Clark and Christian sat together at a table Saturday morning at the fourth annual National Football Foundation Mountain Empire Chapter awards brunch at the DoubleTree Hotel. The Indians’ past, present and future had come together.
“The culture at Dobyns-Bennett’s not broken,” said Clark, one of three recently retired coaches honored at the event. “Joey knows we’ve got where we’ve gotten because of great young men. Keep loving them and keep coaching them.”
Clark’s retirement becomes official at the end of the school year, and he said he’s likely to miss the action of game night when next season rolls around.
“We worked hard and we had fun,” he said. “A lot of people talk about pressure in high school football. Pressure is trying to pay off your credit card bills. I never felt the pressure on Friday nights like some people do. I always enjoyed Friday nights.
“My stomach hurt on Sundays and Mondays trying to figure out what to do.”
As anybody who has ever spoken to Clark knows, he’s always used humor as a way to let off steam.
“I guess that helps,” he said. “I can talk 30 minutes to a wrong number. I always tried to have fun.”
Clark had better keep an eye on his caller ID in coming months. The calls likely won’t be from a wrong number but from Christian, his former assistant who was promoted to head coach last week.
“I told him, ‘I’m going to ring your phone off the hook,’ ” Christian said. “I’ll ask him a lot of questions. There’s nobody that loves the city of Kingsport and Dobyns-Bennett more than Graham Clark. He will help in any way. I welcome that and I’m going to use that for sure.”
Clark’s coaching career spanned 41 years. He was head coach at D-B for 25 years, won 17 conference championships and made 25 consecutive playoff appearances. His career record, including two years at Chilhowie at Virginia, was 252-71. Now that he’s stepped aside, he’s happy to see one of his former assistants take the reins.
“I know he’ll continue to treat our young men the way they deserve to be treated,” Clark said. “He’ll continue to coach them and he’ll continue to be a part of their lives.”
Christian, who spent the past 15 years at D-B, said the transition has been hectic. Spring practice starts Tuesday and he’s just getting his feet wet.
“We’re just going to keep rowing forward,” he said. “We’re going to put our oars in the water and row the boat forward.”
Retired coaches joining Clark at the brunch were Sullivan North’s Robbie Norris and East Tennessee State’s Carl Torbush.
Randy Sanders, ETSU’s new coach, addressed the assembled players, coaches and families, as did Tusculum coach Jerry Odom and Emory & Henry assistant Eric Tilson.
Tennessee High’s John Scott was the top winner among the student-athletes, taking home a $1,000 scholarship. He plans to attend Tennessee and major in engineering.
Dobyns-Bennett’s Matt Diminick earned the second-place scholarship of $750 before heading back to Kingsport for a soccer game.
Other scholarship winners were Peyton Robinson of Sullivan North, Luke Phillips of Happy Valley, Parker Mumpower of Sullivan Central, Juliun Lane of West Greene, TJ Roberson of Cloudland, Hunter Rice of Unaka and Hunter Davenport of Hampton.
The foundation’s chapter awarded $3,800 in scholarships.
Longtime ETSU trainer Jerry Robertson received the Lifetime Achievement Award, former Tennessee High coach Greg Stubbs received the John Robert Bell Award and Doug Dellinger received the James Cradic Award, which goes to an official.
In addition, plans for a local National Football Foundation Hall of Fame were announced Saturday. The hall will be located at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center in Kingsport and organizers are hoping it will be open by the time the next football season begins.