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Time, patience are needed for improving prep football programs

building a program

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Not every building project is the same.

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North Augusta coach Dan Pippin has turned around South Aiken and the Yellow Jackets. North Augusta reached the state semifinals in 2010.   Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
North Augusta coach Dan Pippin has turned around South Aiken and the Yellow Jackets. North Augusta reached the state semifinals in 2010.

When Dan Pippin took over at South Aiken before the 2000 season, the Thoroughbreds' program was in despair.

With the team entering the season on a 29-game losing streak, any sign of improvement would have been huge.

"One of the first conversations with the booster club president was, 'Hey, if you guys just line up right, it'll be a good thing,' " Pippin said. "The expectations were so low. We didn't talk about winning because I wasn't really sure we could."

South Aiken started 2-0 in Pippin's first season and won seven games his third season. To Pippin and those with the program, it was like winning the Super Bowl.

Coaches such as Pippin, Butler's Ashley Harden, Cross Creek's Travis Nixon and Westside's Steve Hibbitts, among others, all faced a common challenge. What steps do you take to build a program?

These men all believe patience, a great work ethic, a strong coaching staff, good players and optimism are required to turn around a program. They also know coaches and their teams have to be visible in the community so youths grow up wanting to be a future player.

Stay positive

Hibbitts hopes to lead the Patriots to the state playoffs for the first time since 2005. In 2010, Hibbitts' first season at the helm, Westside went 1-9 for its worst record since 1973.

He knows coaches see the light at the end of the tunnel before the players, who might not recognize the growth until they start winning.

The losing can take a toll, as a few Westside players have either quit the team or transferred.

"I think it builds character when you go through a tough time, because that's life. That's a life lesson," Hibbitts said. "If you teach them to do that now, or say it's OK for them to do that now, then they're going to think it's OK throughout life."

Hibbitts believes success begins in the weight room. Another step is having a good staff.

In 2010, Hibbitts had coaches such as Ivory Hugee and Aaron Brodrick, who were determined to work. But other coaches were just putting in the time and weren't committed.

Hibbitts and his adjusted 2011 staff trust one another, but he knows it's necessary to not expect young kids to take big steps.

Use tough love

At Cross Creek, Nixon thinks working hard goes hand in hand with discipline.

As a first-year head coach in 2010, Nixon implemented many rules to bring maturity. Players were expected to tuck in their shirts -- both in the front and back -- pants couldn't sag, and the coach also ordered a mandatory study hall.

He wasn't afraid to send his message even if it meant sitting out his best players. Last season, Nixon even took away game quarters from a player every time he misbehaved.

Nixon believes the off-field problems stretched over to the gridiron. Defensive backs blitzed on third-and-35, and long drives stalled or even went backwards with offsides penalties.

The coach relates the task handed to him to raising children.

As a coach and father, it's his job to set parameters for children at a young age and teach them the right things to do so when they grow up, they do what's right as second nature.

In November last year, Nixon was still waiting for it to sink in completely, as the Razorbacks were 0-9 heading into the season-finale against Westside.

During a practice, Nixon was talking with his fellow coaches when he heard noise behind him, so he turned around. The coach saw the players going through warm-ups and drills on their own, without a coach there to give directions.

" 'What the hell is going on right now?' " Nixon asked his assistants. "Look at this. We just stood there, man. When I saw that, I literally got chill bumps. I said, 'Man, we're going to win, man. We're going to win.' "

Sure enough, Cross Creek ended its losing streak in a 25-6 victory. It was the most points scored and fewest allowed in a game all season.

Don't rush it

Not surprisingly, some coaches point to what happened at Butler last season as a sign sudden growth is possible.

Following a 41-game losing streak, the Bulldogs won their first five games and finished 7-3.

The quick improvement did not surprise Butler, which knew it had a chance to be good because the players worked hard for the upcoming season starting in December.

"There's so much that goes into a football program that isn't just 'X's and 'O's," Harden said. "Sometimes it happens quick, sometimes it takes a little while."

Pippin realized that at North Augusta.

After winning only one game his first year as the Yellow Jackets' head coach, Pippin and his team were down to Strom Thurmond at the half in the first game of the 2007 season.

Pippin knew he tried to do too much too quickly at North Augusta, and he remembers thinking he might need to look for a new job with his team down 17-0 to the Rebels. But players like quarterback Travis Murphy delivered in the 27-17 win, again showing improvement comes from talent, encouragement and hard work.

And time.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Hibbitts said. "I've heard all my life, they say Rome wasn't built in a day. Well, hell, a successful football program wasn't built in a year. It takes four to five years. It's a labor of love."

About the series

TODAY: Starting to build a football program

AUG. 14: Getting a program to win consistently

AUG. 21: Reaching a championship-caliber level

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