What does Glen Ryan have in common with Anniston, Ala., Aberdeen, Md., Fargo, N.D., and St. Louis, Mo.?
Just this: he was born in Anniston and attended high schools in the other three cities. Ryan was an Army brat, you see.
OK. What took Ryan from St. Louis, where he graduated from Parkway West High School, to Jefferson City, Tenn.? He attended Carson-Newman College.
All right. We’re through Ryan’s school days.
He also has links to Dayton, Spring City, Soddy-Daisy, Munford, Dallas, Ga., and most recently Cleveland, Tenn.
Ryan’s coaching career made stops in those towns. He was the head coach at Soddy-Daisy and Munford.
Ryan appears content having taken his sixth coaching job at Walker Valley High School, especially after the Mustangs’ 20-10 victory over East Ridge on Friday in the 2012 season opener.
“It’s a good start, a positive thing for our program,” Ryan said. “And what it means is that we have to keep working hard because we now know that hard work pays off.”
There’s a little bit more meaning to that opening victory besides a testament to a good work ethic.
The victory snapped Walker Valley’s 16-game losing streak dating to the fourth game of 2010 when the Mustangs knocked off McMinn Central. In the losing streak, Walker Valley allowed 629 points, or 39.3 per game. The average margin of loss was 18.5 points.
“The last couple of years our defense has been kind of porous,” Ryan said. “But those kids really came to play Friday, stepped up and did an outstanding job. They were very physical and that’s a big turnaround for us.”
Coach Ted Lockerby, 12-39 in five seasons, resigned last November and Ryan, who came to the north Bradley County school as offensive coordinator in 2010, was hired to take over the program.
Ryan’s head coaching record at Soddy-Daisy and Munford was a combined 57-60. He is 1-0 with the Mustangs, who play Hixson on Friday night.
“Our kids were excited after the East Ridge game,” Ryan said. “They had gone a while without a win and it felt good to them. But we can’t dwell on that.”
Ryan has no illusions that one game will turn around the Mustangs’ flagging fortunes for any more than a week.
It’s not that easy, obviously.
But Ryan does have experience in breathing new life into football teams.
“Everywhere I’ve been the programs were struggling at the beginning,” he said. “Bill Price and I got the Soddy-Daisy program going. I helped revitalize the Munford program. I did the same thing at East Paulding High in Dallas.”
Walker Valley administrators knew of Ryan’s past.
“They knew about Soddy,” he said. “Before Bill and I got there it was a program that most people wanted to schedule. Bill deserves a lot of the credit for that turnaround, but it allowed me to see what would and wouldn’t work. There’s a knack to it.
“You’ve got to be hard-nosed, stick to your guns and get back to fundamentals.”
At Walker Valley, the obstacles were numerous, not the least of which was addressing the perception of a downtrodden program. That was Walker Valley football personified. The Mustangs has had losing seasons in 10 of its 12 years of existence.
The Mustangs are 31-85, including this season’s opening win, and have posted just two winning seasons – a 7-4 mark in 2004 and 6-5 in 2008, both years ending with first-round playoff losses to Trousdale County and Powell, respectively.
Since 2008, Walker Valley is 5-27 with two one-win campaigns, one winless season and had two victories in Ryan’s first year with the Mustangs.
Overall, the Mustangs are 31-85.
That’s the keeping the program from bleeding out.
“That’s what I like,” he said. “I like a challenge.”
He’s got a whopper on his hands this time around.
Without hesitation, however, Ryan started on the ground floor and he’s looking up.
“The first thing I did was tell people that just changing the head coach won’t turn a program around,” he said. “Everybody has to get around it. If I come to the administration for something, it won’t be a trivial thing. It’s going to be important and I need their backing. They have to trust me that I know what the team needs.
“If you keep doing the same old things, you get the same old results. Things have to change and that takes sacrifice by the players, the parents and the administration. Everybody has a job to do.”
Ryan’s job was to jump in feet first and shock everyone connected with the Mustangs’ program with a huge shot of reality.
So, at 53, he did.
“My age never crossed my mind,” Ryan said. “The only way I know to coach is wide open. I have to be active, fully involved. If I get to the point I don’t look forward to that, it’s time to get out.”
He’s still all in.
“I sure haven’t reached that point yet, thank goodness,” he said. “Just out of college I worked in a Red Food store to play the bills until I got my first teaching job. When I got that first job I was ecstatic. That’s what I had gone to school for and it was exciting. If I didn’t have enthusiasm for teaching and coaching, I’d still be working at Red Food (now Bi-Lo).”
Ryan and the Mustangs were thrilled to start the 2012 season on a high note, for sure, seeing as how it was only the second time Walker Valley has been 1-0 going into its second game.
Since a first-game win in 2004 when the Mustangs beat Loudon, 23-8, they had lost seven straight openers, a stretch in which they gave up no fewer than 37 points and as many as 72.
Against East Ridge, Gabe Cartwright rushed 19 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. Reggie Mills gained 51 yards, Colton Morrow 49 and Chandler Hunt 44 and Walker Valley had 336.
The Mustangs piled up 346 total yards. East Ridge had 316 yards, but just 10 points and none in the second half.
“I’m proud of our defense,” Ryan said. “Defense has been our focus since December. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to make it better.”
Good defense. Better results.
Maybe that’s the first step in the latest turnaround project Ryan has grabbed by the throat.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com)