LEBANON — Sam Harp is the winningest active high school football coach in Middle Tennessee.
However of his 331 victories, only five have come over his first three seasons at Lebanon.
The transplant from Kentucky inherited a program that had just four winning seasons over the previous 17 years, producing a 67-109 record over that span and just one playoff victory.
“Right now, expectations aren’t very high around here, but they are growing,” Harp said. “This community is hungry.”
The Blue Devils open the season at Warren County on Friday.
“We’re sick of two-win seasons, three-win seasons,” Lebanon senior J.W. Baird said. “We’re ready to be back at a powerhouse program.”
The building process has required considerable patience, not only for the players, but also for the 62-year-old coach who won seven state championships at Danville (Ky.).
“The culture is getting better,” said Harp, who is entering his 36th season as a football coach. “It’s not where it needs to be. When you can get all of the parents to buy in, all of the community to buy in, all of the administration to buy in, then, the kids get reinforced by everybody else … not just the coaches. The kids have bought in, but there’s still that doubt that lingers.”
Stewarts Creek’s David Martin can relate to what Harp is experiencing. He inherited a Goodpasture program in 1992 that was 29-31 over the previous six seasons. Martin won three state titles and finished as the state runner-up five times over the next 21 seasons.
“You have to build your culture, what’s your expectations are,” Martin said. “That’s not going to be easy. You’re going to get rid of a lot of people who can’t and won’t meet those expectations. … Sometimes you have to lose to gain. You have to lose some kids who don’t want to do that and then gain some kids who want to be part of your program. You do a lot of that in your offseason program. Another thing you have to have is tremendous administrative support. If they’re not behind you, you have no chance anyway.”
Jerry Joslin echoes those sentiments. Joslin inherited a Goodpasture program last season that was winless in 2014, and the Cougars remained winless last fall.
“It’s a great question,” Joslin said. “Where do you start? Do you evaluate? If you evaluate, what changes do you make? Most everybody will say discipline. I have never believed that anybody’s discipline is wrong, but I have to instill my discipline.”
Joslin took over a Cookeville program in 1998 that had never won a playoff game and helped the Cavaliers to eight playoff victories and back-to-back nine-win seasons, its first nine-win campaign since the 1960s.
Surrounding yourself with a good coaching staff is imperative in rebuilding, Joslin said.
Martin hopes that he’s on the back end of the building process at Stewarts Creek, starting a program that won a combined three games over its first two seasons before producing six victories in 2015.
“I don’t think any two (situations) are alike,” Martin said. “Lebanon had a full complement of people. We started from scratch, so they’re different (situations).”
The minimal success hasn’t deterred Harp’s outlook.
“My expectations are high,” Harp said. “They always have been. It’s hard to take it when you don’t accomplish your goals.”
Reach Craig Harris at 615-259-8238 and on Twitter @CHTennessean.