Unknown territory: Coaches confused by TSSAA changes

Monday, July 27, 2009 at 12:00am
East Lit assistant coach Jerry Pigue (left) and head coach James (Bubba) Spears are still a little confused about the new TSSAA playoff scenarios. Photo by Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

Like many of his coaching cohorts around Tennessee, James (Bubba) Spears heads into this season forced to deal with a lot of unknowns.

Sadly, not all of those unknowns have to do with his team.

Not only is Spears heading into a first season with an East Lit High School team starting almost from scratch, he is looking at a brand-new playoff scenario that not everybody fully understands.

Asked how the playoff scenario works, Spears shook his head.

“I don’t know, and I’m not sure how many of the rest of us know either,’’ he said, sitting in his office at East Lit. “It’s kind of an unknown.’’

One thing each coach knows is that there are no longer five classifications — there are now six. Spreading things out means that in most districts, two teams from each district will automatically qualify for the playoffs.

After that, other playoff qualifiers will be sorted out by wild-card scenarios to fill out the six Division I brackets. And for that, the 5A and 6A classes, the 3A and 4A classes and the 1A and 2A classes will be grouped to form three classes during the regular season.

Are you following this so far? Spears admits the difficulty.

There will be more unknowns following Week 10 games [Oct. 30] than ever before. A huge amount tie-breaking criteria is expected to be used. It may be after midnight that night — fittingly, Halloween — before teams know their first-round foes and destination.

Scary, isn’t it?

TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress recently told The Chattanooga Times, “in (Class) A and AA, we could easily have 30 eligible teams for 24 spots. They can’t all get in. It’s like in college football when you’re ‘Bowl eligible.’ That doesn’t mean you’ll go to a bowl.’’

Spears is just trying to sort it out and stay focused on winning games.

“There’s a fine line in our district,’’ Spears said. “We just have three teams (CPA, Pearl-Cohn and East Lit) in ours who play football, and only our winner goes. If we had more, the top two would qualify.

First day for practice with pads at East Lit, and around Tennessee, starts today.

East Lit football is being revived by the energetic 52-year-old Spears, after the lights went out at old East High in 1986.

“It’s the second time I’ve been part of a coaching staff starting a new program,’’ Spears said. “The other time was when I was an assistant under Jerry Pigue when Hunters Lane opened in 1986.’’

In a reversal of roles after 34 years, Pigue — who was Spears’ coach when he was a quarterback at Stratford 1973-75 — is now an assistant to Spears at East Lit.

Last year, East Lit went 3-1 against varsity teams, beating Copper Basin and Franklin Classical twice and losing to playoff-bound Sequatchie County. They also beat Cane Ridge, a school that played just freshmen and sophomores, twice.

A full-season monster schedule now awaits.

Besides their 3-A foes, East Lit also plays Nashville’s 4-A teams — Maplewood, Stratford, Whites Creek and Lipscomb — the final four games.

“In all, six of our 10 opponents made the playoffs last year, and another one, Pearl-Cohn, won the region the year before, so I know they will be good,’’ Spears said.

East Lit will go into the season as one of Nashville’s big unknowns — surprisingly big numbers and some skilled players, but short in experience.

“We had 67 come out, and of that, 64 are still with us,’’ Spears said. He said the quarterback position is open among three underclassmen — junior Jasper Howard, sophomore Antonio McKissack and sophomore Chris Cartwright.

There are 12 seniors who played last year.

Those are the ‘knowns’ for Spears. Remember, it the unknowns that he and virtually every other TSSAA coach needs to worry about.


Stratford a hotbed for coaches

There are five Stratford High graduates, more than a third, who are head coaches in the 13 Nashville Metro public schools.

They include Spears, Richard Campbell (Hunters Lane), Dennis Moreno (Hillsboro), Arcentae Broome (McGavock) and Jason Smith (Stratford, his alma mater).

“That’s a pretty good representation,’’ Spears said.