-The former Raiders Head Coach Sits down for a 1 on 1 with MCS-
Interview and Graphics by Josh Harwood
July 14 - 2015
When I started ModelCitySports in December of 2009 I had a ups and downs in dealings with different schools, but it seemed that the local schools were the most welcoming. Graham Clark, Robbie Norris, Mike Copas, and Mark Pendleton just to name a few were the first on my contact list as go to coaches. However, it would be the Sullivan North Men’s basketball program and Mitch Cox, Raiders’ Head Coach, which would be one of the easiest and most open to a new website trying to set its foot down in the reporting world.
He would take home honors of 2011 District 1 MCS Basketball Coach of the Year in our first year of major high school sports in the locale. He would turn a North team struggling to win 3 games a year into one of the better local teams. His career at North would be splattered upsets and firsts in sometime while they improved their status in the Three Rivers Conference. With a complete turn around from 2010 to 2011 the Raiders were back where they belonged turning the 16 losses to over 16 wins in just a year we voted Mitch Cox our first ‘Coach of the Year’ for prep basketball.
With all of that said Mitch Cox turned in his resignation papers to Sullivan North and accepted a job at the incoming S.T.E.M school that is located in Kingsport. With much surprise we wanted to get to the roots of the story, as rumors swirled and became entrenched we wanted to get to the truth of the story and we found out something special along the way. Mitch took time out of his Fun Fest filled day to speak with us at ModelCitySports.
MCS: So Mitch, when you took the job at North, the basketball program was at an all time low, did you accomplish everything you think you could have and are you leaving the North program in a place you are happy with as you hand it off to the next person?
I am happy with where I am leaving theprogram. There is a sense of pride and expectations and that was what we fought the hardest for at the beginning. There is a lot of talent at that school with some history of success, which is the key. OUR biggest issue as coaches early on was getting kids to believe they were supposed to win. One thing I would have liked to have accomplished with the program was to win the district and advance to the sub-state. Our best opportunity would have probably been this upcoming year (2012)
TheNorth program, once the top dog in the 80’s had fallen to depths not seen since the opening of the school of 1980 to the new century.
MCS: After making the North basketball programrespectable again, is this a personal issue or are you just saying you did all you could do for North and you are ready to move on to something else?
Cox: I knew during summer ball it was time for me to move on fromcoaching. Teaching and coaching is so difficult and those who have not attempted it do not have an understanding. I taught Honors/AP courses and there were some nights I was too exhausted to prepare for the next day. That hurt my ability in the classroom. My passion and my calling is teaching. Coaching was something that I enjoyed doing and it was a great way to connect with young men outside of the classroom but it was just time to do something else. I put my heart and soul into the program and I took the program as far as I could; now, someone else can take it to that next level.
MCS: The new Innovative school that is taking on the Science,Technology, Electioneering, and Math, is a teacher’s school first and foremost as kids will have the most up to date technology to study by as well as some of the best teachers we have to offer, while taking on the new Stem School in Sullivan County what about the new job enticed you to leave an up and coming program to start anew? Was this a hard decision or is this family related or something unseen all together?
Cox: It was definitely a hard decision. Leaving Chase, Andrew, andthat great group of juniors was tough. I have a great relationship with those juniors and that hurt to leave those guys. Chase is a special talent and I really thought that I would coach him till he graduated but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. You can’t say enough about a young man like Andrew. Always there and working hard. I saw him improve so much this summer and expect him to have a great season. The STEM school is giving me a great opportunity to work with other passionate educators as well as be more involved in the community (working with professionals from Eastman, ETSU, Domtar, and Wellmont on a regular basis). As more and more schools begin to implement STEM into the curriculum I see this as a great opportunity to build my resume as I look to become an administrator sometime down the road.
MCS: Never an easy job, Mitch Cox took over a jobthat was clearly thought of as dead in the area. The teams kept getting weaker and the idea that North would exist in the 2000’s became bleaker and bleaker. What about North can you say was a high point and a low point for yourself and/or your players?
Cox: There were a lot of highpoints but a few that stick out was my first game as the North head coach; we came to South and won by about 15 or so. That was sweet. My second year …..When we advanced to the regional tournament for the first time in roughly ten years, my third year we advanced to the regional’s by upsetting the 3 seed as a 6 seed in overtime. That was a great group of guys: Eric Herring, Bruce Winegar, Hunter Hart, and Hunter McReynolds. This past season the wins over DB and Gate City at home were pretty exciting. Low points for me were anytime we were blown out. I took pride in us showing up for every game and competing. We practiced so hard every day to allow something like that to happen. The loss at Gate City this season with a packed out house was disappointing. The past two years losing to Greenville in the last few seconds in the regional were tough to swallow.
MCS: It’s never leaving a job where kidsare the main point for gain and loss. Cox had an up and down last year that ended with the retiring of Happy Valley legend During your tenure at North there was some controversy with commitment from players last year, is there anything you want to say to or about your former players and about them thatyou may have never got a chance to say with school out for summer?
Cox:I had great young men that played for me. At North, we ask a lot of those kids. They played every sport and competed at a high level. Many of them go from sport to sport with no break. Large schools have no idea what small schools go through. I still have some great relationships with a lot of my former players. Several of them play on my church league teams in the Kingsport City League. I could never speak ill about the commitment my players gave me. They gave me all they had. We had some kids quit the program but what school hasn’t. For the most part I had great parents that supported the players and the program and I could not have accomplished anything at North without their help and trust. I appreciate the administration’s support and the opportunity. I was 24 when they gave me the chance to coach at North and that showed a lot of courage on their part.
Mitch Cox will be taking over at Innovative Academy in Kingsport, TN. He hopes to teach for as long as needed working towards a job in administration. It has been a pleasure working with Mitch he gave me great access to the North basketball program. In my view he has left the North program in the best state it has seen in some time.
The Former Indian turned Vol, 49er, and now Coach at Brevard College sits down for a chat
All Pictures from from Brevard College, Reign Fire, NFL.com and Teddy Gaines.
By Josh Harwood
Teddy Gaines grew up through the Kingsport system, became a Dobyns-Bennett great and moved on to UT, the NFL, and now the coaching profession. Teddy was one of the most electrifying players during the mid-90s at Dobyns-Bennett - where he played both ways, WR and Cornerback. During his days at UT, he started from his freshman year, 1998, when UT won a National Championship, until he graduated and would be drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the 256th pick of the 2002 draft. His career didn’t pan out the way he had hoped but he has moved on to coaching from UT-Chattanooga to Brevard College, where he coaches under former ETSU coach Paul Hamilton. Teddy took a break from his time down in North Carolina to talk with ModelCitySports and we got the chance to catch up with one of Kingsport’s legends.
MCS:What are some of your things you do outside of school/work?
Besides watching Sports, Boxing, Baseball, etc... I like to cook. I started cooking about 5-6 years ago and I stick with Southern Style Cooking, plus your pastas and such. I think I am actually getting pretty good at it.
MCS:Who would say has had the most influence on you from your childhood?
My mother (Cathy Gaines) always had a huge influence on me either way, sports or just at home. My father (Wilford Gaines) was a big influence on me as well, so I definitely have to say the ones closest and the largest influence on the person I am today is my parents.
MCS:When you were at Dobyns-Bennett who did you see as your biggest rival? In other words what game did you get up for more than others?
You have your usual rivals Sullivan South and Science Hill, cause you do not want to be the class that has the streak snapped on them(15 v South, 17 v. Science Hill). Things just seemed to heat up during those two weeks a little more than others, but of course you wanted to win every game.
MCS:I know since you have been on both sides of the fence, coach and player, at Dobyns-Bennett what do you think of the so called “playoff curse”. When the detractors say D-B can’t win the important games, but what is your take on that issue?
Everyone thinks it is the same as the regular season and you have to just play the same and you will win the state. First off, let me say that Coach Clark is one of the best coaches I have ever been around - as a player or coach. He has brought so much success to the Indians and he has made it look easy but things are just different come playoff time. Everything has to fall in place, you have to hit the right match-ups and injuries can always catch you at the worst moments. But in truth, I believe the true die-hard D-B fans will one day get that State Championship. The conditions just have to be right for a run, and it will happen.
MCS:On the coaching staff at D-B, who was your most influential coach, besides Coach Clark and why?
Definitely, it starts with Coach Barrett, but really it’s the whole crew. Burton, Bingham, and Barrett all cared about me as a man just as much as a player and that went a long way in the trust we shared and it went both ways with those guys. They are just a group of good guys and good human beings overall.
MCS:Did you always want to be more of a DB than a WR? Or did it just play to your abilities better?
To be honest, I think I was always suited better for the defensive side of the ball. I could catch the ball but I just never had the best hands to be a dominant Receiver. I liked offense, but my skill set just belonged in the secondary.
MCS:When you were at UT, what was your first ‘wow’ moment? In other words, what was the first initial moment to where you actually realized you were in the so called ‘Big Time’.
It had to be my freshman year at UT when we beat Florida and of course we went on to win the National Championship. But the first moment had to be the Florida game, cause it had been so long since we had beat them, and to beat them in Knoxville, in was just something else.
MCS:Did you always think you would get picked in the Draft? And if so was that always your signature goal?
That was always something I worked hard to get to, it was something I always viewed I could reach. Maybe I could have worked a little harder and made my brief pro career a little longer, but to answer your question yeah that was something I was always working towards.
MCS:Who was the hardest person to cover during your time in the pros- NFLEurope, or NFL?
Well when I first got drafted with San Francisco, Terrell Owens was still there. He was so big and could run just as fast, me being a speed guy; he was just hard to cover. You just don’t expect someone that big to be that fast.
MCS:What was that moment that you decided to move on from Professional football to something else?
Well, I was two hours short of getting my degree so I wanted to come back and finish that and all of the work and travel and going back and forth with teams, it just came time to move on. I wish it could have been longer, but I did my best and it was just time to do something else.
MCS:Did you always see yourself coming back to Coach?
I always wanted to be a coach; I just always wanted to be around the game. I love helping young guys and moving them in the right direction to get as far as they can push themselves. I knew when my time as a professional was over I wanted to share my knowledge, so yes it always was there.
MCS:So do you see yourself moving up the ladder to becoming a head coach? If so, what type of coach do you see yourself as, a players coach, X&Os, or what?
I think that is what I want to do, everyone wants to get to the top of their profession and I do mine as well. I get along with the guys and try to communicate more than anything, so I have to say more of a players coach, you want the guys to enjoy being around and on the field with you.
MCS:If you could go back in time and tell the 15 year old Teddy Gaines something you know now, what would that be?
Pretty much just to be a good person, not saying that I’m not a good person, but just to always respect your elders, listen and have fun. Most of all get your education, because that is everything.
MCS:What is it like coaching under someone such as Paul Hamilton, and being on a staff the size of Brevards, do you all do everything together or is everything structured to where you are in control of the DBs and so on?
He is a great coach and not just him but there are a lot of coaches on this staff that are talented guys. Coach Hamilton lets me be me and leaves the DBs to me and we do our own game planning. He is a coach that looks for people that know what they are doing so he can worry about his job and let us do ours.
MCS:How would Teddy Gaines as a Coach game plan against Teddy as a player (UT days)?
Umm, I would probably send a bigger receiver my way, because I can run but I always have trouble with the large 6’4 ones. So I would pull some guys over that were just bigger than me.
MCS:Time for a softball, what is better coaching or playing the game, and why?
I would say playing professionally, because the money is pretty good. However, coaching you have a lot more effect on other people and it may mean more overall, but playing the game is hard to beat in any aspect.
MCS:Final Question, What is your best moment of your playing career and coaching career so far?
Well, I think I accomplished everything someone could ask for and dream of, but to answer your question it would have to be when I got drafted. I thought I would, but you never know, and it just meant a lot to my family.
We at ModelCitySports want to thank Teddy for taking time out of his schedule to talk with us, great guy...great future.
Former Dobyns-Bennett Star and Current Clemson Stand-Out
Pictures by Tiger Illustrated or Josh Harwood of ModelCitySports.com
“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for,” said the late Oscar Wilde. We all wake with dreams of hope and aspirations for tomorrow, yet some forget about the living moment. Coty Sensabaugh proof of someone who recognizes the dream he always wanted is at hand. From a young kid who grew to become one of the best Indians to play in J. Fred Johnson into the Tiger we see roam the secondary at Howard’s Field. Coty Sensabaugh took the time out of his schedule as Clemson gets set to battle Wake Forest and hopefully secure a bowl bid.
MCS:We will start with some personal questions. When you’re not in class/practice, what do you feel your time with?
In my free time I enjoy handing out with guys on the teams playing video games and watching movies, in the off-season we play basketball.
MCS:What would you say media-wise, are your favoritetelevision show? Favorite movie? And Favorite Video Game?
My favorite TV show is Martin, my favorite movie is Friday, and my favorite video game is Madden.
MCS:Favorite Sports besides Football?
Of course basketball
MCS:Back when you were at Dobyns-Bennett what would yousay are moments that stand out to you; A. Socially or at school? B. As a football player?
The moments that stand out the most to me are the moments with my friends. I built so many relationships with people that I still keep in touch with to this day, especially my two best friends PB Trammell and Blake Leeper. As far as athletics - just practicing everyday and going out each Friday night in (J Fred. Johnson) front of all your family and friends and just having fun, there is nothing else like playing for DB.
MCS:When you were at Dobyns-Bennett, what was the teamthat you got up for the most?
Honestly,I got up for every team, because being an Indian you already knew you were going to get the other team’s best shot every week. Basketball wise, of course Science Hill, my good friend, Omar Wattad, and I had a lot of great battles in high school.
MCS:Looking back on your time at Dobyns-Bennett who wouldyou say helped you the most to grow into the football player you are now, besides Coach Clark?
My parents, first off, because they always supported me in everything I did. I could not ask for better parents. Second, my grandmother who passed away during my senior football season, she was like another mom for me. She was someone that supported me with everything and without her I would not be where I am today. Last, but not least, what drove me the most, is my drive to be the best out of my family to ever comethrough Dobyns-Bennett. I have had a ton of family members come through D-B, dad,my brothers, and cousins. I always figured that if I could be better than themthat would be pretty good and I would be able to accomplish anything I wanted. Last I will have to say, Coach Barrett, I remember one time in practice my sophomore year, Lamon Williams one of my closest friends, was running scout team receiver and we were working on defense. Coach Barrett told me to go in and cover him and told me if ‘I could cover him I could cover anybody in the country.’ The next play was for Lamon, a deep jump ball, we both went up for it and I intercepted it. After that I said to myself, ‘wow I can cover anybody’ and ever since that moment that has been my mindset, Thanks Coach Barrett!
MCS:Coach Clark gets criticized by people on the outsidefor his record in the playoffs, What would you say to those who think he isn’t the right coach to get a state championship?
Anyone can tell you how easy it is when they aren’t in that situation. It so easy for those people to say how easy it is to be a coach, but they have no idea how hard it is and will never understand it until your in the situation.
MCS:What are some things you hold to you heart that CoachClark taught you?
To always work hard and strive for the best
MCS:What would you say to Coty Sensabaugh as a 14 year oldfreshman entering D-B?
Enjoy it, high school is one of the most fun times in your life and enjoy the whole process that comes with it, good and bad.
MCS:What teacher did you learn from the most in your years in Kingsport (Middle to DB), and why??
The teachers I learned the most from were Mr. Mills and Coach Shaffer; even though I was a good athlete those two always pushed me to be the top student in the classroom. Mr. Mills always told me the biggest effect I will have in society, is my social skills when it comes to communication.
MCS:Is Clemson everything you thought it would be, if sowhat do you like about it?
For the most part, yeah…being a college athlete, you have to learn how to manage your time wisely. That is probably the most difficult thing, but what I like most about Clemson is the wonderful people I have built relationships with.
MCS:Has it been hard to balance school withfootball, have you had to do a lot of study on the road?
That is the toughest thing about college as I stated earlier, is balancing your time, but I have always worked hard in the classroom because my mom instilled that in me at an early age. She would not let me go outside and play with my brothers and cousins until my school work was finished. I strive to get my work done before road trips, so I can focus.
MCS:When you picked off Christian Ponder in 2009, yourfirst pick on national TV, what was that experience like?
It was an amazing moment all the hard work I have been putting in my entire life is starting to pay off. I remember watching Florida State as a kid and all the greats that came through there, and now I get to play against them. Plus the fact that I had 6 family members at the game, which meant I got to share the experience with them which was great.
MCS:Has there been a player that has taken you under theirwing, or someone that you looked up to at Clemson?
There is not one specific player, I would say more like the defensive back group as a whole, and we are all one big family who looks out for another. Ever since I came to Clemson we had guys like; Mike Hamlin, Chris Clemons, Crezdon Butler, Chris Chancellor, they pretty much took all of the young guys under their wings. I learned from those guys how to go out to practice every day and work hard on a daily basis without taking any days off. All of those guys are in the NFL, or have played in the NFL, so those are good guys to follow.
MCS:Did the coaching change (going from Bowden to Swinney)your redshirt year, make you think about changing schools at all?
No it didn’t, because I was happy here at Clemson and wanted to stay here with the guys I came in with plus all my other friends were here.
MCS:Is there another school’s opening game ritual that cancompare with touching the rock at Clemson?
Nope there is nothing like it anywhere else in the country!!! Dobyns-Bennett has the second best entrance in the country running from the field house, then beating the doors open while the fans are screaming, then ending it all running through the band playing the music.
MCS:What was it like the first time you got to be part ofit, the Clemson entrance that is?
I cannot possibly put that into words; words cannot do that feeling and adrenaline justice!!
MCS:As you finish your junior year at Clemson, what do yousee taking place in your final year in the Clemson orange?
I will be graduating in May, and after that I see us winning an ACC championship and going on to win the Orange Bowl in 2011-12.
MCS:You have gotten a hold of 3picks, as a secondary and special team’s specialist is their anything you haven’t accomplished that you want to?
In my last year I want my team to be ACC and Orange Bowl champs. As for the individual merits, if we do what we need to do to accomplish our team goals the individual stuff will take care of itself.
MCS:Being a Defensive guy, what player has been thehardest to cover during your 3 years?
There is no single individual that stands out, they all are pretty good players.
MCS:With a degree from a school like Clemson you will beable to do about anything you want, do you plan on continuing a pursuit in professional football, and if you don’t, what are your other plans?
After I finish here at Clemson I want to go on to the NFL and have a career, if that doesn’t pan out, I want to travel internationally and be a spokesman of some sort. I feel god has blessed me not only with a talent to play football but also a talent to speak to the youth so I definitely want to use that to the fullest as well.
MCS:What was your first ‘wow’ moment in college?
When I came down to the spring game my senior year in high school, I was watching my future teammates and meeting all the fans and how much love they showed us(the next recruiting class), that was a very special and humbling moment.
Coty Sensabaugh is in the midst of his dream. His wide-eyed view is something Kingsport and the Tri-Cities communities should be proud of. He was apart of some of the best teams ever to play at Dobyns-Bennett and is a part of a resurgence at Clemson. He was named to the 2009 ACC Academic Honor Roll and is sixth on the team with a power index of 6.75. Coty is one of the greatest to come from Dobyns-Bennett and thus to come from East Tennessee.
The ModelCitySports Interview: Dobyns Bennett Coach Graham Clark
Coach Graham Clark at Work. Picture taken by Josh Harwood/Edited by Josh Harwood
By: Josh Harwood
Its been 18 long years since a kid from Kingsport, TN, Graham Clark, took over for a retiring Ted Wilson. 18 years is a long time to be a bag clerk much less a high school football coach. The years havechanged the sport that Graham has loved his whole life. No longer is it only about the kids and their parents, now parents, boosters, and sponsors all want a piece of you when you are winning and they treat you like the plague when you are losing.
Clark’s career has been marked with much success, having a record currently standing at 191-43, and marked with much talk about not winning a state title under his tenure. Clark is a man that could be described as humble and guarded when it comes to himself. Clark is one of a last of a dying breed, an old school coach with down home flavor. A writer's/sponsor's dream, Clark is always ready with a pocket full of quips. A man that goes out of his way to please his fans and his kids. This article is about that man who coaches his team like family and currently coaches his son during his senior season.
Standing at 6-0, after a run through South, Sevier County, and new rival Farragut, the Indians look as ready as ever to make a run for a perfect regular season and beyond. Clark takes a moment from his preparations for Tennessee High to talk about his life as a coach/family man. Clark talks life beyond football, and what led him to become one of the best coaches to ever patrol the Dobyns-Bennett sidelines, though he would tell you different.
MCS: Let's start with last week's game, The community as a whole seems shell-shocked from the South game. The secondary has given everyone anxiety about their ability come playoff time. Is this something that could or can become fatal come November?
Clark: I think our (Defensive Backs) are pretty good. Now we have put them in some tough positions, but sometimes our pressure creates an instance where the QB scrambles and the play breaks down. But all in all, I feel good about our secondary. we may give up something underneath, so it doesn’t go all the way, but we have a lot of talent back there and they have a lot responsibility.
MCS: With this being your son’s(Rusty Clark) senior season, how has it been to seem him mature as you watch him as a coach and a father?
Clark: When he was first coming home he was like, “What do I call you?” and I said what do you call me at home and he said Dad so that was that. We have a really good thing going where we leave it at the field….We may talk a bit about a game but other than that we just are a normal father and son.
MCS: When a father raises a child and coaches them in sports they have those special moments that stand out. What is that moment with Rusty that will always stand out in your mind?
Coach Clark's Son, Rusty Clark #14. Picture taken by Josh Harwood
Clark: Last year at the South(‘09) game, being 1-4 going in(to the game), and after beating them it was pretty emotional for all of us, but we had a pretty good bear hug that will always be special to me.”
MCS: You are going through your 18th year as head coach at D-B, Do you see that your entering the twilight of your career or do you have more in you?
Clark: To be honest, I don’t think about it that much. it’s a day-to-day thing with me. If I think something today, I’ll think the exact opposite tomorrow.
MCS: When did you know that coaching would be your profession of choice?
Clark: I knew I wanted to be a coach since I was a junior in high school. I had great coaches who were positive influences on me. Bob May, Tom Pugh, Lee Huskins, Fred Walton, and Tom Coughenour at Dobyns Bennett and that continued into college. All of the coaches always showed concern and compassion with me as a human. It is probably the main reason I got through college on time. Just the fact that I always knew what I was going to do and I had a goal.
MCS: Do you see yourself with a plan in mind with your current career?
Clark: You reach a certain age where you pass the ability to try something else. I’m getting close to that age where if I want to do something else I better do it. You just do not see many 64 or 65 year olds doing a lot of high level jobs. But I’m not to that point yet, but I obviously have to work for awhile. Next year I will have two kids in college and grandchildren. So I definitely will be working for awhile longer.
MCS: Did you ever see yourself as a college coach or did that avenue of coaching not come to your liking?
Clark: I had a glorious 6 month college career, at Appalachian State, If it would have worked out I would have coached on that level. I just liked coaching first and foremost, so it didn’t bother me wherever it was, just as long as I was coaching. I never looked at it as, ‘If I don’t make it to this certain point, I am a failure’.
MCS: There are always rumors about you going here or you retiring to Florida, what can you say about that at this point in time?
Clark: I am a day to day kind of guy when it comes to that issue. I know how long I have been here, and its just something that will regard a lot of thought. (On the Florida thing) My wife loves it here, her whole family is here and I don’t see us being the type that could afford enough sunscreen for Florida.
MCS: The coaching profession has become one of the most demanding in the job market, with that in mind do you think it has ever taken a toll on your personal life?
Clark: Well it definitely has taken in a lot of hours of my life over the past few decades. However, my family has always been as supportive as a family can. We always take time out for ourselves away from the field. On the other hand, it feels good knowing that your job is helping other kids get somewhere with their lives. That has always made the trade off worth it.
MCS: Is coaching at Dobyns-Bennett everything you thought it would be?
Clark: Absolutely, Its always been enjoyable, great community, good kids, and always great support from everyone in the area. Kingsport is just a good city to be part of, and it can be stressful, but you know that going in.
MCS: Is there a part of practice or a certain part within the game that stands out to you?
Clark: The best thing would have to be taking a kid, who may be dealing with a tough situation, and getting him through high school and into something that makes him a better individual.
MCS: Has there ever been an instance with an individual or something else that made you think you were in the wrong field of work?
Clark: Well, nothing I can single out, but the thing that gets to me more than any other is when I feel like I’ve been lied to. Whether its players, parents, administrators or whomever I’m a pretty honest guy and I just expect the same back.
MCS: Every coach loves to talk about the kids who over-achieved or were their best players in one way or the other, but its hard to talk about the kids that got away or slipped through the cracks. Is that the hardest part of your job?
Clark: It’s never easy to let someone go and that is always, always the last resort. I just hope kids understand that discipline is not a thing I do to you, it’s something I am trying to do for you. There is always guys I wish I would have done a better job with and then there are the kids we gave too many chances. The thing we try to make sure we do, no matter the decision, is what is in the best interest of the team and the individual.
MCS: Speaking on terms of teams....Every coach always harkens back to a team that over-achieved or just stood out for some reason. What is that team or teams that that jumps out in your mind?
Clark: Our 2002 team was one of the most over-achieving teams we have had. We finished up 8-2 and ended up in the state semi-finals. I think our 2000 team was one monsoon away from having a shot at winning it all. It rained so much down in Chattanooga Red Bank anyone under 5’4 we had to station a lifeguard by, and that just slowed our speed down a bit. Yet its hard to point out one team, they have all been fun and special in one way or another.
MCS: Looking at your schedule and the streaks you have over teams (Science Hill - 16 straight wins, South is at 15, Jeff County at 15, etc..) do you think the fact that D-B may have an easier road than teams such as Maryville may hurt the program during the playoffs?
Clark: To be honest, its hard to say since we are in only the second year of this new alignment(Big 8). We have always had to go out and find tough competition in the non-conference. The Big East was always tough and really last year was the first time it wasn’t all 5A. Thus far this conference has been tough and it did not help that we weren’t very good last year either. It is really a wait and see with this classification. To see how it ss going to work out and grow, but we will just keep finding good non-conference help to put on our schedule.
MCS: To do anything 13, 14, or 15 straight times you have to be special in that arena. How do you get your team up to beat a another team 15 times in a row?
Clark: Its just simply great kids.
MCS: You have to be doing something right.
Clark: I truly think the kids just see how hard we work so they work just as hard. To maintain that week in and out is something we preach, and we just have kids that are special in this community.
MCS: Dobyns-Bennett has always struggled to get far consistently in the playoffs, in all 3 major sports, and some think D-B is cursed. What do you think about that issue and do you think D-B will ever be able to dominate in the playoffs like they do in the regular season? Do You think that D-B is the Red-Sox of TN High School Sports?
Clark: Well I know some crazy stuff has come up during the playoffs at the weirdest of times. I don’t think we are cursed though, we have been pretty consistent from about '96 to ‘05. We made it to the Quarters or Semis'(finals) in the playoffs most years. I am really proud of what we have accomplished here and will continue to accomplish, no matter what.
MCS: Speaking of your opponents, who still gives you the biggest thrill to beat?
Clark: You get a big thrill out of winning any Friday night, Yet!, as an old D-B guy, Science Hill has always been the oldest rivalry and that’s always a little bigger to me. We have been going head to head for so long its hard not to get an extra bit of energy during that week(When DB plays Science Hill).
MCS: In your eyes, what has or has not changed about Dobyns-Bennett since you have been here?
Clark: Well the thing that is most consistent is the kids coming through, they are just always great young men. They may not be the most talented, but they always compete and that’s stayed the same. Things that you can’t control always change, but the kids that come through always love to compete and I couldn’t do it without them.
MCS: What is your best idea of a way to leave as coach. Is it by leaving behind a good team that will win for the coach right away or would you rather leave with a senior laden team that would let you go out on top?
Clark: Well if I could take both, but you always want to leave your program in as good if not better position than it was in when you took it. At the heart of it all I am a still a big Dobyns-Bennett fan. I grew up climbing the fence(to get into J. Fred Johnson) during the National Anthem, because the cops wouldn’t chase you during the National Anthem. I will always be a Dobyns-Bennett fan today and tomorrow.
MCS: Finally, when people think back to Graham Clark, what do you want them to remember about you?
Clark: A guy that cared about the players, first and foremost, and a guy who always put in the work to keep D-B as good as could be.
I just would like to thank Coach Clark for taking the time out to talk with ModelCity.
The Tri-Cities Trio that has Changed the Culture that is Sullivan North: Robbie Norris, Mike Copas, and Keith Cox.
Coach Copas looks on. Photo taken by Coach Mike Copas for Model CitySports.com
By: Josh Harwood
‘10 brothers working together’, is what every Coach for North interviewed liked to say about his fellow men in battle. Robbie Norris, Mike Copas, and Keith Cox implement their ‘us against them’ attitude on the field and off. They are brothers that have a history that has led them to this moment, a moment they wanted their whole lives.
When you talk about North football in the 21st Century you start with Robbie Norris. He has taken a school that has been in major transition for quite some time now to become a football program that is the exact opposite of the state of the school. His consistency in practice, scheme, and attitude has brought about the stability that a program like Sullivan North needs. As a humble man, who deflects attention as much as he wins, Norris got his coaching start in Unicoi County. He would make his next stop at Dobyns-Bennett - under Graham Clark.
When given the opportunity to rejoin his alma mater at Sullivan North he jumped at the chance in 2003 to join Mike Wampler’s staff. Norris is a guy who would rather talk about the attributes of those around him. He always has favored the power game and has brought people around him that believe in his idea of football.
“When I came here we ran the Wing-T,” stated Norris, “which is the cousin of the offense we run now. The transition came easy and the guys bought in quickly. When you coach at a school like North you want to keep things simple, or atleast I do, power and hitting – that’s what we do.”
Norris grew up with his defensive-coordinator, Mike Copas, and always one day wanted to end up coaching together. “It was something we wanted to do as players here at North,” said Copas, “When I was at South we had to face off once, then I got the chance to jump ship at come join Norris.
This is where I always wanted to be, to be with my brother so to speak is perfect for me. We have been best friends since 1982; I still even got some lead in my leg from a fight we got in high school.”
“Im the last of a dying breed,” stated D-Line Coach Keith Cox. “I came in ’95 and we are as close as ever.” (Referring to the staff) “It’s great to love to come to work. When I say this I am not lying at the least. Coach Norris is the best Coach in the state of Tennessee.”
Cox has been a utility player for Sullivan North. The track coach and D-Line coach, Cox has seen it all. He came in under the legendary Coy Harris, which led to his brother Gary Harris, and then Mike Wampler. Cox would go on to state how much classification has led to the success of North.
“In ’95 it seems it all changed when we started playing against schools our size,” stated Cox. “We made the playoffs each year we were 3A.” Everyone thinks the loss of the feeder system is going to hurt the Raiders’. The Coaches just don’t see it that way. “We have it set up so that three systems of football are playing,” remarked Cox. “They will eventually be Raiders’, the loss of Lynn View hurts, but we will be ok.”
The final question I brought to everyone’s attention was ‘What has been your favorite moment at North.’ Cox remarked that beating Elizabethton 3 years ago was his favorite while Copas stated that getting the best of Coach Kent Green of Crockett was his favorite, a year after getting 'whoop'd by him"
Coach Norris had a different take, “You have to go back to some of those first tough years for some of my favorite moments. Each win was a big deal, and those guys really tried there hardest, not that the ones today don not try, it was just a 'David vs. Goliath' type deal.”
Norris and Copas always wanted to coach together and Cox just fits them as an old vet should. They operate like brothers and win as brothers. As long as the trio that seem to be brothers in arms are heading up the program at Sullivan North, the Goliath might just be the Golden Raiders as we speak.
Next Week in Our Coaching Series:
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