryville and last year his family – Sandy and Doug have three children – rented a cabin at Mozingo Lake.
A trip to Northwest last summer had Ruse visiting with then-head football coach Adam Dorrel.
Ruse’s ties to Dorrel go back many years – to the high school level in fact. Ruse did his student teaching at Maryville for Joe Drake and Dorrel was one of the students in that class.
Parts of Northwest look much different now than when Ruse attended, namely the football venue is much improved from the old Rickenbrode Stadium.
“There is a night and day difference,” Ruse said. “It looks like two different campuses now.”