SANFORD — Tom Paris knows what the Southern Lee Cavaliers have been through the last two seasons. And he knows those players will always have the stinging thoughts of one win in their last 20 regular season games stuck in the backs of their minds.
Some coaches entering a program following back-to-back miserable seasons might want to get as far away from those memories as possible.
Not Tom Paris. The new Southern Lee coach wants to use every last bad memory to his — and the players’ — advantage.
“They’re not going to forget the struggles of the last two seasons — the players are just looking for the opportunity for the shadow of doubt to resurface,” Paris said on Wednesday, a day after his hiring as the Cavaliers’ third new head coach in as many seasons. “Nobody wants to say ‘here we go again.’ They’re all worried about that.
“But we’ve got to use that to our advantage. They have to understand that if they want to avoid what’s happened around here the last two seasons, then they’ve got to do the work it’s going to take to escape it.”
Paris, a 19-year coaching veteran with head coaching experience, hit the ground running less than 24 hours after Lee County Schools approved the recommendation of his hiring. He was at Southern Lee on Wednesday as prospective Cavaliers’ athletes took physicals, meeting with several future players and potential coaching staff members.
Paris will also conduct a scouting combine at 3 p.m. on Monday, which will be followed by a parents meeting at 5:30 p.m.
No doubt about it, Paris understands that there is work to be done, and that it must get started right away.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” the former Richmond County, Scotland County and Hoke County assistant and coordinator said. “I’m not going to try to sit here and pretend otherwise. A lot has got to be done in a short amount of time, and it’s not going to be an easy task.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m excited about it. I think it’s a great opportunity to go into a place that does have talent, and hopefully rekindle a desire to go out and get the most out of it.”
Paris spent the last two seasons at Hoke County and coached Whiteville from 1997-2000, a stretch in which he twice led the Wolfpack to the state playoffs in a period before the NCHSAA went to a split-class tournament format. He is also an accomplished track and field coach.
But football is Paris’ bread and butter, and it will be for the Cavaliers’ players as well. Paris promises a fundamentally sound squad that will gamble only when the risk overwhelmingly benefits Southern Lee.
“We’re not going to try to beat people by wheeling and dealing,” he said. “I don’t believe in that. I don’t think you can be fundamentally sound if you’re moving and blitzing all the time.”
“Football is blocking and tackling,” Paris added. “We’re going to do those things very well.”
Personnel will dictate much of what the Cavaliers do schematically, Paris said, but winning football won’t come unless the players are accountable to each other for their actions and play on and off the field.
Make no mistake, Paris plans to instill discipline.
“We’re not going to have internal struggles,” Paris said. “We’re not going to deal with strife because of attitudes and egos.”
“As long as they are accountable to each other, they won’t have to be accountable to me,” Paris said. “And it shouldn’t take but a couple times for them to see that they rather be accountable to each other than to me.”
Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss was impressed with Paris.
“(His past principals) spoke very highly of his ability to work with parents and work with students to build programs,” Moss said. “When I sat down with Tom, he was very concerned about the overall program, not just football, but how we work with student-athletes and the qualities that make them great citizens, not just athletes. All of that was very impressive. He has a strong resume and I think he’ll do a wonderful job for us.”
Paris is planning on it, though he knows time is short with summer workouts and the first game coming on Aug. 20 at home against South Johnston.
But improvement can come together in a hurry — as long as the players realize the opportunity granted them.
“They need to step up and understand that they are instruments of change,” Paris said. “If they don’t want to do that, they’re going to be right where they’ve been the last two years.”
The players can keep that in mind, Paris said, because it is his first step to turning the program around.