There are always hardships that come with a new head football coaching job, and that seems true for Larry Strain and Scott Martin as they take over programs in Calhoun County.
Strain, who was hired as the new coach at White Plains in April, and Martin, who was approved at Ohatchee in January, are both leading teams that haven’t seen much success lately.
Ohatchee is working off back-to-back 1-9 seasons and hasn’t had a winning season since 2003. That’s also the last time the Indians made the playoffs.
White Plains’ only playoff berth in school history came in 1994. The Wildcats haven’t had a winning record since 2003.
“I think the community realizes we’re striving to get over the hump, especially jumping from 3A to 4A, and having only been to the playoffs once in school history,” said Strain, who was 100-78 in 15 seasons as Woodland’s head football coach. “If we can keep them playing all the way through high school … that’s the problem we have here right now. Lots of kids past ninth or 10th grades play basketball or baseball, but they don’t continue playing football.
“That has a lot to do with the lack of success we’ve had. We’re doing things in the weight room this summer to try to change the culture of how we think about things. Everything we do is dealt around that when times get tough we don’t lay down, we don’t quit and we keep on going.”
Excitement surrounded both programs upon the new coaching hires, but Martin and Strain were hesitant to buy into the hype, despite having strong resumes.
Strain had spent his entire head coaching career at Woodland. He led the Bobcats to the playoffs the last 10 seasons, including reaching the state finals twice.
Martin spent 22 years coaching in Louisiana before moving east. During the last four years in Alabama, Martin led Calera and Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa each to the playoffs twice.
For now, Martin is seeing excitement in the community, but it is what he calls “guarded optimism.”
“When you’re at a program that has struggled for the last decade — we haven’t had a winning record in the last 10 or 11 years — our motto for the whole spring has been no rearview mirrors,” Martin said. “We’re not going to look behind us and we’re stressing the positives. We’re hoping to learn from the past, but we aren’t looking back all the time.
“I told them there’s nothing we can do to change the past except from what we do from here on out.”
Ohatchee’s work in the spring shined in the Indians’ two jamboree games, which included a 34-0 win over White Plains and a 15-8 loss to Pleasant Valley. Both games lasted two quarters.
“I think our kids and community are excited, and we had some success in the spring, but they had success last year in the spring and it didn’t materialize,” Martin said. “Everyone wants it to be better, but there are no guarantees it will be.”
For White Plains, in addition to losing to Ohatchee by 34, the Wildcats fell 21-0 to Pleasant Valley. Strain was forced to put a young, inexperienced squad on the field.
“We didn’t do too well in the spring, and we felt like we’d have a hard time with such few days to practice, especially with about 80 percent of the kids from last year for White Plains who started graduated or left,” Strain said. “We have a lot of inexperience, but I think the excitement is still there and our kids like what we’re doing in the weight room. We realize we have to continue to do what we’re doing to improve and we know we have a long road ahead of us.”
The weight room is the place Strain has the Wildcats working the hardest this summer. He said he doesn’t think the team is strong and physical enough.
“I think the way we practice, how we practice, how we go about doing things, we’ve got to become more physical,” he said. “We’ve got to have more understanding of the way the game is played and concepts.
“We’re about to start on how to catch a ball, how to plant our feet, how things are done. That’s it in a nutshell, and that will help us be successful.”
Strain’s approach to getting White Plains over the hump goes back to his days at Woodland in 1999, which he compared his current coaching challenge.
The success at Woodland that Strain had didn’t include his first winning season until his sixth year, even though he made the playoffs twice in his first five seasons. Strain said that what got the Bobcats to winning consistently was getting his players to believe they were winners.
“We have to get in there and get those kids believing that every time they get in there they have a chance to win that football game,” he said. “The kids at Woodland did that, especially in the latter years. A lot of times we won because of the success they’d had in the past. They wouldn’t lie down and continued to fight hard.
“That’s just going to take a little attitude change and we’ll be OK here. Like I said, we’re playing with a bunch of young kids here and have a tough schedule and are changing classifications. It’s going to be a difficult practice.”
The winning mindset at Woodland is going to continue with new head coach Randy Boyd, who was hired in May. Boyd had been Woodland’s offensive line and defensive ends coach the last five years under Strain.
He said the transition has been smooth, other than the added paperwork that comes with being the head coach.
“Coaching-wise, nothing has changed,” he said. “The only difference there is now is I have the final say so on what we’re going to do. The coaches here talk a lot. One of my offensive coordinators has been coaching for 18 years, so if he wants to do something then we talk about it. That’s what it’s like.”
For Ohatchee, the transition from the summer to the season will come sooner than most teams.
Martin took 35 players to a team camp at Jacksonville State and said it was “the perfect lead-in to the second half of summer.”
“Everything is going along. We’re halfway through the summer and we’ve had great participation,” Martin said. “We had a really good spring, and we were pleased with that, and we had some success in the spring jamboree games for not having many days of practice. Our kids have been really retentive during the summer.”
Ohatchee’s players have this week off for Independence Day, but Martin indicated things will be back to normal next week, adding “we’re pretty much locked in” for the second half of summer.
“That first week, we’re not playing a jamboree game, we’re playing our first season game Aug. 22 (against Southeastern),” Martin said. “We’ll play that night then we’ll be off Week 2 and then play nine straight weeks after that.”