By Kyle Daubs

In 12 years serving as an assistant baseball coach, John Pogue couldn’t count on getting a good night’s rest before 10 p.m.

If he tried falling asleep before then, he probably would have been awakened by Derrick Landrus. Pogue said that he probably took hundreds of calls right around then with Landrus planning or thinking about the next baseball game because he “couldn’t ever turn it off for his team.”

Call it extra work or just plain overthinking, but that’s just how Landrus conducted business in general coaching baseball at Charleston High School the past 17 years.

Last season might have been his finest, guiding the Trojans to an Elite Eight appearance.

As a result, Landrus was awarded the 2021 Class 3A At-Large Coach of the Year Award by the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association.  

Charleston won its first IHSA Sectional Championship since 1960 and finished 26-10 overall. 

“Those 20 guys on the roster are what got us there,” said Landrus. “The award goes to them just as much as it does me. If I could split the award into 20 pieces, I would give them each a little something.”

Charleston made the Elite 8 despite having Major League Baseball prospect Ben Hess, who was the No. 1 pitching prospect in the state of Illinois and an Indiana recruit, pitch just 8 ⅓ innings last season. Hess, who has since switched to play at Alabama, was among three players the Trojans were relying on to pitch last year. 

“Even though all of my 12 seasons with Derrick were successful, I truly believe that this season he really earned that Coach of the Year title,” said Pogue. “We had to deal with an unprecedented number of injuries to a pitching staff in addition to a top prospect in the state limited to two regular season starts. To go to a super sectional and nearly win it was truly a testament to the leadership and coaching of Derrick Landrus.”

Pogue said Landrus did an excellent job using multiple pitchers through games. 

“We obviously had a fantastic group of young men that came together at the right time, but it took Derrick putting all the pieces together to get them to where they needed to be,” said Pogue. “We were constantly facing teams with ace pitching going six to seven innings and we were just having to patch together seven innings and then think about who would be in the next game. It was truly a next man-up mentality last year, and Derrick was able to guide his team through that better than almost any in the state.”

Landrus said he’ll most remember the team battling through adversity. 

“Two things stick out to me the most that made last year so special,” said Landrus. “The adversity with COVID is at the top of the list. What the kids had to go through, taking a year off, we didn’t know what we had going into the year. Several guys didn’t get to play baseball for a year or two. That’s a tough sport to do that in. Then, the top three guys we counted on to be our top pitchers pitched a combined 18 innings.”

Landrus always found a way to win, Pogue said. Landrus compiled an overall record of 354-193 in 17 years as the varsity baseball coach, including 14 seasons with 20-plus wins. 

“He is constantly a step above his competition and gives his teams the edge that others simply don’t have,” said Pogue. “I truly believe that Derrick’s leadership is really what led Charleston to be so successful in the last 15 years. When other sports may have struggled, the one constant in the school was baseball.”

Pogue said Landrus noticed the little things in every game. 

“We always joked that we were probably leading the state in stolen bases as a team and didn’t even really have an abundance of speed sometimes,” said Pogue. “Derrick just always knew when to send guys and was continuously above his competition. I think one of my favorite examples of Derrick as a coach above the rest was him calling pitchouts, especially when he thought the other team was going to suicide squeeze. I still remember the look on a coach’s face after we had pitched out to get the runner at home on a suicide squeeze. The coach looked like he was thinking,’how on Earth did they just think to do that?’ “

Landrus says coaching both of his sons, Cade and Luke, made the season extra special. 

“It’s just cool,” said Landrus. “Not a lot of coaches downstate Illinois get a lot of recognition that they deserve. I can think of a lot of other great coaches around this area. It’s just really special because at the time you aren’t thinking about the wins and losses. You were thinking about what the kids were going through in the world.”

Landrus is currently not coaching in the spring after leaving Charleston in a murky divorce in which official details remain unavailable. Landrus, though, says he wishes the best for Charleston. Meanwhile, he now has time to watch Luke, a sophomore at St. Joseph-Ogdon, play from the other side of the fence.

“Life is good,” said Landrus. “Just living life and not thinking too much. Everything happens for a reason. I’m not thinking about who is going to be in the starting lineup or how we can develop our young guys. It can get a little stressful day in and day out thinking, but I’m not doing that now. I’m sure I will miss it more when the season starts. I loved the team we had coming back. I wish them the best moving forward.”

Pogue, who no longer coaches either, said Landrus could one day return to the dugout.

“Derrick is extremely deserving of this award,” said Pogue. “His passion and loyalty to the Charleston community and his teams throughout the years are outstanding. As a coach, Derrick is someone who gives his teams an advantage in the way he thinks through situations. You would be hard-pressed to find a coach that thinks about things like fielding positioning, outfield defense, base running, and pitch calls more than Derrick.”