Whenever a coach takes over a program, they usually inherit a whole box of problems.
Changes are normally made in programs that fall short of the mark. Programs can fall into disrepair through multiple leadership changes that create a lack of stability and an unpleasant culture.
Superintendents and their school boards set a course to find agents of change. They are looking for that coach with “it” and that is not an easy path to travel.
Pine Tree cast its lot three and a half years ago when they hired Kerry Lane. Lane, who had state championship pedigree as a wide receiver coach at Gilmer for Jeff Traylor, brought with him a tireless work ethic and the drive for perfection.
Spring Hill did similar in its appointment this past spring luring Jonny Louvier away from his alma mater of Gladewater to right the ship. Louvier was offensive coordinator for John Berry and a very successful one at that.
Clearly, home run hires were hit by both schools.
Lane has already led the Pirates to the playoffs twice in four years, while Louvier guided the Panthers to the postseason party in his debut showing.
Droughts and dry spells had to be abolished at both schools. Pine Tree snapped a 15-year absence from the playoffs when they qualified in 2017. Spring Hill’s playoff push this past season broke a 12-year streak void of postseason participation. The Panthers also collected their first playoff win — 23-12 over Caddo Mills — in 15 years.
Ironically, Lane and Louiver are very close friends. They grew up rock throw from each other. Louvier starred at quarterback for the Gladewater Bears in the early 2000s, while Lane was quarterback right down the road for the Union Grove Lions at the same time.
Both in their mid-30s, the two coaches share a passion for teaching kids and a love for football. They are driven to succeed and have high expectations for the kids they coach.
Lane sees his charge as a fluid fight to keep the intensity level high. His work is never-ending to keep pushing the rock up hill. It’s been a work in progress since day one and the work continues.
“At times we really took some steps forward, but at other times we underachieved. I think as a program, we took a step forward as far as all levels,” Lane said. “Varsity wise we lost a couple that we’re going to have to win to get over the hump. I was proud of the way we finished and thought we played fairly well against Marshall and even in the last game against A&M Consolidated.”
Lane doesn’t have a problem with effort. The Pirates play from the opening whistle to the final horn. What Pine Tree still searches for is that program-defining win.
“I think we’ve got better as a program, but obviously not as fast as I’d like. We’re going to have to sell out to being good at football. That’s the bottom line. All the way from the top, to me to the kids,” Lane explained. “It’s hard to be good at football and the teams that are good at it are the reason it’s the same few teams good every year.
“If we’re gonna get over the hump, we’re gonna have to sell out to being good at football all year and not just during football season. We’ve got to win a game we’re not supposed to win. I don’t think we’ve done that yet. We’ve beat teams we were supposed to beat. I think actually this year we lost a couple we could have won or should have won.”
Lane believes it centers around winning that program-defining game and getting the kids to believe they can achieve. With the return of do-everything quarterback D.J. Freeman along with Pine Tree’s district champion junior varsity, foretelling future success on the gridiron could be in the offing.
That’s definitely Lane’s longing.
Louvier had the good fortune of having a seasoned signal-caller in Gage White to build his program around.
That made for more seamless transition with installation of a new offense.
“Gage was phenomenal for us. He was a great leader and gave great effort. It was one less thing we had to worry about when we got here,” Louvier said. “I think we got better each week and that’s what you want. We’re very appreciative of our seniors and the way they bought in. We’re excited about the younger group we have and ready to get started on next year.”
Nineteen of Spring Hill’s varsity roster consisted of underclassmen.
The Panthers will welcome back its two leading rushers, top pass catcher and all five offensive linemen.
Shattering the stigma of being also rans was at the top of Louvier’s to-do list when he arrived at Spring Hill.
“The kids overcoming the mental aspect of feeling like you’re a 2-8 football team. Just getting over that hump was a challenge. I think the seniors can look back on that with a sense of accomplishment,” said Louvier. “We broke the ‘you haven’t made the playoffs since 2007’ and that’s attributed to their work. Now we’re focused on making a further run and not just getting in.”
The sun certainly shines bright on the horizon for Louvier.
On this day when we give thanks for our blessings, Pine Tree and Spring Hill fans should certainly be thankful for the directions their programs are headed.