Friendship Christian coach
Coaching background: Breaking into the business at Lipscomb in 1983, McNeal also had a couple of stints at Goodpasture and is now at Friendship for the second time. He spent three seasons as head coach at the Lebanon school in the mid-1980s, and returned in the same role in 1992. Since his return, the Commanders have advanced to a pair of state championship games, finishing as Class 1A runner-up in 2006 and winning the 2A title last fall.
Playing career: McNeal played football, basketball and baseball at Goodpasture. He was a senior member of the 1978 Cougar football team that lost to Alcoa in the Class A final, the first of seven postseason matchups between the two programs.
Over his 24-year career at Friendship, McNeal has learned how to be flexible in terms of how best to move the football. If there’s a scheme, he’s probably used it, and he’s not opposed to running the ball on virtually every play or throwing on almost every snap, depending on his personnel. “Some people think, ‘He doesn’t stick to one thing, he changes, he doesn’t have a system,’ but my job is to take the kids and put them in the best position to be successful,” he said. “If we’ve got a thrower (at quarterback) and we put him in a running situation where we’re not giving him an opportunity to help us as a thrower, I’m not doing my job. It’s our job as coaches to learn whatever offense and teach our kids.”
MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Football isn’t the only coaching cap McNeal wears. He also serves as baseball coach — the Commanders won the 2007 Class A title and finished second in 2005 and ’11 — and was an assistant on the boys basketball championship team last winter. “I enjoy the difference of the two,” he said regarding football and baseball. “Football is more of a mental drain, baseball is more physical — working on the field, batting practice, fungoes. Last year (with basketball) was really rewarding. The kids got to see me in a different way, and I could walk away when it was over.”
Coaching multiple sports comes naturally for McNeal in part because he grew up playing them — and saw himself then doing what he is now. “I’ve been working with younger kids since before I was even driving,” he said. “I played all three sports since I was 8. As a little kid, you’re thinking, ‘I’m going to play college, pro,’ but you get going and you realize, coaching is what I want to do. My senior year, I’d go from practice to working with my team under the lights at McGavock. I think now, we pull kids to try to do one sport, and I don’t think it’s right. Kids ought to enjoy high school while they can. Look at most college athletes, and they probably played two, three, sports in high school. If I had to pick one, I don’t think I could.”
REALIZATION OF A DREAM
Every coach wants to win a championship, but McNeal’s second-place finish in 2006 holds a significant spot for him. “Early on, (a state title) wasn’t our goal,” he said. “We wanted to build, be competitive, try to win playoff games and go a little farther. I’m not a patient person, but I realized I was going to have to be. What makes 2006 so special was that I had two daughters (Brooke and McKenzie) that were cheerleaders and a third one (Ashlynn) on the sideline with me as a manager. Even though we lost the game, it still means a lot to have my daughters there with me in the biggest game that everybody wants to be a part of.”