Monday, May 9, 2011

Why would Newsome leave Butler for Kannapolis?

Let’s say you’re a high school football coach. You went 31-0 the past two seasons, winning two straight state championships, with some of the best talent not only in North Carolina but in all of America. You won your last state championship game in a nailbiter – 44-0.

Why would you leave that job for another head-coaching job in another North Carolina town?

Because that town is Kannapolis, and that school is A.L. Brown.
What Mike Newsome is doing today – leaving the "31-wins-in-a-row" Butler dynasty to take over at A.L. Brown, which is a smaller school in a smaller place – may not make sense to outsiders but makes perfect sense to me.

If they filmed “Friday Night Lights” in North Carolina, they would film it in Kannapolis. Newsome, 39, told me Monday night he had never actually been to a Friday night football game at A.L. Brown, because he was always coaching in one. "I've only heard about it," he said. Well, he's in for a major treat.

Bruce Hardin knows this. The legendary high school coach now coaches Providence Day, but he spent 11 glorious years at A.L. Brown before leaving in 2000.

“The football game is the social event of the week there,” Hardin told me Monday afternoon, “and I say that in a very respectful way. People absolutely loved it. Everyone pitches in to really make the program work.”

Although the textile mill that long nurtured the town is now closed, Kannapolis retains that small-town, 1950s feel. In the late 1990s, I wrote a four-part series for The Observer about the A.L. Brown program, spending hours with the team and in the town. I left Kannapolis each time feeling a little like I had emerged from a time capsule when I got back on Interstate 85 and headed out – the whole place felt a little like the land that time forgot.

“There would be times,” Hardin said, “where I’d be putting out the padding on the goalposts at about 1:30 p.m. on a Friday. I’d see people already up at the gate, which was locked. I’d ride up there and say, ‘Folks, I’m sorry, but we’re not open, and I won’t have anyone here to open the gates until 6 p.m. They’d say, ‘That’s OK, coach, we just want to be the first ones in.’”

Sure, the Butler-Independence rivalry is big-time, but for my money A.L. Brown vs. Concord surpasses it in terms of sheer fan fervor.

In terms of sheer talent on the field, no. In terms of passion? Yes.

“People really care about football there, and that’s all the time,” said Hardin, who during his 11 years at A.L. Brown and also coached his twin sons Justin and Blair (now coaches) to very successful football careers. “Mike will need to feed that, and I’m sure he will.”

Unlike Hardin, who was both football coach and athletic director at A.L. Brown, Newsome will concentrate on coaching football and teaching science. He won't be the AD.

"That's fine with me," Newsome said. "I'll have plenty to do."