By Dan Callahan
There’s been a problem at Pulaski County for a few years now. It’s football program has stopped winning. Cougar fans want that fixed. This week Stephen James was hired as its new head coach. James comes from Fort Chiswell. That school had a problem a few years ago, and hired James to fix it. He did. That’s a good sign. Can he do it again at Pulaski County? I think so.
What has happened to Cougar football? That’s likely one of, if not the most often asked question in Pulaski County in recent years. PCHS has been playing football for 40 years. The career record for the school in football is 282 wins, 163 losses, and three ties. That’s a 63% winning ratio.
Now for the concerning aspect of that. Of those 40 years, 24 of them belong to Joel Hicks. His teams were 210-69 from 1979-2002. They won 75 percent of the time, and averaged 8.75 wins a season. Hicks’ teams won 15 district titles, seven in a row from ’91-’97, six region titles, and a Division 6, Group AAA state championship. His playoff record was 23-15. That’s 38 playoff games, that’s almost four additional seasons of football, and that was back when you had to be good to qualify for the playoffs.
So from that point, what happened? A lot, a lot of mistakes were made in this opinion. A lot of lesser, politically correct issues began to get in the way. It should be mentioned that much of the personnel from that time frame is no longer in the school system. The current administration should not be blamed for all that went wrong. But it must be in charge of getting it fixed. Sometimes unfortunate things fall onto your plate, deserved or not, but it comes with the territory. Let’s just say that sometimes you don’t really appreciate how good and positive something is, until you don’t have it anymore. The feeling here is that things are back on the right track.
Now the fate of Cougar football rests in the hands of James. He must be able to figure out why Hicks was so successful, and the rest have not been. The fact is this, take away Hicks’ 24 years and Pulaski County is 72-94-3, a 33 percent less productive program than under Hicks’ leadership, a losing record. Only during Jack Turner’s tenure, 42-33, 56 percent, has the program been able to remain above .500. Turner’s 12-1 region championship team and state semi-finalist in 2008 is the last really good Cougar team to take the turf in Dobson Stadium.
What has to happen to make Pulaski County a winner in football again? That’s the other question that’s been asked a million times. I think the attitude has to change. Based on conversations with others who’s opinions I respect, and my own personal interview with the new coach, I think James is the right coach at the right time to change the attitude. He has a lot to overcome. None of his current players have ever experienced a winning season.
I believe James is the type personality and type coach the Cougar program needs. He’s old school. He’s a physical style football coach. Pulaski County is not a “seven on seven football program.” The Cougars will not usually win because they play pretty football. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I think a good drive block is a beautiful thing.
To win, Pulaski County must be fundamentally sound, strong, in great condition, not only physically tough, but tough minded. The Cougars need to love the fourth quarter. The opposition needs to hate it. It was once that way. It can be that way again. Give James the tools, the staff, the support he needs, and let him go to work.
Pulaski County is not like any other program and its people are not like other fans either. I’m not sure I can explain that, but I know it’s different. The Cougar football fan loves to win, and absolutely hates to lose and sometimes takes too long to get over it. The people that buy a ticket on Friday night want one simple thing, they want to win. It’s not complicated, just win.
Football once was the golden egg, but some people started stepping on that egg. It was a big mistake. The community wants its football program back. They are tired of people stepping on it. Pulaski County wants to have a great football program again, and it can. Pulaski County has gone from the top of the mountain to the bottom, and out of the conversation. That makes no sense, but It can be fixed.
Why is that so important? Because the people of Pulaski County tell you it’s important. I believe Stephen James can lead the Cougar football program back into the light, back into the conversation, and if he does he’ll be the best thing to come along in Pulaski County since Joel HIcks. That’s high cotton.
But there’s a simple way to look at this. It’s very much like it was at Fort Chiswell. The Pioneers were down, way down. They hired James to fix the problem. He fixed it. Yes, the scope is a bit bigger at Pulaski County, but it’s still much the same type situation he faced at Ft. Chiswell. History indicates he can do the job.
Get behind him. If he asks for your help, help him! Let the people of Pulaski County have their football program back. Open the door. Invite the Cougar faithful in. Help Stephen James get this thing turned around. It’s a worthwhile undertaking. I wish him the best.
Meet Stephen James Tonight
A media event will be held in the Little Theatre at Pulaski County High School at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 23,
2014. The public is invited to attend.