Ashley Harden is out to change the culture of Butler football, and if he needs reminding why, all he needs to do is run an errand.
Butler's new coach has been around town, at places like Wal-Mart, he said, when it comes up in casual conversation that he's the new football coach at Butler.
"Nobody has anything positive to say," Harden said.
If Butler is looking for a clean, fresh start -- probably a good plan when you've lost 31 in a row -- it has someone to lead the charge in Harden, who at 29 will be the youngest public-school coach in the area.
Only one member of last year's coaching staff and about a dozen players will return, Harden said, and the thinking is Butler will have the rejuvenated spirit to deliver at least its first win since a 21-13 victory over Richmond Academy in 2005. All but one of those 31 losses have been double-digit defeats.
Harden, a 2003 Georgia Southern graduate (he did not play football there), was most recently a high school assistant in his hometown of Starke, Fla., about halfway between Jacksonville and Gainesville.
He used his vacation time to coach Butler's spring practice, staying with an aunt and his best friend from college. His wife and two young children planned to move here Thursday.
Harden will call the plays in Butler's Wing-T offense. He said he first knew of the school when he saw it play at a basketball tournament in Savannah, Ga. He marveled at the athletes.
"I always said the Butler job and the Josey job are good jobs to have," said Harden, referring to the two Richmond County schools that changed coaches during the off-season. "You've got the athletes."
Harden was surprised at the good attitude his players showed in the spring, because part of him didn't know what to expect. He has about 30 kids dedicated to working out in the summer.
"We have to get physically stronger; that's the first thing," he said.
Harden isn't setting an ultimatum for the team to win. He's sticking to another motto: control the dash, a saying he picked up from Florida A&M coach Joey Taylor at a convention in Daytona Beach.
It means, Harden explained, there are two things you can't control: when you were born and when you die. What you can control is what happens in between the dash on your tombstone.
If players buy into this, Harden said, it's up to the coaches to produce results.
"To them and to us, failure is not an option," Harden said. "They know it's not an option."
Butler opens its season Aug. 28 with a home game against Hephzibah.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BEATING THE STREAK
Butler's best chances to stop its 31-game losing streak this football season:
- Oct. 9 at Josey: Bulldogs' closest game last season was 42-30 loss to Eagles
- Oct. 16 vs. Westside: Butler's most winnable home game comes against a team that beat it 28-14 last year
- Oct. 23 at Harlem: Harlem will likely have a small Class AAAA team in light of Grovetown High's opening