For a little ol’ boy from Traphill, N.C., a community without a traffic light and boasting a population of just 1,905, Friday was a big deal of Mac Bryan.
“Try to find Traphill on a map,” the 53-year-old Bryan said. “You better get a good map. My parents still live there and have to drive 20 minutes just to find a real grocery store. To see all these people, newspaper folks and TV cameras here is really nice.”
For the record, Traphill is located about 60 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, N.C.
The home-spun humor was a hit at Friday’s press conference in the Little Theater at Ooltewah High School where Bryan was officially introduced as the Owls’ head football coach. He succeeds Shannon Williams, who resigned on Feb. 6 to accept an assistant’s position of Walton High School in DeFuniak, Fla.
Bryan comes to Ooltewah from UT-Martin where he served as offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator from 2010-12.
He also was head coach at Pikeville (Ky.) College (2006-08) – he was an assistant there in 2000-01 – and Lees McRae College (1986-1990) in Banner Elk, N.C., where he was assistant head coach/offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 1983-84.
While at Lees McRae, which discontinued its football program after the 1994 season, Bryan took his team to five straight bowl games and was as the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 10 Coach of the Year three times (1986-88). Lees McRae was ranked No. 1 in the final NJCAA regular-season poll in 1987.
He had three other college coaching jobs at Newberry College (2004-05), Tennessee-Chattanooga (2001-03) and Southern Mississippi (1991-94).
Bryan played (1978-80) and served as a graduate assistant coach at Appalachian State (1981-83).
Addressing Owls football players in an audience that jammed the school’s 275-seat Little Theater, OHS principal Mark Bean said, “Three weeks ago when we met after Shannon Williams said he was going to Florida, I promised you that we would get the best football coach available. Coach Bryan is a grand slam and he’s going to do great things at Ooltewah High School.
“He’s got a world of coaching experience, with a vast amount of experience at the college level. He won’t be a miracle worker. He’ll be a hard worker. It will take the effort of everybody in this room as we strive to make Ooltewah the best place in town athletically.”
Bryan had three previous high school head coaching stops. He was at Enka (2009) in Candler, N.C., located just east of Asheville, and posted a 4-7 record in one season. He led Boiling Springs (S.C.) High (1994-99) to eight wins in 1996, most in school history as a member of Class 4A and most in any class since 1965. He was coach and athletic director at West Wilkes High School in Millers Creek, N.C., from 1983-84.
Ooltewah assistant principal and athletic director Jim Jarvis admitted he was surprised when Williams told him he was considering an offer to coach in Florida.
When Williams accepted the job at Walton High, Jarvis suddenly had to launch the search for a new football coach.
“One name kept surfacing – Mac Bryan,” Jarvis said. “Shannon told me that if knew anything about football it was because of Mac Bryan. And Benny Monroe, the former Ooltewah coach told me that if we could hire Mac Bryan, you better get him.”
Monroe, who went 48-12 as Owls coach from 2005-09 with playoff appearances all five seasons that included two trips to the semifinals, has known Bryan for years.
“His overall knowledge of the offensive line has impressed me more than anything else,” said Monroe, who will help “indoctrinated” Bryan at Ooltewah over the coming weeks. “And he can call on me anytime if he needs help. Mac is a really good man.”
Monroe drove in after a golf trip to Naples, Fla., to attend Friday’s press conference.
Bryan initiated contact with Ooltewah administrators about the football vacancy and had two extremely good reasons for taking the discussions to fruition – daughters, Victoria and Carolyn, who live in Chattanooga.
“My wife (Vickie) and I have been here before, our daughters are here and now we’re back,” Bryan said.
Would Bryan have pursued the Ooltewah job had his daughters lived elsewhere?
“Yes,” he said. “This is a (high school) program you would look at. I don’t consider coaching as a food chain. This program is in great shape. This just seemed like a good fit.”
Were there any other reasons?
“I like being the boss,” Bryan said. “There are positives and minuses to college and high school football. I’ve done both. I feel like the impact coaches have on young men is greater at this level.”
Bryan said he wouldn’t miss the grind of college recruiting.
“I’ve done enough traveling,” he said. “My job now is to get our kids recruited.”
With Owls football players hanging on his every word, Bryan said offensively he would use a one-back set, spread the field, throw the ball a lot and play as fast as possible. Defensively, the Owls will line up and blitz every time we can.
That last remark brought an audible, positive response with some applause from players who obviously enjoy hard-charging defense.
Growing up in Traphill, Bryan was a big fan of the Green Bay Packers and legendary coach Vince Lombardi, for whom the NFL’s Super Bowl trophy is named.
“I’ve always believed that you run certain things, out-execute people, don’t make mistakes, play right and play hard,” Bryan said.
Bryan was exposed early on to the passing philosophy of Mike Working, former coach at Appalachian State.
“We were throwing the ball around like 50-something times a game in the early 1980s,” Bryan said. “No one threw the ball like that back then.”
Bryan said Mark McHale, who coached at Florida State and Louisville, has been a long-time mentor.
The new Owls coach also said some of his offensive concepts were influenced by UTC’s Donnie Kirkpatrick during their time together with the Mocs.
“He threw the ball around pretty good and he’s a good friend of mine,” Bryan said. “He was in our wedding 30 years ago.”
Bryan takes over a program that has reached the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association playoffs in 10 of the past 13 seasons, including semifinal appearances in 2001, 2006 and 2008.
Ooltewah has a 15-11 playoff record.
In three seasons after replacing Benny Monroe, Williams posted a 21-14 record and reached the playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
This past season the Owls lost to Columbia, 31-13, in the Class 5A quarterfinals and in 2011 were beaten by Powell, 42-21, in the second round. Powell advanced to the championship game that season, losing to Henry County, 17-14.
Dating to 2000, Ooltewah is 106-48 with just two losing seasons – 4-6 in 2010 and 3-7 in 2003.
Prior to 2000, the Owls posted losing seasons in 14 of 15 seasons, the only non-losing mark being 5-5 in 1994.
Bryan said he would use the weeks leading up to spring practice in late April to enhance his knowledge of the returning players and where they might make the biggest impact on the 2013 season.
“In high school you have to be more versatile than in college because you’re not recruiting to fit a system,” he said. “Here, you have to have a system that fits the kids.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)