South Aiken head football coach Dan Pippin stays at school long after the final bell rings at 3:15 p.m.
Coaching the most demanding sport in high school athletics, Pippin keeps long hours this time of year to work in a profession he loves.
The downside: He rarely gets home to tuck 7-year-old daughter Leah in for her 8 o'clock bedtime.
"I spend more time with my football team than with my family," Pippin said. "That's the sad truth."
High school football coaches are more than what you see on the sidelines Friday nights.
They are teachers. They are father figures. They are maintenance workers.
During football season, most coaches work more than 80 hours perweek, and half of that time is devoted to football. And it's not all Xs and Os.
Coaches do laborious tasks like cutting the grass on a weekly basis and washing jerseys. They also have to keep up with paperwork, tasks like collecting physical forms before the season.
Behind the scenes, coaches are heavily involved in their players' lives. They counsel. They apply discipline. They keep up with grades.
All for a pittance.
"If you're in coaching to make a lot of money, you're an idiot," Richmond Academy coach Jaime Echols said. "I'd certainly take more."
Coaches earn most of their annual salary from teaching. For football, they receive an additional stipend.
In Aiken County, head football coaches earn anywhere from $4,572 to $7,620 based on the size of the school and their years of experience. In Columbia and Richmond counties, the stipend is $6,000.
Seventh-year Greenbrier head coach Mickey Derrick said he works roughly about 610 hours per year overseeing his football program, including spring and summer practices. Taking his stipend into account, he earns less than $10 an hour ($9.84).
"The majority of the coaches out there didn't get into it for the money," he said.
Fifth-year Glenn Hills coach Felix Curry said: "This being something I love doing, if I had the money, I'd probably do it for free."
The love of the game helps Curry forget about how many hours he puts in. He gets to work at 7 each morning and returns home by 8 p.m. Even at home, he's watching film for an hour. Curry takes no days off during football season, working a handful of hours on the weekend to prepare for the coming week's opponent or take prospects to a college
football game or make a highlight reel for his players.
"I'll be scared to count up the hours," he said. "The days come and go by so quickly. There's never a dull moment."
Coaches' lives are structured around football. As soon as school ends, players get dressed and coaches head to the practice field, where they usually run 2- to 3-hour practices Monday through Wednesday. After practice concludes, Pippin, in his sixth year at South Aiken, said he stays an extra hour to talk with his assistants.
Thursdays are usually a light day of practice, a walkthrough for the upcoming game. But there's the JV game to attend to assess personnel for the coming seasons.
On Fridays, coaches like Derrick stay at school until the game begins. Saturdays and Sundays are time to watch film and prepare a game plan for the coming week.
Pippin said coaches have to put in those kind of hours to be successful. Those who don't work hard, he said, don't run winning programs. That's why coaches work six, seven days each week without complaining.
"You get out of it what you put in it," Pippin said. "Both my parents work in factories. If I complained, my dad would probably hit me."
Coaches also have to assemble lesson plans for the courses they teach. Echols, for instance, teaches four biology classes with a study skills course.
"With all the time you devote to football, you can't cheat the kids in the classroom," he said.
SOME COACHES ALSO double as athletic director, which adds to the stress load. Silver Bluff's Al Lown, in his 13th season as head coach, has his plate full with administrative duties as well as teaching three psychology and sociology courses.
He arrives at school Mondays at 7:15 a.m. with a to-do list in hand. Lown said by week's end, that list doubles in size because of various circumstances.
During football season, Lown not only oversees his varsity football squad, but the junior varsity and middle school teams as well. Also, he looks after the volleyball, girls tennis and cheerleading programs.
For each of his teams, he has to create their schedules, arrange for transportation and game officials, and make sure he has people manning the gate.
In the meantime, he still has a football team to handle. He holds three-hour practices Mondays and Tuesdays and leaves the school at 7:30 p.m. On Wednesdays, he attends the middle school football game and gets home at 9. Thursdays, he's home at 10 after the JV game. On Fridays, he returns to his residence at midnight at the earliest, depending on if it's a home or away game.
Lown takes Saturdays off and gives his assistants the day off as well. But sometimes, Lown has to swap film with opponents.
The coaches spend six hours Sunday reviewing game film and planning.
The constant work schedule can be draining, Lown said.
"You get lulls," he said. "It's tough to stay up all the time. You do get run down. But you just have to keep driving on. If you go out to practice and the kids see you're tired, they're going to be tired."
COACHES FIND DIFFERENT ways to relax during the season. Lown vegetates in front of the TV on Saturdays. Derrick finds a different escape from the pressure.
His Calgon moment is when he's on top of the riding lawn mower cutting Greenbrier's practice and stadium fields.
"I enjoy it," he said. "It gives me a little time to myself to think."
Derrick could get one of his assistants to do the menial weekly chores. Instead, he'd rather let them work on the game plan for the upcoming opponent.
Also an athletic director, Derrick has administrative duties to go along with the three history classes he teaches. He has plenty of paperwork to keep him busy, but he also has to plan ahead for road football games.
When Greenbrier gets back to school early Saturday morning, Derrick will head home for a few hours, sleep and then return at 9 a.m. to meet with his assistants and players until 2 p.m.
Derrick then has free time to spend with his wife and daughter. He will go to church Sunday and eat lunch. Then it's back to the grind.
"I've got a family, too," he said. "The family is a lot more important than the football."
But in one sense, football teams are family. At Richmond Academy, it's more of a family than some players have at home.
Two years ago, Echols said 80 percent of his players came from one-parent or no- parent homes, and the number probably hasn't changed much today.
So he has to become a positive male role model in their lives.
"You want them to 10, 15, 20 years down the road be a better person, better husband," Echols said.
Like Echols, Curry hopes to make an impact on his players on and off the field. He wants his players to become good citizens and do things like "learn proper grammar" and give firm handshakes.
"If all a kid learns is the Xs and Os after coming through the Glenn Hills program, I failed my job," he said.
DIFFERENT COACHES FACE different situations. Some have it easier than others, but most all work just as hard to watch their programs and players succeed.
"Any coach hopes they make some impression on these kids to make them better," Derrick said.
Doing things right has its price, though. Laura Pippin said her husband grasped the reality of how much football consumes his life when their 18-year-old daughter, Amanda, went off to college during the summer.
"You always feel guilty as a parent," she said. "He realized how much time he missed."
Lown, who's married with a daughter in college and a son in high school, said it helps to have a partner balance family life. He credits his wife, Mary, with helping him.
"The key in my situation is to have a great wife," he said. "If you don't have one, you'll be sunk."
Coaches like Pippin take no days off during football season, but find time to squeeze in family. Sunday mornings, Pippin helps cook breakfast before church. In the afternoon, he plays game film for his family to watch.
Pippin just hopes his children (Leah, 11-year-old son McKinley and Amanda) accept his occupation and the time it takes.
"It's the same thing with any job," Pippin said. "I hope they do understand."
Laura Pippin said Leah and McKinley love what their father does for a living, despite spending limited time with him. Sometimes, she takes them to football practice just so they can see him.
"They think it's great; they're into it," she said. "I don't think they have any idea it's different for anybody else."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stipends per county
Head football coach stipends per county in the area range from $5,588 to $7,620.
- Aiken County: $7,620-5,588 (Class AAAA and Class AAA coaches, salary varies based on expericnce); $6,604-4,572 (Class AA and Class A coaches)
- Columbia County: $6,000
- Richmond County: $6,000
Sources: www.ccboe.net; George Bailey, Richmond County Schools; Brock Heron, Aiken County schools
Working all hours
Greenbrier's Mickey Derrick works as a head football coach more than just during the fall. According to Derrick, he works roughly 610 football-related hours.
Spring practice: 10 days x 3 hours a day = 30 hours
Summer: (8 weeks monitor voluntary weightlifting 1.5 hours a day) = 60
Summer practice: (2-a-days x 4 hours a day) = 20
Summer camp: (4 days x 7.5 hours) = 30
Summer practice: (2 days x 4 hours) = 8
Spring and summer total: 148 hours
Monday: (11 weeks x 5 hours) = 55
Tuesday: (11 x 5) = 55
Wednesday: (11 x 7) = 77
Thursday: (11 x 6) = 66
Friday: (11 x 9) = 99
Saturday: (11 x 6) = 66
Sunday: (11 x 4) = 44
Total hours: 610 (37.75 days)
Average per hour: $9.84
Minimum wage: $5.15
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