Head baseball coach Chris Heaps announces retirement
After a decade of helming the Russellville High School baseball team and leading the Golden Tigers to five state championship wins during that time, RHS head baseball coach Chris Heaps will be officially retiring Aug. 1.
Heaps will be retiring from public education and pursuing an opportunity he’s been given to coach in the private education sector in the Birmingham area. The specific opportunity is not being released at this time at Heaps’ request.
Heaps said the decision was an unbelievably difficult one to make, but after many discussions with his family and lots of prayer, he believes this is the right time to make this transition.
“I’ve prayed about this and when would be the right time for me to retire from the public sector and possibly pursue other opportunities in the private sector,” Heaps said. “I was actually thinking all of this would take place a year from now because that’s when the timing felt right to me, but things started falling into place that made it obvious that wouldn’t be the case and that now was actually the best time to make this move.
“God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we think he will, but I trust and believe that his timing is always right.”
Heaps said three main factors went into his decision to retire ahead of the new school year starting:
- The opportunity for his future that he has prayed for became a reality sooner than he thought
- It made sense financially to make this move
- Having his family circle closer together
“Yes, there were a lot of things to consider, but my family was at the top of the list,” Heaps said. “My family has been chasing this baseball thing for 22 years, and that comes with a lot of sacrifice. My daughter and her husband just had our first grandchild, and every time my wife and I FaceTime with them, we see our grandson and wish we were closer.
“This move will get our family circle closer and will give us the opportunity to be close to our grandson so we can enjoy this precious time. There’s such a small window when children are that little, and you can’t get that time back. So that’s really where the heart of this decision is coming from.”
Heaps said as glad as he will be to be closer to family, he is gutted at the thought of leaving Russellville – a program and community that has been nothing short of a dream come true.
“Leaving Hartselle in 2011 after coaching there with Coach Booth and being part of an amazing program like that was hard,” Heaps said. “Hartselle was home, and it was hard to make that decision when I applied for and was hired as the head baseball coach at Russellville.
“When we first came here, we made the decision to rent a home because we didn’t know how this was going to go,” he added. “The community might have hated me. We just didn’t know. But what my time at Russellville turned into was an absolute fairytale.
“Russellville is our home, and I am absolutely black and gold through and through. This has been an awesome place for me and for my family.
“The love affair I have had the past 10 years with this place is something so special that it’s hard to even put into words. I love this place and the people here with all my heart. Leaving is going to be tremendously hard.”
In his tenure at RHS, Heaps created a program that was focused on the process and not the results. He hammered home the ideas of “we before me,” effort, sacrifice, perfecting the simple things, learning to love practice and the weight room because it’s where you get better and – the most recognizable phrase associated with Heaps’ teams – being “uncommon” and doing the right thing even when it’s not the popular thing.
“When you focus on the process, the results will take care of themselves,” Heaps said. “My very first day at Russellville, I told my players, ‘If you want things you’ve never had, you’ve got to be willing to do things you’ve never done.’
“I told them we were going to focus on doing the simple things excellently and doing them better than anyone else. We were going to focus on the life lessons as well as the training that would make them better ball players.
“And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
In his tenure as a public schools coach, Heaps has racked up a 70 percent win rate – and he said the other 30 percent is just as important.
“I don’t call the other 30 percent ‘losses;’ I call them ‘lessons,’” Heaps said. “There’s always something you can learn and always something you can work on and do better.
“It’s not about being champions, although we have been very blessed in that area. It’s about buying into an uncommon process that creates uncommon results.
“When the players truly grasp this, they can apply it to any part of their life. If you’re doing things the right way, the results will follow.”
The results have spoken for themselves over Heaps’ time as head baseball coach at RHS, particularly in the past eight seasons. He has led RHS to seven consecutive area championships; back-to-back-to-back state championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017; a state runner-up finish in 2018; and back-to-back state championships in 2021 and 2022.
Under his leadership, RHS has had two 5A players of the year, two 5A pitchers of the year, two 5A hitters of the year, 25 all-state selections and four honorable mentions and a whopping 32 players to become college signees, of which Heaps said he was extremely proud.
RCS Superintendent Dr. Heath Grimes said he felt like he could speak not only for himself but for the whole community when he said this will be a huge loss for RCS.
“Coach Heaps has had an amazing tenure here at RCS that has led many in the community and across the state to label it a dynasty – and rightfully so,” Grimes said. “What he’s been able to do with our baseball program is amazing, and it goes without saying that he is going to be missed tremendously.
“However, we respect his priorities lying with his family, and we wish him nothing but the very best as he moves into this next phase of his personal and professional life.”
Grimes said RHS Assistant Coach Jay Stanley will be the interim head baseball coach while applications are received and the process moves forward to hire a new head coach. The job will be posted for a minimum of seven days, and a decision will be made deliberately but swiftly.
“We believe in what Coach Heaps has built and the way he has coached and led our players,” Grimes said. “Our goal will be to find someone to lead the baseball program that holds those same ideals, is focused on the same goals, and who will give our student athletes the best opportunity for continued success.
“We have every confidence we will hire someone who is the best fit for our program and for our student athletes.”
Heaps gave a tremendous amount of credit to his coaching staff and to the administrators and school leadership he has worked with over the past 10 years.
“There’s no way I can take sole credit for anything we’ve accomplished because I did it alongside the best people,” he said. “Our coaching staff is the best in the state at any level or classification. It’s been nothing but a pleasure to work with every single one of them. And our administrators make all of this possible.
“When I first came in, Rex Mayfield was the superintendent, and Tim Guinn was the principal at RHS. They and the school board at the time put their faith in me to lead this program and supported me from the start.
“For the past several years, Heath Grimes and Jason Goodwin have done the same thing. They and the board have supported this program and helped make these successes possible. I can’t thank these people enough for all they’ve done.”
There’s another group that Heaps said deserves so much praise and thanks: the parents of his players.
“As a coach, you spend a lot of time with your players and inevitably become a major influence in their lives,” Heaps said. “I can’t thank the parents of these players enough for trusting me with their children and loaning them out to me to teach and to coach. It’s an extreme privilege I don’t take for granted.
“I have been so blessed by my time at Russellville and the amount of success we’ve been able to see during that time,” he added. “The wins are great and an amazing thing for our players to experience, but the life lessons, the opportunities to further their education and their baseball career at the next level – those things are so important to me. I’m thankful to have been a part of those things.”
Heaps said when he was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1991, “I thought that was where my future would be, in the big leagues. But after two seasons, I had such a strong desire to go back and finish my degree and become a coach – to pay forward the lessons I’d learned.
“So many thought it was the wrong decision to quit and pursue teaching and coaching, but I didn’t look at it as quitting. I saw it as moving into my calling. God knew the direction my life should take.
“Looking back on the past 26 years of coaching, I know it was the right decision. Coaching is my calling and my passion, and coaching at Russellville has been a dream come true.
“The love affair I’ve had with my colleagues at RHS, with my coaching staff and players, and with this community is just unmatched. I’ve never seen a community rally around a program like Russellville does.
“This is an amazing place with amazing people that will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m humbled to have been part of what we’ve been able to accomplish here.”