It took about twelve months, but Ron Crawford is finally starting to feel at home in Cleveland.
At least, around the high school.
"I still need to Google map things when people ask me to meet them to eat at places and stuff like that, but I'm doing better," the second-year Blue Raiders' coach said at the 5-AAA media day. "Every day this past year was just an adventure. You don't know where anything is, who is supposed to do what.
"I didn't even know where the water turned on for our fields."
Crawford is far from the only local coach who has had to endure that learning curve over the past year.
Of the 57 area high school football programs in the Tennessee Valley (Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina), 27 have made a coaching change since the end of the 2011 season.
"It's just an occupational hazard," said second-year Red Bank coach E.K. Slaughter. "These days coaches are like tissue paper. When one is used up, you just go get another one."
The concerning trend is highlighted by the seven teams in District 6-AA, where Central's John Allen is the second-longest tenured head coach entering his third year.
"It used to be coaches would go and stay and the community was with you through the good times and bad times," said Hixson's Jason Fitzgerald, who took over the Wildcats last season. "Nowadays, you win and they like you. You lose, they're ready for you to go."
Even if it is a troubling reality, the trend is easily explained.
"There's a trickle down effect," said new Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan, who has a history of jumping between college and prep schools. "The pro game has always been a "Do it now or be gone" league, and college is just as bad now because of how much money is on the line for those schools.
"Now the high school level has sped up as well -- even though none of us are making $4 million a year."
The coaching carousel has steadily picked up speed in recent years, even if it's not always the schools initiating the changes.
While there are still plenty of firings and forced resignations, just as many coaches walk away from programs because of fatigue caused by the rigorous year-round demands of building and maintaining a successful program.
Worse yet, many coaches step down early in hopes of finding something better.
"So many times these days, guys see the writing on the wall and they just up and walk away," Slaughter said. "You may look at the classes coming up and see there could be a dry spell coming, so they just know it's time to get out."
The increased pressure makes it more important than ever for new coaches to establish a strong foundation under their programs.
The problem, though, is they've never had less time to do it.
"You have to believe in what you're doing," Bryan said. "You have to come in and put a system in place. Believe in the system, and get the kids to buy into the system."
Simplicity can be the biggest key to making that happen.
New coaches who arrive with complex schemes and unrealistic expectations can derail a team before they even play a game.
"We're not doing a lot of things. We're going to do a few things and do them well," said new Soddy-Daisy coach Justin Barnes. "You have to start with the fundamentals, and it has to include everyone. The young kids, I don't want them to be tackling dummies. I want them out there learning and getting reps.
"That's how you build a program."
Building strong relationships between players and coaches is paramount to building a strong foundation, but that task has proven far more difficult in recent years with teams seeing more and more coaches leave them high and dry.
"You really have to spend time with the players. They have to understand they can trust you and you truly there for them," Bryan said. "So much is made about college coaches taking chances on troubled players. Here in high school, it really is all about taking chances on kids.
"You need to push them and get them to grow. We're trying to build people who will be better when they leave. That's as important as winning and losing."
Of course, that's the hardest part for most coaches -- doing what's best for their kids when it may not be best for their job security.
"I'm going to do everything I can for our kids as people first before I do anything for them as players, but the reality is no one cares about that," Slaughter said. "I'm lucky to have great support from my an administration here that truly gets it, but that is really rare. People say they care more about how you mold young kids and help them grow, but they really only want you pouring your time into their kids as long as you're winning.
"That's just the business. If you're not winning, someone is going to push you somewhere else."
Below is a list of the 27 local programs that have had coaching changes in the last 2 years:
Marion County (Old Coach: Troey Boeck; New Coach: Mac McCurry)
East Ridge (Old Coach: Mike Martin; New Coach: Tracy Malone)
Red Bank (Old Coach: Tim Daniels; New Coach: E.K. Slaughter)
Hixson (Old Coach: Houston White; New Coach: Jason Fitzgerald)
Notre Dame (Old Coach: Josh Sellers; New Coach: Charles Fant)
Cleveland (Old Coach: E.K. Slaughter; New Coach: Ron Crawford)
Walker Valley (Old Coach: Ted Lockerby; New Coach: Glen Ryan)
McCallie (Old Coach: Bubba Simmons; New Coach: Ralph Potter)
Northwest Whitfield (Old Coach: Mike Falleur; New Coach: Josh Robinson)
Southeast Whitfield (Old Coach: David Crane; New Coach: Sean Gray)
North Murray (Old Coach: Larry Cornelius; New Coach: David Gann)
Chattooga (Old Coach: Brad Waggoner; New Coach: Clay Livingston)
Gordon Lee (Old Coach: Kevin McElhaney; New Coach: Charlie Wiggins)
Trion (Old Coach: David Humphreys; New Coach: Justin Brown)
Andrews (Old Coach: Dane Rickett; New Coach: Avery Cutshaw)
Hayesville (Old Coach: Gary Miller, New Coach: Ernie Hughes)
South Pittsburg (Old Coach: Vic Grider; New Coach: Tim Moore)
Brainerd (Old Coach: Stanley Jackson; New Coach: Brian Gwyn)
Sequatchie County (Old Coach: Chad Barger; New Coach: Ken Colquette)
Rhea County (Old Coach: Doug Greene; New Coach: Jeff Pemberton)
Ooltewah (Old Coach: Shannon Williams; New Coach: Mac Bryan)
Soddy-Daisy (Old Coach: Kevin Orr; New Coach: Justin Barnes)
LaFayette (Old Coach: Tab Gable; New Coach: Chad Fisher)
Gordon Central (Old Coach: Chad Fisher; New Coach: David Humphreys )
Murray County (Old Coach: John Hammond; New Coach: Chad Brewer)
Scottsboro (Old Coach: Swane Morris ; New Coach: Patrick Nix)
North Jackson (Old Coach: Shawn Peek; New Coach: Tony Johnson)
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