A conversation with Pace Academy coach Chris Slade

Pace Academy football coach Chris Slade has experienced more than most high school players could envision. Whether it was being a standout at a Virginia high school, playing for a top-level program like the University of Virginia or participating in the Super Bowl, Slade has experience that is valuable at the high school level.

He has played under Bill Parcels, Bill Belichik, Pete Carroll, George Welsh and legendary high school coach Charlie Hovis. Does that make him a good coach?

"All of those guys ... you are talking about a wealth of knowledge," Slade said. "Does it make me a good coach? No. But it makes me a fool if I don't take a little bit from each guy and try to implement it into my everyday coaching philosophy."

Slade is no fool.

In three seasons at Pace Academy he has turned the Knights into a formidable football program that could be a force in any classification in the state. At the end of his third season at Pace, Slade reached a coaching milestone when the Knights won the Class AA state championship against Fitzgerald.

This season Pace is ranked No. 1 for the first time ever in the regular season. The Knights are undefeated through two games after beating Class AAAAAAA West Forsyth in the opener and Class AA Hapeville Charter in their second game. After reclassification, they are looking to earn their keep in Class AAA.

But back to the captain of the ship -- the disciplinarian, the father figure, the role model, the friend.

Growing up in Newport News, Va., Slade played linebacker for nearby Tabb High School. During his high school career, the Tigers lost only three games.

Slade played for hall-of-fame coach George Welsh at UVA from 1989-1992, earning first team All-American in his senior season. He was defensive player of the year in 1992 and later named one of the ACC’s top 50 players of all time. The Cavaliers retired his jersey after his final season.

He was drafted by the New England Patriots as the 31st pick in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft. Slade started for the Patriots in the 1997 Super Bowl in New Orleans, where they lost to Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers. He was a Pro-Bowl selection after the 1997 season. Slade played his last season in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers in 2001.

Slade, #53 with the Patriots. photo: gettyimages - Boston Globe

He took time Monday during a telephone interview discuss a number of topics:

Q: What made you choose coaching at Pace instead of other higher profile coaching options in the NCAA or NFL?

A: The headmaster at Pace Academy, Fred Assaf, he and his wife Martha are Virginia graduates. They had a spring social at their house, and me being an alumi in Atlanta -- there are a lot of us here -- I went. Fred and I met and we just clicked. And at that time I was looking for an opportunity to coach at a high school, and I went for a visit (at Pace) and one thing led to another. Sort of the right time, right place.

Q: What are the differences between high school football now than when you played in Virginia?

A: The biggest difference I've seen is that social media has taken over a lot of the recruiting. Where as 25 years ago you still had rules, you still had dead periods, times when the coaches could and could not call you. But now, there are so many ways to reach out to kids. Back then, (a coach) either went by the high school or you called the player on their home phone. If you didn't want to talk to the coach, an answering machine would pick up. But now they can (direct message) you; they can tweet you; there are so many different avenues. In my opinion, recruiting has gotten a little diluted. Just because, now you can send over a five-minute highlight reel and get an offer. So in other words, I think a lot of guys are overrated, and a lot are under-evaluated.

Q: What was it like at Tabb High School?

A: My high school team was very good. We finished 12th in the country, USA Today top 25. I played with Terry Kirby, who is now what you guys would consider a five-star player of the year. He was National Player of the Year. Five guys from my senior year went Division 1, so we were a really good program. We won a state title. It's funny because I got a chance to win a state title as a coach now and a player, which is kind of unique.

Q: What's best, winning Class AA title at Pace or having the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl, even though it was on the losing side?

A: I was a captain in the Super Bowl. I called the coin flip and won it. It was me, Reggie White, and Brett Favre in the coin toss. It was pretty neat. But it is a toss-up, man. Playing in the Super Bowl is a kid's dream, but also leading a group of young men to a state title. It's a wash. It's a tie. It's hard for me to say, because you grow up as a kid, all you want to do is play in the NFL and then play in the Super Bowl. And then I never dreamed I'd be a high school coach and win a state title.

Q: You are on a deserted island, three songs?

A: Prince, "I Would Die 4 U.", I'm a huge Prince fan, rest in peace.  Bon Jovi's, "Wanted Dead or Alive." and for sure,  Tupac's "All Eyez on Me."

Q: You've seen the first few games of the season in Class AAA. Which programs have your attention?

A: The teams in our region, Cedar Grove, Westminster, Lovett. Those three teams are tough. And there will be some other teams sneaking up in our region that we just don't talk about. Redan has a history of having a good program. You look at Peach County, they are a very good football program; they have good athletes down there. They do a real good job. Then Greater Atlanta Christian, what Tim Hardy is doing right now, losing his quarterback, he is off to an awesome start. I think people already had them going 3-7 this year because of Davis (Mills) being out, and he started off beating two really good opponents in Westminster and Lovett. So, this whole AAA thing is up in the air. I think it's anybody's championship.

Q: Who was your biggest mentor in coaching and what did you learn from them?

A: I have several, but I would probably say Al Groh. He was my defensive coordinator in New England and my position coach for four years. He went on to coach at Virginia for quite a while before he stepped down and (Mike) London got the job. He has been like a father figure to me, I've known him since I got drafted in '93. The things that I learned, sitting and talking with him. He is such a smart guy. He knows defenses. He made things very complex but very easy to figure out. I still talk to him a lot to this day. He always has time and gives me tips since I've been coaching.

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