The Turnaround – Stay the Course

by Jason Strunk
Lubbock High School Head Football Coach
Follow @WestTXCoach

Lubbock HS head coach Jason Strunk talks with him team.  Photos courtesy of Abby Reed Photography.

Lubbock HS head coach Jason Strunk talks with him team.
Photos courtesy of Abby Reed Photography.

The title of this blog is, “Stay The Course”.  You can apply that line, which I normally do, to rebuilding a program.  But, today I am applying that line to coaches fighting for a chance and trying to work their way up the ranks. It can be a hard battle.  It really, really tests your mettle.

I cannot even count how many times I was told I would not be a head coach.  The ones I do remember though, came from people I respected and that really stings.

Back in 2005 I was working as a DC at my alma mater, Northampton High School.  We beat a team on a Friday night that year, which had one of my own former coaches on staff.  This was a guy who coached me and now I was coaching against him. We shook hands and embraced after the game.  He congratulated me on the win.

The next day, it just so happens I bumped into him in a store. We talked about the game.  All is good.  No hard feelings.  At this point in time, we were successful at Northampton and my next step would be a HC job. I was going to explore some opportunities after the season.  I mentioned this to my old coach (who I had just beaten the night before) and he laughed.  He said, “you think you’re going to be a head coach?”  — that is exactly what he said to me and with a laugh.

I walked away questioning myself.  Then I questioned his motive.  Then I wondered if he was mad because we had beaten him?  Then I wondered what I ever learned from this guy when he coached me?  This really threw me for a loop. I mean, who the hell says that to a former player?  Who the hell laughs at someone like that?

I dusted myself off and added him to the “list”.

The list is on a yellow legal pad and it is titled “The List, Since ’76”.  I was born in 1976.  Somewhere around age 10 I started writing names down of people who doubted me at one point in my life.  It serves as my internal motivation to keep rolling and beat down the obstacles!

You can’t and you won’t keep me down.

I tell this to aspiring head coaches all over the United States: you will have doubters.  So what?  Use it as motivation and keep fighting the good fight!  If you want it, go get it!

Here is my path and what I had to do to keep the dream alive.

– Assistant RB’s/Kicking Coach Nazareth HS in 1996.  My first coaching job ever.  No money.  Just coaching.  Chris Gerhard was the HC and former coach of mine.  After my mom died, he became a second father to me.  He saved me from the brink of destruction.  Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Chris Gerhard started the path for me.

– Since I didn’t have a teaching certification, I worked during the day and coached football after school.  Coca-Cola during the day, football at night.  I really disliked this job!

– I ascended to a paid position on Gerhard’s staff at Nazareth.  Freshmen football and getting paid.  Nice!  First money made as a coach was in 1997.

– In 2000, Gerhard got hired at Northampton High School, as I said, my alma mater.  In 2001 I became HC of the fledgling middle school football program.  Wow! We had 3 coaches and close to 100 kids. Craziness.  We went 11-1 and I thought I was the next Bear Bryant.

– Still no teaching certification, so I had to pick jobs that would allow me to be finished early and get to the school to coach.  I worked as a sales rep for Snyder’s of Hanover (will never look at a pretzel the same way ever again).  I drove around in a big truck peddling pretzels to super markets while drawing up practice plans on cardboard boxes.  Awesome!  All I wanted to do was coach.

– 2003 Teko Johnson gets hired at Northampton.  He keeps me on-board and promotes me to DC within a month of knowing him.  Whirlwind.  This was the second event in my coaching career that really blazed the path.

– Its now 2003 and still don’t have a teaching certification.  Something must not have been clicking.  Now I was servicing stuffed animal machines, the ones with a claw where people try to grab the stuffed animal.  Yeah, what a wonderful job.  Here I am driving around with garbage bags full of stuffed animals filling up machines.  Probably the most humiliating job I have ever had. But, it kept my hours where they needed to be in order to coach.

– 2003 was a huge success for us on the field.  This was the first time I felt I could be a head coach. Rebuilding our program was a huge undertaking.  We did it and I could see where this could lead me.

– At the end of 2003, I opened my own business.  Distributed snacks all-over the area to supermarkets and businesses.  Made my own hours so I could coach, of course.

-January of 2004 I finally saw the light. I thought to myself — hey, get your teaching cert, so you can really make this a career. So it began in January of 2004. This is now a full time career.

– We had great success at Northampton from 2003 to 2007 in rebuilding the program, which they haven’t been able to do since Teko Johnson left.  I was a successful DC, thanks to Teko’s tutelage.  I felt I could go anywhere I wanted.

-I ended up at Muhlenberg College in 2007 coaching inside linebackers.  Oh by the way, I completed my student teaching assignment, while coaching college football.  Yikes — that was tough!  But, I did it because I wanted to be a head coach. Muhlenberg was great. Mike Donnelly, the HC, is one of the best in the business. We went undefeated and advanced to the second round of the NCAA playoffs.  Awesome year!

-2008 I am finally a fully-certified teacher.  So I packed up the family and took the HC job at Plant City High School, near Tampa, Florida.  I haven’t looked back since!

To all you aspiring head coaches, it took me  12 years to get there.  I worked ridiculous jobs to pay bills and coach.  I went back to college and continued coaching.  I worked myself into the ground.  Why?  I wanted to be a head coach and nothing was going to stop me.

You will have naysayers.  I say great!  Embrace it.  Prove them all wrong to get to where you want to go.  If you have a vision, see it through.  Mine came to light in 2008.  I’m still writing this story while in Lubbock, Texas.  It’s been a fun ride.  Embrace the suck and keep fighting.


I consider this journey FIO’d!

Read all of Strunky’s 2015 blogs here.

The views and opinions expressed in The Turnaround are those of the author, Jason Strunk, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of High School Football America.[subscribe2]

About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.