Tracy Malone is still trying to catch his breath.
It's been a whirlwind summer for the 38-year-old fellow who graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1997 and has been a high school football coach for the last 15 years.
The good news is that he's relatively-young with plenty of energy. His wife of 13 years is named Kim and they are the proud parents of two sons, eight-year-old Reed and Tate, who is five.
His coaching career began at Riverdale under legendary coach Gary Rankin in 1998. He spent five years there as an assistant before moving on to Georgia for stints at Mundys Mill and Grayson High Schools.
His first head-coaching job came at Ardmore High School in Alabama from 2006-08 and he spent the last three years as the head man at White County High School in Sparta.
And now he's the new guy in charge at East Ridge where he replaced Mike Martin in mid June.
Spring workouts had long passed and his players were scattered for the summer when he was hired. He's been on the job a whopping seven weeks, but he's working overtime as he tries to get all the pieces in place before Friday night's season opener against Walker Valley.
"I had some great years as an assistant coach, but I really wanted to step out on my own and that's how I ended up at Ardmore in 2006," Malone said while watching film in his classroom one morning recently.
"When I heard that the East Ridge job was open, I felt like it was a great opportunity and something I just couldn't pass up. The job came open late and it was four weeks from the first interview until we moved. We've been here seven weeks now," he continued, hardly believing what had transpired in the past 42 days.
"Head football coaches never feel like we have enough time to prepare, but today we're healthy with about 50 kids on our roster. I'm sure we'll pick up several more once school starts, but right now, we've got to get through the jamboree and get ready for Walker Valley.
"When I first walked into the gym here, I saw the message on the wall that said 'Home of the Proud.' I know there's a rich tradition here and we want to restore that. We're trying to change the culture and instilling in our kids that football is a year-round commitment. That's our biggest weakness right now, but we're trying to take that next step," he said with a serious tone to his voice.
"We have three goals at East Ridge. First is to get better every day while winning our home games is second. And last, but certainly not least, is to make the playoffs," Malone allowed.
White County and East Ridge both had 5-5 records a year ago and both missed the playoffs. Malone's Warriors started off 1-5 before finishing the year on a four-game winning streak.
"We're improving with each passing day as they're doing a better job. The kids have been fun to be around and I hope we're hitting our stride and still playing the first week in November.
"We had a meeting with the parents the other night and about 90 percent of them were present. There's a lot of excitement in this community. We're just trying to build on the tradition that's already in place as we want to hold up our end of the deal."
Malone just scratched his head when asked about the toughest game on the Pioneer schedule.
"Every team in this district is capable of beating anybody else on any Friday night, but I'm sure that the game with East Hamilton will be a big one. We handed them their only district loss last year, so I'm sure they're gunning for us," he concluded.
Malone also mentioned that his wife teaches at East Hamilton, so that should create a little extra excitement as that game approaches.
The Pioneers open their season at home on Friday with a non-district game against Walker Valley and will be followed by another non-district game at Boyd-Buchanan on Aug. 24.
Three more straight road games include battles with Tyner, Ooltewah and East Hamilton before wrapping up the regular season with four home games in October against District 6-AA foes Howard, Hixson, Central and Brainerd.
The game at East Hamilton is set for Sept. 28.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)