Each week, five high school coaches will discuss one issue that affects Georgia high school sports. | Last week: Legislative oversight
At Issue: High school football coaches face undeniable pressures to win, to be couriers for success and stability within a program and to become the face that fan bases love or hate. In addition, they have to manage the general day-to-day operations of a football program, no easy task. In today’s day and age — where a Hudl highlight reel clip can create college scholarships and football film is being reviewed before teams hit the showers on Friday nights — the pressures on coaches come from all angles.
So what are the biggest pressures coaches face at the high school level?
The skinny: Blessed Trinity will enter Class AAAAA in 2020 after winning the last three state championships in Class AAAA, and the pressure faced by the program could be immense. From the coronavirus pandemic to the loss of spring practice, programs around the state are, for lack of better words, struggling.
But Blessed Trinity coach Tim McFarlin said his program has a contrasting view.
Entering a new class in a new season with the loss of spring practice would be a tall task for most programs, but since McFarlin’s arrival at Blessed Trinity in 2006, he has not fielded a spring practice team because he wants his players to compete in other sports.
“You’re already missing your baseball players,” he said. “You’re missing your track guys, and lacrosse has such connection to football. For us, it was a good move. It may not fit for everybody, but we certainly haven’t missed it. My perspective on this is probably going to be a little different than other people who still do spring ball.”
Blessed Trinity clearly hasn’t missed spring practice. It won the 2017 state championship with a 16-7 victory against Marist after losing the regular-season game 25-24. In 2018, it defended by beating Cartersville 23-9. Last season, however, was the sweetest.
“The last two, in 2017 and 2018, were sort of expected,” McFarlin said. “This year — beating Oconee County 17-14 — wasn’t.”
McFarlin, who coached at Roswell from 1998-2007 and led the Hornets to a co-state championship in 2006, retired in 2007 and took the Blessed Trinity job in 2011. He has a unique perspective of the various pressures faced by coaches who lead powerhouse programs.
McFarlin: “Well, it’s a broad spectrum. And here’s the reason why every good head coach has this internal drive to be really good. So much of the pressure that head coaches have is self-imposed. And it should be if you’re in that position. It’s your job to elevate the program and take it as far as you possibly can. I think the problem now for head coaches is when you look around the state and you see guys who are winning and still losing their jobs. All over won-loss records. If you look at the scenario with coach (Alan) Rodemaker at Valdosta. If you just look around the state and you see where guys have done a good job and are let go. I mean they’re winning region championships. Like coach Jacob Nichols did at Alpharetta, and they’re still getting replaced, and usually that comes because of the expectations of either board members or sometimes administration. Sometimes — most of the time — it comes from the community. And so it makes it really hard for these coaches to deal with that pressure, because that pressure comes from so many different places. To me, it’s sad when a program makes a change based on that. Does that make sense?
“Here’s the reason why it’s a double-edged sword for a coach to be effective. He’s got to have the full confidence of those people he reports to. And a coach needs to feel like he can drop his roots deep and really saturate in the community. But we’ve all seen the quick fix in programs where you hire the latest, greatest or kids are recruited to come in from this place or that place. And we’ve all seen that happen. But at the end of the day, if you want a program that’s going to sustain a culture of winning at whatever level that is, that coach needs to be able to really go deep with his roots and invest in the community and the players and get to know them. And we know that, as coaches. But then on the other hand you look around and you see just how fragile the job can be. It causes coaches to have to keep an eye open for the next job. I’ve never blamed coaches who go for two or three, four or five years in one place, and then they look to move because in a lot of ways they are probably avoiding headaches.
“That’s part of the college influence, too, and it’s now filtering down to the high schools. I worry about it, because at the end of the day high school football is about the community. And there's nothing better than when you get a coaching staff that feels that they’re secure in their jobs and they can be part of the community ... that the head coach and his assistant coaches can be a part of the community and their kids can go to school there and there’s the confidence that they’re going to have their jobs and that the administrators will support them and have their backs.
“And I think the challenge now is for administrators to be able to resist those voices from the community that constantly want change. Because those voices come from a lot of different places, and a lot of times it has to do with how they think things should be shaping up for their kids. What coaches really need in today’s environment is the trust and the support of the administration. On the flip side of that, the administration needs to know that they’ve got a man in place or staff in place that they can trust, that those guys are going to be good teachers in the classroom and that they’re going to be conducting themselves in a way that’s going to be beneficial for the kids in the program.”
At Issue: Coaching pressure
• Andy Dyer, Archer football coach
• Dave Hunter, former Brookwood football coach
• Bryant Appling, Buford football coach
• Justin Rogers, Colquitt County football coach
• Tim McFarlin, Blessed Trinity football coach
» MORE: Previous topics
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