Waid Prather Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Football coaches in Louisville, Batesville teach real life lessons

Football in Mississippi can be a madness.

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Kept in perspective, it’s just good clean fun, and many a good football coach earned that sobriquet building character all the while winning relatively few games.

Great coaches, being great teachers, can teach football and core values at the same time. In fact, precious few coaches become great coaches without doing both.

So it is that recent Mississippi high school championship football produced two stellar examples of character in action, necessarily contrasted against those who don’t understand real character at all.

One coach, by the way, won a state title; the other coach lost the state title.

The coach who won, Brad Peterson, of Louisville, went to the state championship game without his starting quarterback, because, according to some reports and various rumors, there arose a discussion as to who would call the plays during the North 4A title game against Aberdeen.

Peterson settled the matter by sending the highly-touted, heavily-recruited starting quarterback to the locker room before halftime, winning the north title and a trip to the state title match-up with the Wildcats’ back-up quarterback, and opting to leave the highly touted, heavily-recruited starting quarterback in Louisville as the team, of which said quarterback was no longer a member, went to Jackson to claim the state crown.

It was a tough game, one where a not so highly-touted quarterback had a good game but, ultimately, had to wait for the Louisville defense to seal the victory.

Some folks in and around Louisville couldn’t understand sacking the starting quarterback, placing in jeopardy, they thought, a shot at a state championship.

Those same folks figured, since Louisville won, it didn’t really matter… It didn’t matter whether Louisville won or not, it mattered that a coach chose to take the high ground and retain responsibility for his whole program, rather than let a player possibly usurp control.

Louisville and Peterson won a whole lot more than just a state championship.

Miles northwest of Louisville in Batesville, perhaps the most successful football program in Mississippi ever, the story was different.

Shooting for their umpteenth straight victory and an umpteenth consecutive 5A state title, Batesville, under second-year coach Lance Pogue, lost to Meridian in a tough-fought contest, ending both strings…such strings, for the uninitiated, must inevitably break.

Heads held high, the Tigers went home to a community, much like that in Louisville, possessed of its own set of problems but a good, strong, solid community, where folks understood, for the most part, the inevitable nature of win streaks.

However, some folks in and around Batesville couldn’t understand that a superb, nationally-ranked team can actually lose a game because it wasn’t that team’s night, that team was shorthanded, the moon got in the receiver’s eye, whatever.

Lacking understanding, they have sought to explain the easily understood by turning to rumors and theories; rumors that he’s resigning, rumors that his predecessor, Ricky Woods, who amassed a 74-1 record, is returning to the helm, and theories including conspiracy theories.

The conspiracy theory holds that Pogue bet against his Tigers and the Federal Bureau of Investigations is… investigating.

“People are amazing,” Pogue is quoted in a classic understatement. “None of that is true.”

“Naysayers,” he conceded were inevitable in the post of head coach. The fact many are on-line with the internet spreading garbage anonymously is only a matter of technology, not intelligence.

Wisely, he said, “We don’t put any stock in naysayers that don’t want to spell their name. They want to hide behind a fake name and they have all of the answers and criticize.”

Then he teaches a lesson of responsibility: “I’m the head coach, and the criticism that people point toward me is fine, but to our assistants or our players, they’re not deserving of that.”

Batesville may never see such a string of wins ever again, but with Pogue, as with Peterson in Louisville, they have the chance to win so very much more.

(Publisher’s note: Award-winning columnist Waid Prather is publisher at The Carthaginian where this column first appeared. He is also an avid fan of high school football.)