Bryant Appling coached Buford to a state title in his first season.
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

‘You have more pressure that you put on yourself’

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: Bryant Appling spent the past 15 seasons on the staff at Buford before taking over as head coach early in 2019. During his time as an assistant, the Wolves won seven state championships with five runner-up finishes in state championship games. The program won state titles in 1978, 2001-03, 2007-10 and 2012-14. 

Appling coached the Wolves to a 17-14 state championship victory against Warner Robins in his first season, and that’s a good start at Buford. Entering the 2020 season, the Wolves will reclassify to Class AAAAAA and face new challenges as defending champions that moved up in class. 

“I guess my perspective is a little different coming to a high-level program like Buford,” Appling said. “I’ve been here for 15 years, 16 years. I’ve seen things from a bunch of different angles.” 

While Buford’s state championship victory was a fitting farewell to Class AAAAA, the Wolves will face new pressures, obstacles and tasks next season. Appling expects nothing less. 

Appling: “When we won in my first year, it kind of helped the pressure thing a bit. I still feel the pressure, but it was nice now entering my second season with, ‘Let’s make sure we keep this going.’ But I want this to be clear. It’s never been about state championships at Buford High School. It’s more about making sure that the program and the school is represented in the right way — make sure the kids' grades are up; make sure the kids aren’t misbehaving in the classroom; make sure that they are being leaders in the school building. I think that if I can keep that going, like I have in my first full year at the helm, they’ll be fine. Obviously, no one wants to go 2-8 or 0-10; that’d be a different story. If I can keep the ball rolling in the right direction on the field and keep my players acting right, that’s the most important thing. If things start changing drastically on the field and if things start changing drastically in the hallways, that’d be a different story. From the outside looking in, some just see the wins and the losses. But what goes on behind the office doors and behind the walls of the school is the most important thing to me. And from my boss, coach (Dexter) Wood, all the way up to the city board, those are the important things to the people around Buford. 

“You just have more pressure, probably, that you put on yourself. But I try to put more on myself just to make sure I represent the community and school and everything that means. That means to do football in the right way. And being the face of the program — when I’m being interviewed, if I’m on TV, if I’m at our golf tournament or things like that — the pressure, it’s put on by myself to make sure I do things exactly right. As we’ve grown as Buford football, and as we’ve grown in high school football in Georgia, new things come up each and every year. Recruitment is a hot deal right now. Everyone wants to get their kid to (college), and we try as hard as we possibly can to get each kid in school who has the grades and can represent us well. 

“There is a lot of pressure brought on you by outside sources. Everyone is trying to have their own recruiting service to help kids out. Some parents want to go that route, and they will ask about that route. And obviously there's pressure to win. Being the fact that we’ve done it in the past, a bunch of people think that, ‘Well, you’ve won one or two or a few, maybe that pressure has relieved a bit.’ It hasn’t. We still want to win and win a lot. It’s that much more when you do win one or two and you get that taste, and the community gets that taste, and we want to do it again. 

“The field, obviously, is a major responsibility. Being what Buford is now, what coach Wood and coach (Jess) Simpson brought it to and just to keep it running as a business, day-to-day, every day. (It's everything) from the fundraising Xs and Os, to on the field, to keeping the kid’s grades up and making sure they act right in the hallway.”

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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