The nature of a coaching job

It’s the nature of the job.

If you’re the coach and your team doesn’t win, you’re gone. True at all levels – all the way to the pros.

Former Head Coach Royce Young recently got caught in this situation. With a 4-26 record at Escambia County High School in three years, he expected he would not be back next year. And sure enough, when Principal Dennis Fuqua told him he would be non-renewed, Coach Young was not surprised.

The head coach position at ECHS has been a revolving door over the past couple of decades or so. Royce Young (2014-16, 4 wins-26 losses); Lev Holly (2012-13, 5-15); Mark Heaton (2010-11, 14-9); Kyle Davis (2005-09, 16-35); Mardye McDole (2003-04, 6-15); Franklin Bell (1999-02, 9-31). Six coaches in 18 years.

You would have to go back to Melvin Middleton (1984-96, 65-78) and Buck Powell (1976-83, 56-31) to find a coach who was here for a longer period of time.

Middleton and Powell are both from this area. Some of the more recent coaches have been here a year or two, then moved on. In fact, if a player was on the football team in the ninth grade, he would not have the same coach all four years unless he was on the team in the 1970s and 80s.

When Coach Young came here, he was as determined as every other coach to turn things around in the school’s football program, to have a winning season. So, what happened?

Perhaps the biggest problem was the lack of experienced football players coming to the high school. In the past, Escambia County Middle School has not provided a feeder program when it comes to football. It appears that Coach Young has had to try to play football with basketball players.

Without a feeder program, experienced players have been hard to come by. At the beginning of the season last year, ECHS dressed out 45 players – all but 14 of them are either freshmen or sophomores.

These Blue Devils don’t come from a winning tradition. When I was a student at ECHS many years ago, the Friday night games meant something. I’ve told the story before of Coach Floyd Adams in the classroom on a Monday morning telling us to get out one sheet of paper and a pencil. Then he would ask the score of the football game the previous Friday night. I don’t recall that he ever gave us a “pop test” if ECHS lost – but if the Blue Devils won, he wanted to make sure we all knew it. Back in the day, every team wanted to do at least as well as the team before them – usually they wanted to do better. And if there had been a team that went to state, the next team did their best to go to state. These guys don’t know what that’s like.

Community support – or lack of it – has a lot to do with a team and the coaches who trot out on the field, to see only a handful of people in the stands. And I do mean a handful. Some of us went to almost every home game the last couple of years. How disheartening do you think it is to see more people in the stands across the field than in your home stands? Got to be pretty tough for the guys on the field – coaches and players.

When ECHS was 5A (due to student enrollment), we went up against some teams that had double or more the number of players we did. While our guys were dog tired on the field, the other team was bringing in fresh players. When we went to 4A, some of us thought it would be different. But, most of those teams were as big – physically and in numbers – as the ones we played on the 5A level.

So, now we have a new football coach at ECHS with the hiring of Rico Jackson by the board of education on February 23. What changes will be in place this year as he comes on board?

For one thing, ECMS Principal Debbie Bolden and ECMS Coach Layton Knight are aware of the importance of the feeder program. There is a new spirit of cooperation between the two schools.

A winning tradition? The only way to understand a winning tradition is to have one. It has to start somewhere with one year, with one team.

Community support? People say, “Well, if you have a winning team, people will come out to see that.” But will they? Will you?

We appreciate Royce Young’s efforts in working in a much less than ideal situation. We look forward to working with Coach Jackson and wish him all the best.

To the community – especially those of you who were so critical of Coach Young – see you Friday nights at Herbert Barnes Stadium. Oh wait, you didn’t go to the games before, so we probably shouldn’t expect to see you there in the coming season.

Coaching stats were taken from Alabama High School Football Historical Society (ahsfha.org).