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Simmons Says - Building Squad 54 begins now

Maybe it is because I love music, but I feel like there are times when a song will come on that perfectly encapsulates your mood at the time. It happened to me Friday night, well after the Pioneer football season had ended in Murfreesboro and our WCSA team had went its separate ways after another fun year on the sidelines.

As I made my final rounds and rolled to the house, Sturgill Simpson popped up on my playlist. While he’s not a mainstay, there is one song – ‘You Can Have the Crown’ – that I particularly enjoy. It came on and these lyrics really hit strong:

Well, they call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain But if you want it, you can have the crown

It made me think of the plight of coach Matt Turner as he continues to chip away at changing the Pioneer Way. And that way, for as long as many can remember, is losing – A lot. And it’s becoming apparent, even after an 8-3 season that energized Pioneer Nation, that one year of success (and one senior class) isn’t going to change the entire program’s fortunes overnight.

Now don’t get me wrong, coach Turner isn’t handing over his job willingly. He is entrenched. He seems in it 100 percent every step of the way. Even Friday night, he talked about wanting success for his guys – “I may even want it for them more than they want it themselves.”

I don’t think he’s wrong. At times this year, it did feel like he had the most passion for the game of anybody on the sidelines. I think it really boiled down to all the losing. It’s easy to be passionate when you’re winning most weeks – everybody is excited and loving it. When you’re losing most weeks, it’s easy to stop caring.

From the first scrimmage of the year, I could tell something about coach Turner. He’s one of those guys you talk about who hates losing more than he loves winning. And he especially hates it if losing becomes something passive to others.

Warren County got passive to losing years ago. It almost became engrained in the DNA of the football program. I remember somebody telling me early in my years covering football in Warren County that it’s “no wonder we’re not good. We have losers coaching losers.” Their point was salient – even the people giving their time now, who are mostly from Warren County, had no real links back to when the program was good.

When they played, they lost. Now they coach and they still lose. That was his point and it held true up until coach Turner took control.

I thought that DNA was changing – and I still think it is in some ways. Turner is enough of a force of nature that he’s not going to let this thing turn back into the sad state it was when I was in school, when Warren County had a six-year run where it was 1-59.

But he won’t be able to do it alone. At the end, it’s going to take top-to-bottom commitment to make this thing change course for good.

Zach Birdsong with the Tullahoma News did a great job of telling the story about how the Wildcats changed their whole culture. You can read Birdsong’s story about Tullahoma going from 0-10 to 10-0 in four short years here: - but I’ll give you the gist:

Tullahoma wasn’t pressured by the outside to make a coaching change; they believed they had the right man for the job. All the coaches got on the same page and pulled in the same direction. The players began playing for themselves, their teammates and for the future of the program. EVERYBODY involved had one common goal.

That’s what Warren County needs. It isn’t what Warren County currently has.

While I don’t think there is any doubt Turner is the man for the job, I know I heard whispers about him during the season from people who weren’t happy with him. And if you went to Nunley Stadium, you didn’t have to wait for whispers – you could hear people yelling at the coaches (and, specifically, Turner) at every game. He didn’t hear it – I did.

I couldn’t believe it. Just a year ago, to the day, this was a guy everybody loved. And it was because he was teaching love (and winning, of course):

Nothing I’ve heard makes me think anybody with the power to do it is looking to make a change. I think everybody with some sense knows Turner has given this program a better chance at success than maybe any of his predecessors the last three decades. I don’t think they need to come out to the public with a Vote of Confidence (those are usually the beginning of the end anyway), but hopefully behind closed doors they’re on the same page with their coach.

Maybe, just maybe, there are changes that can be made to make Turner’s job easier. Just off the top of my head, I’d hope we can find a way to make sure our 6A football coach is mostly just a coach, not also a bus driver, equipment manager, field crew (he and other coaches paint the field at Nunley Stadium each week) and laundry man. I wanted to ask Oakland coach Kevin Creasy, a multi-time state champion, Friday night when was the last time he had to drive the bus for his team to make it to a game or stayed until 2-3 a.m. to wash the uniforms.

I didn’t because I think I know the answers. Oakland is a 6A powerhouse – it doesn’t operate like a 1A school. Warren County is also 6A, but in enrollment numbers only.

Again, this is why the song resonated to me after the final loss of the season. If you’re one of those fans who thinks you could coach the Pioneers better than Turner on Fridays, also ask yourself if you’re willing to walk the many miles in his shoes and do all the things he has to do just to get to Friday.

There were times this year when I wondered what would happen if Turner was the one who was quarantined for two weeks and nobody else was. Could the Pioneers still function – could they even get a bus and get to the game?

Turner is on a different level of dedication.

I hope the players can buy in at Turner’s level too. There are 40-50 kids in a school of 2,000 students who are trying harder than of their peers to make the Pioneers relevant. And, without trying to agitate 40-50 parents, there are 3-4 kids who are trying harder than anybody else to really take this team over the top – who are on Turner’s level.

I’m over wishing that 100 kids would show up to Warren County’s practice and go all out every single day. It’s just not going to happen. What I realized last year is, if there are 15-20 kids who are all-in, then you still have a chance to make noise (It helps if one of those 20 kids is a one-of-a-kind talent; which, by definition of one-of-a-kind, means it’s not likely happening again soon).

Warren County should return a group of at least 15-20 kids (more like 30-40) next year with playing experience. The Pioneers should return their coach as well, although I doubt the full staff is back in the same capacities (it hasn’t happened in any of Turner’s years so far). And I’m guessing we’ll have much of the same administration as before.

Can everybody get on the same page before 2022? I hope so. They can – and should – start on Monday. We don’t have a single day to waste if we want to catch up to the best teams in 6A. Friday showed just how big that gap is – it’s not the size of the Grand Canyon, but it’s somewhere in the ballpark right now.

Turner has to assemble the right staff to lead these young men. These young men have to lay it on the line daily to get better (and stronger – so, so much stronger). And the admin – well, let’s start getting that track and stadium built at WCHS; that’s my goal for them.

Building Squad 54 starts Monday. And it starts at the top.

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