Head football coaches at any level of sports are the face men of their programs and that’s the way it should be. Those coaches have earned the right to be where they are, worked tirelessly to get there and are the CEO’s of their clubs.
In Mississippi high school football the head football coach wears many hats – notably the title of “head football coach” and in many cases they are the athletics director of their schools sports programs. A head football coach gets all the praise when his team wins, gets the attention of radio, print reporters and sometimes television. Conversely – they get the criticism when their team loses, or when something goes wrong; it’s just the nature of the beast in sports.
But – one item that often goes unnoticed is a head coach’s ability to put together a great coaching staff.
OR when a coach takes a new job, evaluating the staff left behind and deciding who to keep and who to let go. Its real life Kenny Rogers knowing when to hold’em and fold’em. For a head football coach – developing his staff is the single most important item of business he will have before one snap is taken in a practice.
If you don’t believe it, just look to the college ranks and once a new head coach is named to any program – they are quick to name a strength coach or position coordinator, and many times will come back and say, “If I couldn’t have gotten Coach X to come on board – I probably wouldn’t had taken the job.”
Any head football coach will tell you that they are not miracle workers and when they are successful – it’s because of their assistants and the team of coaches that they assemble.
“Quality assistant coaches are so important when you’re trying to build a program,” said Columbus high school head football coach Randal Montgomery. “A head coach is only as good as the assistants that he has working with him. As a head coach you cannot be everywhere all the time, so you have to have quality guys that can take charge of any situation that may arise. For me, I look for guys that can relate to the kids and that is one of the most important qualities I look for when hiring assistants. People also like to be a part of a winning program, so there was some difficulty building a total staff when I got to Columbus. We are still understaffed, but I’ll take quality over quantity any day.”
It’s taken Montgomery just a little over a year to turn Columbus into a major player in North 6A as his team is currently tied for first place in Region 1-6A with South Panola, but he credits the hard work of his team and those trusting assistants he has working for him in Lowndes County.
If you look around the state of Mississippi, behind every successful program there are great assistants. From Lance Pogue at South Panola to Todd Mangum at Wayne County and from Lance Mancuso at Bassfield, all the way to Ricky Black at Jackson Prep and everywhere in between– one common theme in these power players in high school football is the assistant coaches these head football coaches surround themselves with and just how good they are.
Every staff has issues and problems that come up but, it’s the good ones that jell together and can work as a single unit, that are the ones that thrive and survive.
One of the more unique situations in the state of Mississippi resides in Brandon, MS down at Brandon high school.
Just last year, then head football coach Brad Peterson decided to step down to take the Madison Central job and normally when a head coach leaves, it’s fruit basket turnover at the school he is leaving. Not at Brandon though, as most every coach on the last years staff, minus one decided to stay and work for incoming head football coach Tyler Peterson.
Peterson was able to come in and convince Wyatt Rogers, Greg Robinson, Eugene Clinton, Nathan McLaurin, Stanley Jenkins and Skylar Parker to stay – while adding Mark Harrington, Claric Pullen and Brian Anderson to his staff.
That’s what happened that night over in Clinton and I’ve been coaching 20 years and that very game was probably the biggest win or most unexpected win of my career. Those guys just kept fighting and fighting and did it at the end. Wyatt Rogers – Brandon Offensive coordinator
Peterson has credited his staff on numerous occasions as one of the key reasons his team is off to a 8-2 start and on the cusp of a third straight region crown. Peterson has talked about how having those coaches remaining in place, it made it easier for the kids to deal with transition and move forward, with very little upheaval.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Brandon offensive coordinator Wyatt Rogers and discuss the Bulldogs, the staff that stayed and what this last year has been like. A question and answer follows – as well an audio file transcript you can hear by clicking on the media player below.
Q: For those that don’t know – this staff has actually two or three guys that have been head coaches before. Talk about the makeup of this staff.
A: We have a unique situation in that Greg (Robinson), Mark Harrington, Brian Anderson and I have all been head coaches. You have to be careful with situations like this and put egos aside and work under a defined role. We have been able to do that here and put the betterment of the program ahead of any egos and allow the program to flourish and we’ve had great success here doing that.
Q: You’re a successful coach – been at many places – why did you decide to stay last year – when you could have gone to several schools?
A:I think it’s the community. I love the school, the kids, the community – my kids are here and I think this is the best job in the state when you start talking about the school system, raising a family and community. The support here is tremendous and you especially feel that on home games on Friday night.
Q: Take me through your average week. After a ball game is over on Friday night – once you get home and can relax just a minute – when does the process start to the next team and what you guys do.
A: On Friday nights we start downloading film and putting it up for exchange immediately. We get an exchange request from the opposing coach normally on Saturday morning and Coach Nate (McLaurin) comes in and breaks it down and labels the film. On Sunday we meet as a staff starting at 2 pm and are here for however long it takes. We develop our game plan and starting Monday we are hard at it with practice.
I think we do a good job of preparing our kids and have done so this year with all the new faces; that’s been the key for us this year with such a young team is constant preparedness.
Q: You had a very unique situation here from last year to this year. You lost a dynamic quarter back and 90 percent of the 2014 production. How do you even begin to start over as an offensive coach with odds against you like that?
A: It was tough (laughs) – in the spring we were missing some of our kids due to track. We really didn’t get a good look at our team until fall camp. There was the opportunity during summer seven-on-seven and camps to get some looks, but we started off from ground zero, honestly.
We put the best eleven out there to begin with and took a look at what we had. Right now we are playing with only one guy who had any meaningful snaps from a year ago so obviously there’s been some growing pains, but it’s a work in progress from week to week.
Q: You guys have your hand on the pulse of what I call “feeder” programs – your seventh, eighth and ninth grade teams. How do you balance those kids with your guys on Friday nights?
A: We have a great junior high staff that does a tremendous job developing those kids. Coach Parker runs our seventh and eighth grade offense and it’s the same terminology, same formations, and philosophy as what we do. Coach Tullos is the ninth grade coach and we use the same philosophy throughout the program so the kids know – this is who we are going to be on offense and this is who we are going to be on defense. By the time a kid gets to tenth grade you hope they have a firm foundation of what’s expected and can move forward.
Walk me through some moments over the last few months because it’s been a roller coaster of events and emotion.
Q: The Week of September 1st – you guys just lost to Madison Central – a very emotional game – you lost your top two tailbacks at the time, your starting quarterback and were headed to Clinton to take on one of the best teams in the state. You even found yourself down 21-7 at one point. What was that week like? What did yall say and do to keep the ship upright in those moments?
A: I’ve never seen an ounce of quit in Brandon kids since I’ve been here. I’ve seen these kids down three or four scores in summer seven-on-seven and come back and win. That’s what happened that night over in Clinton and I’ve been coaching 20 years and that very game was probably the biggest win or most unexpected win of my career. Those guys just kept fighting and fighting and did it at the end.
Q: The Week of October 10th – you just went on the road to beat Petal, but lost your top wide receiver and a senior leader in John Stowers. What did you all say as a staff? What did you do or how did you instantly have to change schematically?
A: I’m not sure I did a good enough job having my guys (on offense) I work with prepared enough for the loss of John going into the Meridian game. Meridian is an elite defense with tons of talent and when you lose a player like John it resonates throughout the program. We would love to have him back, but it’s part of a football team, when one guy goes down, another man steps up and we started seeing that take place last week and kids assuming leadership roles.
Q: Take us through a game if you can for a second. You, coach Peterson and the staff probably script some plays, have in mind what you like or think will work. But how quickly do you have to process information, make calls on the fly and is that an individual call or a collective effort throughout the game?
A: I do script – I script third and short, third and long, second and short, our first ten plays and I’ve done it both ways. But, doing it this way it helps us in practice, for instance here is what we are going to do on 3rd and 8. Here is what we will do on our goal line or going into score.
I think this helps you specialize your practice and when the heat is on the kids in the game, they know what to expect and no surprises.
Q: You guys use IPads now – how do you use them? Why? What do they do for you?
A: We have a manager that helps us and we have two IPads. We have an offensive and defensive IPad, and when the offense comes off the field, I can review the series we just had, get on the headset with the offensive line coach, running backs coach, Coach Peterson, our quarterback and we can discuss it.
We also do the same thing with defense as the manager will bring their IPad to coach Herrington and work through the same process. We’ve been doing this about two or three years now and it’s been very successful for us.