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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, September 1, 2017

Jenkins Perspective: Pounders coach might have finally found home




Braswell

For the better part of a decade, Cortney Braswell was simply a coaching nomad.

Now two games into his second season as head coach of the Central Purple Pounders, he has already stayed longer at his current job than any of his previous seven stops. And he plans on staying much longer.

But Braswell, who included a stop in 2014 as Central’s defensive coordinator among his previous ports of call, took on his first head coaching job disappointed and a little discouraged at the way he found the program.

“The program was not in good shape. It was not the way we left it,” Braswell said this week after the day’s practice. “We left it in pretty good shape, with a winning record, two straight trips to the playoffs. But there was a coaching change that was a step back.”

Braswell was alongside Ryan Mallory in his only season as Central head coach, taking the Pounders to a 6-5 record and a first-round game in the TSSAA playoffs.

But Mallory, a first-year head coach who also taught English, felt the job took away from his classroom efforts and stepped down. That led to what many felt was a shotgun marriage between the program and first-year offensive coordinator Gary Bloodsaw, who had earlier filed a lawsuit against the Hamilton County Board of Education.

It was reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2014 that “an alleged part of the settlement was that if Central had a change in its head coaching position within three years, the job would be given to him.” 

Bloodsaw was relieved of his duties after one ugly, 0-10 season that saw Central fail to score more than 14 points in any single game. It was, as principal Finley King observed at the time, “the worst record in the school’s history.”

King adds: “It was performance and a lack of community support. Alumni, booster club members and parents did not like the direction things were headed. We were competitive in every sport but (football). (Bloodsaw) is a great man and a great teacher, and was a successful coach at the middle school. But middle school and high school football are quite different.”

Meanwhile, Braswell was far from the mayhem, having taken the job as defensive coordinator for Bradley Central, which enjoyed a 7-4 season and a trip to the playoffs. But his fondness for the players and the school made him reach out when the Central job came open.

“That was the first time I’d applied for a head coaching job,” he admits. “I was sort of a non-traditional coach in that I did not finish up my undergraduate degree until 2013. I’m not a politician and I’m not a fundraiser, so I wasn’t sure I’d ever fit in anywhere as a head coach.

“But as I thought about it, the idea of being a head coach fed that competitive edge.”

So, Braswell accepted the challenge of being the program’s eighth head coach over the last 17 seasons. It should have come as no surprise, as the former Baylor all-stater and Mr. Football finalist had built a helluva resume.

On the move

After high school, he went on to play at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, but returned home after the 2007 season and took a job as an athletic trainer working for D1 Sports. He also took over the business’ sales department and departed with it enjoying its most profitable year ever.

One of the schools that had employed D1’s services was Ringgold High, whose head coach, Robert Akins, knew Braswell well from their meetings on and off the field. One day, he expressed to Akins a desire to get into coaching.

“Basically, he said, ‘Come on down,’” Braswell recalls. So, the former player with no college degree came on board as Ringgold’s running backs and secondary coach and discovered talented veterans Martez Eastland and Matt Crownover among his protégés.

The Tigers went from 4-6 to 8-3, Eastland made all-state and signed with Ole Miss and Braswell’s secondary allowed only three touchdown passes all season.

Beginning a trend that would follow him for the next six years, his phone rang as soon as the season was over.

“Soddy-Daisy coach Kevin Orr called and offered me the job of defensive coordinator. It was a big step up, or otherwise I’d never leave Ringgold,” Braswell says.

The Trojans were 7-5 and went two rounds into the TSSAA playoffs. Braswell played a big part in is.

It soon followed that East Ridge head coach Mike Martin called on him to repair the Pioneers’ defense, and as its defensive coordinator, East Ridge went from allowing over 26 points per game to less than 15 per game. But Martin abruptly bolted from the Chattanooga job, having never sold his home in Sequatchie County, and Braswell was on the move once again.

He spent an enjoyable year as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and assistant head coach in 2012, with the Irish averaging more than 36 points per game en route to a 9-3 record.

But Braswell went through a big change of his own that spring – he got his undergraduate degree (history) at Dalton State. That allowed him to take on a classroom responsibility, and he would wind up at the big, new North Murray High School as a social studies teacher, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach to David Gann.

“Nothing around here compares to those North Murray facilities,” the coach acknowledges. “They’re incredible.”

But that proved to be a daunting commute, and in 2014 Central came a-calling the first time, making him assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under first-year head coach Mallory.

Following that season, Braswell would be named the area’s assistant coach of the year by River City Sports, leading to top-shelf assistant’s job at Bradley Central – another place he would have gladly stayed if opportunity had not called yet again.

Together in church

“The program had taken a step back, but knowing the kids helped,” Braswell recalls of the initial jolt he’d received.

But his faith in his players meant that he gave them the power to succeed. Much of the initial fund raising for gear and upgrades was generated by the players. Central’s program was already getting off the deck, its condemned visiting-side bleachers replaced by some quality stands, and player facilities would soon enjoy an upgrade, as well.

“The community as a whole is getting behind us now. But it started out with our kids,” Braswell remembers. “One of the first things we did was renovate our locker room. I tore it out to the walls. This year, we’re going to have a multi-media room with stadium seats, and it’s all on the kids.”

One of the first things that Braswell and the Pounders did as a team was attend church together. That led to a dramatic day of bonding right out of a Hollywood script and an amazing photo that was widely viewed.

“Every team needs to experience that – if it’s church, a movie, paintball … they are all just another way to stay close,” he says.

This summer, the bonding was raised a notch when the team attended a pro-style training camp at Appalachian State.

“Their’s is probably the most successful program to go up a classification they way they did,” the coach adds. “Taking our kids to practice there, to see what it takes to succeed, was valuable.”

In addition to costly trips such as the Appalachian State visit, the Pounders are enjoying the fruits of building a new weight room to go alongside their new locker room. All that takes money, but for someone who says he isn’t a fundraiser, Cortney Braswell is doing a pretty good job.

“People in the community will come up and say that they support us. I say support doesn’t pay bills, doesn’t fill our needs,” he adds. “Hopes and dreams don’t pay bills. Show me your support. Write us a check.

“Doing things the way I want them done isn’t always the quickest. It’s not the most cost efficient, and it’s not the easiest way to do things,” Braswell says. “I’m also not easy to work for. I know what an assistant’s job requires, and I’m pretty demanding of them.”

To that end, Braswell has new offensive and defensive coordinators this season. Todd Burkhart, who spent the three previous seasons at Walker Valley, is the Pounders’ new offensive coordinator, while Chris Moore came over from Notre Dame to run the defense. Another key assistant is Chris Cribbs, who is entrusted with the offensive line this season.

Looking to build on last season’s 3-8 record (which included an unlikely playoff game), the Purple Pounders pounded on Walker Valley in their season opener in the outstanding venue of Finley Stadium. Red Bank brought the program crashing to earth in Week Two, but a key region matchup with Sequoyah in week three enabled the team to regain its focus.

“You can win all the non-district games you want, and you’ll find yourself sitting at home in November,” he says. “This game is the most important game we’ve had so far.”

Braswell admits he has a hard time envisioning himself as a head coach, even as he’s learned to speak the Coachspeak that comes with the territory.

“If the kids are hungry, we don’t have to do a whole lot,” he offers. “But I picked up so many things from so many great people, I knew I had to try.

“I started feeling like a head coach the first time somebody called me up with a problem that wasn’t Xs and Os. When that phone rings at night, you know they want to speak to the head coach.”