Recently I was speaking with a friend who stated that he was looking forward to the 2000 high school football season. Seems he thought his school had a real chance of having a great season and making it deep into the playoffs after many seasons in a row of playing losing football. Even though I respect my friend and his opinion, I have no doubt that come late September he will once again bemoan his team's fortune as they hover around 1-4 on the way to yet another 3 win season.
For better or worse, SC HS football is consistent. Year after year the same teams seem to be in Williams-Brice come December playing for a state championship and the same teams seem to finish 2-9. Of course every now and again a new coach brings excitement to a program and turns them into a winner by taking them to the next level. But for the most part the same teams compete every year for the rings.
It does not happen by accident.
How is it that the same teams win every year? You cannot make me believe that the 1000 kids that attend Daniel High School in Central are more athletically talented than the 1000 kids that attend AC Flora in Columbia. But during the 90s, the Lions have won over 100 games and numerous championships while AC Flora has won only 10 games in 10 years. Talent alone does not explain one school winning more games in a year than another did in the entire decade. Nor is it even remotely conceivable that a school is exponentially more athletically talented than another over a long period of time. So why does Daniel win and AC Flora doesn't?
(Editor's note: With the new staff at A.C. Flora led by Head Coach Robin Bacon, we feel those fortunes may soon change.)
I believe there are reasons or necessary ingredients you need to be a winner in HS football. Have none of these and you will be lucky to win 2 or 3 games a year. Have a few of these and you may win occasionally. Have all of them and reserve your calendar for December 5, 2000 because you may be in Columbia that day.
School and Administrative Support
In no sport at any level is coaching more important than in high school football. Talent alone can win basketball when the coaching is bad. Just look at what Kevin Garnett did playing for the worst high school basketball coach in history at Mauldin in 1993 and 1994. (Also a special hello to Lower Richland's boy's basketball team) At the college and pro football level, the talent is so immense and the players so knowledgeable that coaching while important does not play as large a factor as is does for the preps.
Simply put coaching is everything.
No coaching equals no wins and there are many bad coaches in this state. Week after week I watch and am mind-boggled by the stupidity and ineptitude of some coaches. I don't know how many times I have turned to someone I was watching a game with and asked what did the coaches do all week when they should have been preparing the kids for the game. It is obvious many times that the coaches do not do their job and the players are in no way prepared for the game. Their idea of executing a game plan consist of yelling and screaming at their players in an attempt to hide their ineptitude.
Other times I amazed by the genius of coaches and the lengths they go to in order to prepare and win a game. Coach Stackley of Strafford proved what a masterful coaching job and team preparation could accomplish in the 1999 Big 16 state championship.
During the game against Dorman, he designed his defense in a manner to contain Curtis Nash, the Dorman QB. 14 other schools had been unsuccessful in doing this but by slightly changing his rushing schemes and his blitz packages, Stratford was able to contain Dorman and their star quarterback. It may have been by only 72 inches, but that was the 2 yards that was needed to win a state championship for Stratford.
High school football coaches are not unlike any other profession, some are exceptional, other are good and some are embarrassing to themselves and the school they represent
To me, one problem is that Athletic Directors continually hire ex football players as head coaches. They played the game therefore they must understand it, RIGHT? What kind of ridiculous logic is that?
I took Calculus in high school and college and made pretty good grades and even liked it, but I don't know the first thing about it now. Today I program software and write computer code for a living, but I am the absolute worst person in the world to try teach anybody else how to "work a computer" I know how to do it and I can do it without thinking about it, but I can not teach it to save my life.
Likewise coaches who played the game don't necessary teach the game best and that is what HS coaching is all about.
X and Os are important but coaching is about learning fundamentals, inspiring, motivation, and relating to the young men. Show me a coach that can do that and I will show you a winner.
A good coach can make something out of nothing and can be a winner anywhere even if the school has never won in the past. Doc Davis turned Chapman into a winner in the 80's and 90's. He then had the task of maintaining the winning tradition at Spartanburg after Alan Sitterle moved on to Daniel. In both places Davis is and was a winner. Chapman has not won consistently since he left but Davis has continuing winning at the 4A level in the hardest region in the state. Chapman's success was due directly to the ability of Doc Davis, after he left the program, Chapman returned to 3 and 4 win seasons. With the Vikings, Davis continues to win and has even brought home state championships, which not all of his predecessors in Spartanburg had been able to do. Coaches like Doc Davis could win anywhere. His dedication and ability to motivate young people make him a winner. Of course running backs like Steve Davis and Mike Wannamaker don't hurt either.
On the other end of the spectrum are the old recycled coaches. Recently a school in the upstate had an opening for head coach and interviewed a coach who had just been forced out of his previous head-coaching job. He had won less than 10% of his games over a three-year period and had finished the 1999 season by going 0-11. But yet he was still considered a viable candidate for the job. It is no wonder that some schools are destined every year for 2-9. Stupid decision like that will do it every time. You get what you deserve in this life.
Hire a good coach that can motivate your students and you have taken the first step to winning games.
2) School and Administrative Support
So you hire a head coach and you want a winner. The next step is for the school to support his work. I don't mean financially, even though that is important. The school has to make football a priority. Apathy does not make winners. The admin must support the coach, back him up and be there when the going gets tough. Oftentimes, schools after just 1 or 2 years are ready to question the coach and wonder if there is not a better coach available if they decide to make a change.
The answer is usually no.
Building a winner and a program takes time and schools must be willing to give the coaches time. It is amazing the number of schools that continually turn over the coaches without regard to the direction the program is heading.
3) Community Support
One of my favorite parts about high school sports is the way high school athletics bind a community regardless of race and economic status. On Friday night in the stands, all people are equal.
The lengths that some towns support their teams constantly amaze me. Gaffney always takes busloads of fans to games even as far away as Charleston. When you are playing the Indians, you are also playing 5000 "rednecks" (I use that term affectionately) from Gaffney that are going to scream for the next 3 hours.
On the other hand I have been in stadiums where the number of fans trailed the number of players on the field. For years I tried to become a fan of Columbia city schools but each time the game was horrible. Fans provide the atmosphere and excitement. When there are only 100 people in the stands, then who cares. It has all the excitement of watching a Wednesday afternoon inter squad scrimmage.
Of course supporting the team is not limited to Friday night. Many communities and booster clubs support the team 365 days a year. This comes in the form of donations to the school to provide equipment or weight rooms or to pay for pre game meals or off set the fees for camps. Communities mostly however support their team by encouraging the young men and making football a priority.
Currently I reside in an area of Columbia that would place my sons at Airport High School. I have never seen a game at Airport nor am I likely to do so. I have lived here for 2 years before I even realized that I was in the Airport attendance area. Nothing in our community area would lead me to know that Airport was my local school and I should support them. In fact if I lived across the street then I would be in the Brookland Cayce attendance area. Teams like Gaffney, Barnwell, Abbeville and Union are supported because they represent the pride of the city and the whole town rallies around the cause. I am supposed to support Airport because I live on the right side on Interstate 26 and between Old Charleston Highway and Augusta Road. I don't think so.
4) Feeder Programs
A friend of mine who played football in college and won a state championship in high school has always credited his success to the early start he got in football growing up. The community he grew up in started kids in peewee football at age 8. When done correctly this is a tremendous advantage to the high schools. By the time the boys enter high school, they have been playing the game for 8 to 10 years. With good coaching and leadership in the youth programs, the players can have already developed 3 important ingredients to being a winner.
2) Hard work and dedication
If players have the skills prior to stepping on a varsity football practice field, then they are that much ahead of the game. Varsity coaches then can spend more time building a winner and less time developing the basics.
Growing up in District 6 in Spartanburg (Dorman), I was amazed at how early we were taught the Cavalier System. Playing basketball for the middle school in 7th grade, we started to learn what was needed to win 5 years later. The offenses and defenses we learned were patterned after what the Varsity was doing. On many an occasion, Coach Bobby Jackson and his assistants were in attendance at practices and games scouting and teaching us the basic fundamentals. I am sure that the coaches at the middle school were also making reports to Coach Jackson. 2 years before we even stepped on the Dorman campus, we were known by the coaches, were being taught the methods of the coaches, and were part of the "program".
The benefit to the Varsity would be obvious years later. Early practices were not wasted on installing basic offenses and defenses. These were learned years earlier and were re enforced during summer camp as well as Junior Varsity and "C" or 9th grade games. Dorman started the season weeks ahead of the competition and the result was run after run through the state playoffs each March.
If the school is developing talent internally during the middle school years then that will pay off with success in the years to come.
A coaching friend of mine recently said the one thing you cannot coach is speed and size. Regardless of how well a coach prepares, there is no substitute for replacing outstanding talent. Talent alone will not win championships but a lack of talent will definitely cause many a sleepless night for a coach.
One interesting note when evaluating individual talent and winning football programs: Of the top 10 senior players in the state of South Carolina, none are wearing championship rings from 1999. Even amazing players like Michael Boulware and Michael Gasparato could not win even a single playoff game. Nothing against these great players, but they alone could not lead their teams to the Promised Land.
Great talent can wins games.
Great coaching wins championships.
"You got to have a weight room and you got to have the equipment if you want to win in the trenches." That is a direct quote from a state championship winning coach.
In today's schools, money, or a lack of, is always an issue. Working out without the proper equipment or not having the proper medical equipment can hamper even the most talented teams. Schools with first class facilities and top practice fields will always win. It is all about attitude. When you have the best, then you will automatically try harder. To a 17-year-old player, seeing a crumbling locker room and then visiting another school with better facilities, reinforces the thought that winning is not important and my school is not as good as other high schools. Attitude and egos are very fragile when in the minds of 16 and 17-year-old youngsters
I don't care if you have 1 through 6, if you just got placed in Region 2 4A during the realignment then that's bad luck and you are going to lose games (sorry Fort Mill). The luck I am talking about is the star player only twisting instead of tearing a knee, or a star quarterback from the Midwest transferring into your district. (Hello Summerville) But I always believe you make your own luck and, if you take care of the items above, then Friday night will take care of itself.
Well, now I have laid it out for each and every high school to build a winner. The only problem is that there is always someone out there building a better mousetrap. So come December, I expect to see the regular cast of character in the playoffs and in the championships.
5 and ½ months before practices begin, I will go out on a long limb and predict the following:
Gaffney, Spartanburg or Summerville in the Big 16.
In 4A, I like Greenwood or Marlboro County.
Daniel or Union win in 3A.
Batesburg-Leesville, Abbeville, or Central wins the 2A.
Lewisville takes the 1A crown
Sounds about right for this year or any other year over the past 20 years. No one would bet against me, and I bet I am right on at least 4 of the 5.
Spring practices start next month, and before we know it, 2-a-days will be right around the corner. Enjoy March Madness. . . Until next time.
The Pickren Zone