KNOXVILLE — Jeff Harig hasn’t kept his admiration for Sweetwater head football coach Mike Martin private.
In fact, he told his region rival himself how he feels.
“The biggest thing I told Coach (Mike) Martin is how impressed I was,” Harig, head coach at Loudon, said. “He’s got that program back in the right direction in that his kids really played hard for him last year. I think they really got on the bus and drove up to Loudon expecting to win.
“As far as Coach Martin goes, I’ve just got a lot of respect for him as a coach.”
Harig and Anderson County head coach Davey Gillum spoke with The Advocate & Democrat during KFOA High School Football Media Day on July 10, detailing what they have seen in their Monroe County opponents, plus what they expect this coming season.
Harig’s Redskins beat Martin’s Wildcats 37-0 last season en route to a 13-1 record. Loudon won Region 3-3A with an undefeated mark in region play, while Sweetwater finished in third place, sporting a 7-4 overall record and a 3-2 region mark.
Last season was a big one for the Wildcats, though, as first-year coach Martin led Sweetwater to a five-win improvement over the previous campaign. And his success wasn’t lost on Harig.
“(Martin) does a great job,” Harig said. “His teams always play hard and they’re well-coached. I think Sweetwater’s definitely a program on the rise. They had some good young talent last year. They’ve got a lot of players back. So we know as a program up in Loudon, Sweetwater’s one of our main rivals.”
Harig also spoke about Sequoyah, a non-region foe whom Loudon played last year. The Redskins defeated the Chiefs 56-7 in head coach Ryan Bolinger’s inaugural season.
“I think (Sequoyah was) really searching for an identity (last season),” Harig said. “And as a coach, you’ve really got to establish an identity. I think a lot of (Bolinger’s) problems were coming in new as a program, what is his identity going to be? What is the culture going to be? And then, do the kids buy in to it?
“I think there was some pushback from players. There was maybe some pushback from getting the players out and the talent out of the school.”
Harig knows what it takes to build up a program. He led the Redskins from 2002-2014 before leaving to take the head coaching job at Knoxville West. Two years later, he returned to Loudon and had to replant the roots he had previously sown.
“I know that (Sequoyah has) got a heck of a basketball team with some talented athletic individuals,” Harig said. “So (Bolinger’s) first steps obviously are going to be recruit the hallways, get the best players of the school out playing for football and establish his identity. It’s tough being year one of a coach to get that done. It takes something special.
“So I expect them to continue to get better as he establishes what his identity is going to be both on and off the field.”
Gillum can relate to Bolinger
Gillum has crafted a powerhouse program in his long tenure at Anderson County. The Mavericks have won double-digit games the past three seasons and are a combined 18-0 in Region 2-4A.
That success didn’t come easy, and Gillum can relate to region foe Bolinger.
“Every year is different in high school,” Gillum said. “Anderson County, I’ve been there 12 years and we’ve been building and things like that. That didn’t happen overnight. I’ve coached schools that were a little more rural, like Scott (County). So I understand the nature of building a program in that environment.
“It’s not the same setup as one of our Knoxville schools or one of the city schools in Chattanooga or even what I got in Clinton.”
It will be tough for Bolinger to build a team capable of threatening Anderson County, but Gillum has seen positives in his time coaching against the Chiefs. Anderson County beat Sequoyah 55-13 in the Chiefs’ final game last season.
“I think the (Sequoyah) kids always play hard and they’re always tough and those type (of) things,” Gillum said. “I don’t know what they’ve got coming back, so I don’t know what to expect. We always play them late in the year, so it will be a while before I get to watch film and really know what to expect from them.
“But I expect they’ll be tough and fight hard.”