What intrigued you about Lumberton and a return trip to Robeson County?
I was really happy at West Bladen and we had 16 returning starters coming back. My whole career has been in those kind of programs where you get there and it’s bad, then you transform it into something good. In my heart, I always knew I would be the head coach at Lumberton one day, but I thought it would be five years down the road. Through the process of meeting people and talking about it, it became more and more real. It became obvious that what was best for my family was here.
You can’t argue with the fact that this is big time football in a big time conference. I always classified the Lumberton job as one of the top 20 in the state. It was always on my radar.
What are some of the goals you have set for this program in Year 1?
I visualize my program in three tiers. The first one is God-approved. All that means is building a program that God would be proud of. When God looks down on Fridays, there are a lot of important games being played. We want a program that he wants to watch. You always hear people say ‘kids today …’ Kids today are great, but they aren’t trained the way you and I were trained. Training kids falls on the coaches. We want to create an environment that is free of what young people are exposed to every day through their music, television or whatever. In our world, it’s everywhere. Lumberton will be a safe haven where for two hours a day, the players aren’t around that stuff. Some say it’s old fashioned, but it works. We want to teach kids how to be men.
Our second level is mission-centered. Our mission is to build winners for life. We have four cornerstones: attitude, leadership, work ethic and discipline. We feel like those four cornerstones build great football players. I was raised in a single parent home and everything I learned about being a man came from football. Football changed my life. If football wasn’t in my life, I wouldn’t learned all those lessons about sacrifice, hard work and commitment.
The third tier of it is called hedgehog focus and that’s where we get into the X’s and O’s part of it. The hedgehog concept boils down to what a team and its players want to be best at. Our hedgehog concept is that we want lead the nation in passing yards. We want to be the best passing team in the country.
At West Bladen, you all had a prolific offense, but it didn’t equate to wins. What happened?
We knew what we were getting into there, but when you walk in the door, there’s only two returning starters on the entire team. The question you have to ask yourself is do you go in there and panic or do you begin the process of laying the foundation. This year, (West Bladen) has 15 returning starters. Now they’ve got a weight room and a strength program where they can compete. You’ve got to earn the right to win. By putting a four-year plan in place, you allow yourself some time to grow without panicking. You don’t have to do dumb stuff trying to get a win, but you’re building strong for the future.
Our whole program at Lumberton will be built on becoming a great passing team. Our tempo, the way we practice and the way we lift weights will be geared toward that element. If you don’t lay the foundation, there’s no hope.
How difficult will it be on the players wiping the slate clean from the Wing-T and moving to a more pass-happy Air Raid offense?
It should be easy because we don’t have any returning starters on offense. I think we’ve got eight returning starters and one is a kicker, so there’s seven on defense. A great defense and a great weight room is the legacy at Lumberton. We have to be great in the weight room and have to be great on defense immediately. It doesn’t matter what kind of offense they’ve run in the past, we’re starting fresh. Starting new means we’re going to go young and we’re going to build.
Returning players seem excited about a fan-friendly, up-tempo offense. Expound on that if you will.
Talking to George (Coltharp), it’s a system that recruits itself. Some athletes who are baseball or basketball only kids, may come play football. I always say that when kids play NCAA (video game), they can pick our offense. They can try to convince their mom that they’re practicing.
Sometimes, it’s not fun watching the fullback carry it 35 times and running all over the place. It allows kid to shine in a scheme that maybe that would not have in the past. Some kids might not make an impact in traditional offenses, but the Air Raid gives smaller guys a chance.
Would you consider yourself a player’s coach or disciplinarian?
Probably a balance of each. I have to be careful how I phrase it. I’m very structured with high standards and I expect commitment and sacrifice from players. I don’t expect kids to be around football 24-7, 365 days a year, but when we are doing football, we’re all about it. The most disciplined army wins. In life, disciplined people are successful.
What kind of emphasis will you put on rivalry games, specifically the Backyard Brawl against Purnell Swett?
It’s the biggest game of the year. It’s the game we want to win every time. We want to dominate the rivalry. Nothing beats a neighborhood rivalry, but in the same respect, after the game we’re just a bunch of Rob. Co. boys having fun. We need to be able to shake hands, say a prayer and move on with it.
The most fierce games I ever played were in the backyard with my best friends. It was on when we played, but when it was over, we’d go inside and drink Kool-Aid and play Xbox. That’s how a true neighborhood rivalry has to be.
You’ve mentioned the draw of the Southeastern Conference and its elite head coaches. What is that like for you?
It’s an honor to be in that conference. I think it’s the best football in the state, heck, maybe in several states. I know almost all the coaches and they’re all impressive with great programs. Competitors love to compete and it’s time to get busy.