Walking up to sign his son in for one of the physical exams given by Southern Lee High School on Wednesday, a Cavaliers football parent summed up the previous 24 hours succinctly — and perfectly.
“Well, let’s see if we’re on the right track,” he said.
Inside the Southern Lee gym, milling about to at once meet future players and their parents as well as size up potential members of his coaching staff, was freshly minted Cavaliers coach Tom Paris, who at dusk only the day before had been named as Southern Lee’s third head coach in as many summers.
It’s been a whirlwind 2 1/2 years since Southern Lee stunned conference champion and No. 2 seed South Johnston in the state’s biggest upset of the first round of the playoffs. Mounting losses have gone hand-in-hand with abuse allegations and he-said, she-said bickering since the program’s signature moment.
Caught in the crossfires have been the student-athletes who were once considered the foundation of a burgeoning program on the rise. With the constant chaos enveloping them, who could blame these kids for allowing football to take a back seat in their lives?
One victory and two removed coaches now two years later, Southern Lee finds itself at a familiar crossroads again. A new coach is saying all the right things, parents seem willing to give the new guy a chance and a scouting combine has already been scheduled less than a week after the new hire.
So then, where does everybody go from here?
Good question, and one that will only answer itself in time. Because if there’s one thing that can be learned from the past two years, it is that no one can predict with any kind of accuracy what exactly is going to happen in regards to Southern Lee football. So there is no use in even trying.
Events will unfold, and considering what the program has been through the last 24 months and 20 regular season games, one thing we can all probably bet on is that there will be struggles before there will be celebrations. That’s part of the rebuilding process, and to think Southern Lee will avoid some tough days ahead is naive.
Like last season, the Cavaliers’ success on the gridiron is not likely to be gauged by the won-loss record. Maybe, though, part of it will be. No doubt that is a best-case scenario. No team wins big without having first won a little, and winning a little right now would be huge for Southern Lee and everyone involved.
That’s not the point right now, though.
The point is that Page 1 of Southern Lee’s latest new era must begin immediately. Vitriol has been slung with little regard for personal feelings among many different parties over the last few months — and years. There has been rampant criticism, the usual skepticism, and, perhaps at times, a lot less realism than the time period has called for.
Is Tom Paris the right man for the football job? No one can say for sure right now. Judging by the amount of work that needs to be done, even Paris said on Wednesday he felt a form of anxiety about the whole thing.
Considering what the program and the community most closely associated with it has been through over the last couple of years, it’s actually endearing to hear a little honesty like that.
But to get honesty on a consistent basis, one must have trust. Trust is the bedrock of all things we do in conjunction with another in life, even those as basic as blocking and tackling on a football field. Paris seemingly coaches under a trusting philosophy, saying that the players must understand that they are accountable to each other first, and that the coaching staff will be accountable to them through preparation.
Trust, of course, is only tested under adverse conditions, something Southern Lee football has already had far too much experience with, much of it outside of the locker room. More importantly, it is something that can only be earned over time.
And trust has been fleeting at Southern Lee. Constant change will do that.
“I’m disappointed that we’ve had to hire another football coach,” said Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss on Tuesday after Paris’ hiring. “I think the deal with any program, whether it’s an academic program or to have a solid school, you need consistency. And a revolving door is never what you want in any program, whether it’s in the classroom position or in a coaching position. From that standpoint, I’m hopeful that Tom will stay with us and build the program.”
Moss is right. And on the surface, it seems like such an simple equation.
We all know it isn’t.