“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts”-John Wooden
My coaching adventure began in the spring of 1992. I was a senior in college and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with my life. I thought I might want to coach football but I wasn’t sure. My high school coach, Jerry Hayes, invited me to come and help out with spring practice at South Side, my alma mater. I thoroughly enjoyed those three weeks out on the field. The air, the grass, the smells, the camaraderie, and the feeling that I was making a difference and helping someone else gave me a clear idea that I wanted to coach for a living. I wanted to be like the men that had such a powerful impact on my life. I was blessed to have some great men coach me in high school and college and I wanted to mold people the way that they had molded me. After that spring I was convinced that coaching was my career path.
My coaching career began at Trinity Christian Academy in Jackson, Tennessee right after college in 1993. Trinity was a small Christian school and it was just starting its athletic program. I would be an assistant football coach, the head middle school boys basketball coach, and the head baseball coach. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe that a 23 year old right out of college was taking on so much responsibility. I must admit that I didn’t know much at all about coaching and it showed. I was young and immature and hard-headed! It was definitely trial and error.
Being a part of starting an athletic program was tough. I coached a sport in the fall, spring, winter, and summer. Taught a full load of classes with multiple preps, mowed the grass, and painted the lines on the fields. I actually built the school’s first baseball field from scratch and bought the first set of baseball uniforms with my own money. The field was an amazing feat. The school owned about 25 acres of land that had not been developed, it was basically farmland that had not been farmed in a while. At the very back of the land was a flat area that I thought would make a great spot for a baseball field. Mainly because there would not have to be a lot of dirt work to level it out. I measured out the infield dimensions, borrowed my fathers garden tiller and went to work! I tilled up the infield and then drug it with an infield drag and four wheeler. Then I sodded the infield grass, mixed the infield dirt with red clay and red brick dust, smoothed the infield dirt out, and built the pitcher’s mound. It was beautiful! With the help of Gary Lee Tippitt I was able to talk the local utility company into donating four telephone poles to the cause and to put them up for me, I hung a net on them and we had a backstop! My grandfather, Eber Wyatt, got a bunch of railroad cross ties for me to build steps down and out of the creek bed that ran next to the field and we were in business!
Those cross ties nearly ended my coaching career before it ever got started. We had to have “stairs” that went up and down each side of the creek bank in order to make it easier to access the field. Eventually, we had a culvert put in and paved a walkway to the field. But, in the beginning we had to do what we had to do. So, I recruited a few players to help me get the cross ties from the railroad yard and deliver them to the site. I had a truck and a trailer and a few helpers. Cory Arnold, Casey Arnold, JT Pierce, Michael Thomas, and Jamey Johnsey. We were set to go when David Strait showed up in his beige 1984 Lincoln Continental pulling a trailer. David said he could haul a load of cross ties with his dad’s car but something in my gut told me that it was not a good idea. Lesson number learned, listen to your gut! David insisted that he could do it and I reluctantly gave in. We arrived at the railroad year and in no time had two trailers full of the finest railroad ties you have ever seen. Then, about halfway back to the school from the railroad the fun began. I was behind David and saw the entire episode unfold. We were going down a slight incline on a four lane divided highway. When I say divided, it was divided by a 3 feet tall concrete barrier, two lanes on each side. Some of you might know this stretch of road, it’s on the highway 45 by-pass between the top of the hill and McCowat-Mercer press in Jackson, Tennessee. The trailer got to going faster than the car due to the incline, the weight on the trailer and David breaking. You can probably imagine what happened next. The trailer jackknifed over the concrete barrier and nearly took the Lincoln with it, cross ties were strewn all over the highway. Cars went in all directions to avoid the mess, it was the most scared I have ever been in my life. I was screaming like a woman and I nearly shitted myself as I pulled to the side of the road. Frantically, we all jumped out of our vehicles and gathered the railroad ties with great haste, all the while dodging oncoming traffic. We got honked at, got called unpleasant names, and nearly got killed but we retrieved every one of those cross ties! We were also able to get the trailer pulled over the concrete barrier and safely to the side of the road. We then proceeded to school, changed our underwear, and built those stairs! Winners find a way!
The next three summers I would put on baseball camps for elementary and middle school aged kids and all of the proceeds went to building a fence around the field, including a new backstop, dugouts, a batting cage, and other needed equipment. It was a lot of hard work and I spent a lot of time on that project. Honestly, I spent every free minute I had for three years on building that baseball field. It was tough. Looking back on it now though, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything! One day Andy Rushing, the head coach at Union University came to a game to scout one of our players and he said to me, “this field has an atmosphere and it’s beautiful”! I’ll never forget that comment!
I messed a lot more up than I actually did right in those days at Trinity. I still mess things up from time to time but hopefully I have learned from my mistakes and hopefully I am still improving. The highlights from my early days at Trinity are the people that I met and formed relationships with and the value that I learned about hard-work. Those two things alone can get you a long way in life and a long way in the coaching profession. I firmly believe that to be a great, successful teacher and coach you must form great relationships with your co-workers, your students, and your players and you must have a great work ethic. Interestingly enough, two of my high school coaches were the embodiment of these two things. Jerry Hayes was one of the hardest working coaches I have ever known and Johnny Growe did more than any coach I have ever known for his players in regards to forming relationships and caring about them as people.
If you really care about your program you must be willing to put in the long hours and do things that have to be done to be the best. Most of those things are behind the scenes, things like: cleaning locker rooms and gyms, mowing grass, giving players rides home, watching film, studying, planning practices and workouts, communicating with parents and teachers, just to name a few.
Kenny Dallas and I worked together at Trinity for several years. We experienced a lot together. We made mistakes, we learned from each other, and we supported and helped each other. We made each other better. It was a true example of iron sharpening iron! I have a lot of great memories of those days at TCA with Kenny. We did things that I don’t think a lot of others would be willing to do and I think we had a major part in building a great program there.
We might have been a little crazy but we coached the middle school football team and the high school football team. We would conduct two practices every afternoon. We would have middle school practice for an hour right after school and the high school team would lift weights and get dressed for practice during that hour and then walk down to the field and have a two to three hour practice. Today we would get fired because the high school team was unsupervised during that time while the middle school practiced. I am thankful that no one got hurt or killed and that we didn’t get sued. We were young and dumb and we didn’t really have anyone to teach us the ropes. We were learning on the job.
On top of having two practices a day we also did all of the field maintenance. We would weed-eat, mow, water, and fertilize the field. We also painted the lines and numbers on the field for the games. To make sure it was as nice as it could be we would mow and re-paint the field on Thursday nights after the middle school games. It was not uncommon for us to be there after midnight on a Thursday evening. Imagine arriving at school around 7am on Thursday, doing parking lot duty, teaching class all day, conducting a high school practice, coaching a middle school game, grabbing a quick bite to eat, mowing and weed eating the field, and painting the field before calling it a day. Then, getting up early for a team breakfast at Waffle House on Friday morning! So, one Thursday night late in the season, in a state of exhaustion while painting the field, we messed up one of the numbers. We painted a 20 on the field and then realized it was on the 15 yard line. We were heartbroken because we were playing our rivals, USJ the next night. USJ was the elite school in town and they already thought of us as being
a “podunk” school. We had to fix this. Luckily, Sam Walton and the good folks at Wal-Mart were open 24 hours a day! We had a plan, we would buy a can of green spray paint and cover our mistake and then re-paint the number in the correct place. It was a great plan, just poorly executed. The green paint was not the same color as the dormant bermuda grass and it just made it look worse. I can still hear the cracks from the USJ faithful as they walked past the field. It was a lesson in humility to say the least, but we were in it together and nothing was going to stop us from reaching our goals. We spent a lot of time learning the game from any source that we could. We made annual trips to coaches clinics, read books, watched instructional videos, and experimented. We really developed our own offense, defense, and special teams playbooks. We were very creative and willing to try new ideas and concepts. We didn’t win a ton of games but we were sound, prepared and very hard to attack and defend. It was a lot of fun.
The TCA athletic program continued to grow and improve and is one of the best programs in West Tennessee today with beautiful facilities. Kenny and I moved on to Georgia in 2001 and had a great career together at Landmark Christian School. Together we built one of the best programs in the state. In eight years we won six region championships, made the playoffs all eight seasons and never lost in the first round. We also were state runner-up one season and had a ton of players go on to play college football during our tenure. I often think about those days together at Trinity with great pride and a belief that we made ourselves into coaches there, we built our foundation as coaches together. I also believe we had a lot to do with building the foundation of success for Trinity. They should really name the stadiums there after us. Hint-hint!
Lisa and I at the TCA Homecoming Fall 1994
The thing that I love most about coaching is building relationships with players and fellow coaches. It is really important to me to know that I have made a great positive impact on those that I have been associated with. I hope and pray that I have done a good job in that area. I know I have failed many times and I have lost a lot of games. But having a positive impact, changing lives for the better is what it is all about.
One of the things that I love most is teaching the game and teaching about godly manhood. We would always have a team meeting before practice to discuss life and how to be a better man.
At an early age I realized that I am a sinner and I need a savior. Christ died for me on the cross at Calvary and I have a passion to lead others to the Lord. God placed in me a passion for souls, a passion for young men, and a passion for the game of football. I really enjoy seeing a young man develop and grow spiritually and as a player. I really enjoy building relationships with the players and being involved in their lives. I also really enjoy teaching them the game. It is an honor and a privilege that I take very seriously. I love what I do because I have no doubt this is what God made me to do!
Ashton Brantley has probably spent more Friday nights at a high school football game than most girls! This is after a Trinity game in 1999.