Brian Gwyn didn't hesitate when he heard about the opening for a head football coaching position at Brainerd High School.
Gwyn grew up in Atlanta and was working as an assistant coach at Carver High School when he found out about the Brainerd job and he jumped at the chance. He has 16 years coaching experience and even spent four seasons at Morehouse College, so he knows from experience what some of the challenges are that he's facing.
Now almost three months after showing up at the school on North Moore Road, the soft-spoken 38-year-old former UTC receiver who played under head coaches Buddy Nix, Tommy West and Buddy Green is working toward putting a team on the field that is competitive and one that will bring back the pride that has been a trademark at Brainerd for so long.
"I'm still trying to adjust to life in Tennessee again," Gwyn said after an early-morning class on Thursday.
"The opportunity and the potential we have here is the main thing that got my attention. We have the athletes. My motto is 'Discipline, Structure and Organization.' It's going to take time and the turnaround won't happen in a day, but I feel confident that we can turn things around here.
"The younger kids are buying into our philosophy, but we're still getting to know each other as we're still in that feeling-out process. Not only are we wanting to change them physically into football players, we're also working to change the mindset.
"Our goal is to be able to put 11 players on the field who can tie their shoes," the bearded Gwyn said matter of factly.
While the enthusiastic coach didn't get here soon enough to conduct spring practice in May, he's had his nose to the grindstone ever since. His team has 45 names on the roster, which is more than double from last year. Still more will appear when the younger JV players get started next week.
"There is still a whole lot of work to be done, but we have some guys who can make an impact. It's a matter of us getting on the same page, but I'm not going to lower my expectations or standards," the fellow who also teaches freshmen English added.
Quite a bit of construction and renovation has been taking place at Brainerd in recent months. While all of the changes are way past due and will greatly enhance all of the programs for the Panthers, it's been a headache and in general, an inconvenience for the coaches and athletes as a whole.
"It's been a huge inconvenience, but we're trying to make a smooth transition," Gwyn said, knowing that Brainerd will open its season at home next Friday when they host the Ooltewah Owls.
"We only have eight seniors on our team, but that's more of an advantage than a disadvantage. Those eight have had three head coaches in the last four years, so they've been through it all. We're still dealing with all kinds of challenges as I'm a coach, Dad and mentor to these young men. I'm like a doctor who's on call all the time," he said as a grin crept across his face.
Brainerd is blessed with an abundance of good athletes, but many of these young men work to help ends meet at home. Gwyn feels good because most of them want to do both and are making the necessary arrangements to make it happen.
"It's just another battle we face, but I just try to keep an even keel. They're starting to conform to my expectations. I want them to know that being a good football player starts long before they hit the practice field in the afternoon. It's what they do from the minute they wake up and the way they carry themselves during the day.
"We just want to put a team on the field that will be respected by other teams and one we can all be proud of," the coach concluded.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)