Andy Reed: Blue Devil issues go deeper than weights

Andy Reed • Jan 2, 2016 at 10:30 AM

Bob Lea stirred up a hornet’s nest last weekend by posting a photo of discarded weightlifting equipment and saying “this is a prime example why” it’s been so difficult to rebuild Lebanon High’s football program.

His Facebook post continued by blasting the Wilson County school board for not selling or donating the equipment, which was in the weight room in the old LHS building, back to the school.

Board chairman Larry Tomlinson responded on his Facebook page by saying all of the usable equipment had been taken by LHS, its county feeder schools (though not offered to those in the Lebanon Special School District) and others in the county who wanted it and what was left was broken and unsafe, thus the decision to send the old equipment to the scrap yard.

Lea was the winning quarterback in Lebanon’s first win over Mt. Juliet (in 1978) since the series was revived in ’77 and has served as radio color commentator for LHS since the 2006 death of longtime announcer Clyde Harville.

Tomlinson has, more on than off, served as public address announcer for LHS football games since George Harding stepped down more than two decades ago.

They’ve shared lots of time in LHS press boxes – at Nokes-Lasater Field and Danny Watkins Stadium – on fall Friday nights.

I know them well enough to know they both want the same success for Blue Devil football. But their Facebook postings, both of which were followed by many “Amen, brother” comments, reveal a lot of what’s wrong with it as well.

It’s a complicated matter, but as I see it, there’s a lack of leadership. Not with the team itself under coach Sam Harp, but with all of the constituencies connected with the program – fans, parents, alumni, school administration and booster club. Just about everyone has opinions on what needs to be done, and many of them are right.

But just as players have to work together to achieve their common goal under the direction of their coaches, it would help if their fans could do likewise.

“We need to pull together” is such a trite phrase I normally cringe when I hear it. But I’ve decided it’s the answer here.

Nine decades of Lebanon Blue Devil football has ingrained itself within different factions of this community in different ways. One generation says Clifton Tribble is the greatest Blue Devil player ever and the next believe he is its greatest coach. A later generation maintain Mark Medley hung the moon when it comes to LHS football.

In short, there is no single face of Lebanon High football for a majority of fans to identify with, not like it is with the Satterfields in Trousdale County or Calvin Short in Gallatin. At the college level, Bear Bryant is still the face of Alabama football for many even though he died over three decades ago. Old UT fans still revere General Neyland. Despite the way his tenure ended, Penn State is still synonymous with Joe Paterno.

Not that those coaches, or Medley and Tribble, didn’t have their critics, they did. All coaches, no matter how successful, have them and have to deal with the political issues (and not just with the school board). But the really successful ones are able to rally the different factions of his team’s supporters behind him and sell them on his leadership.

If Harp had won his seven state championships (from Danville, Ky.) here, he would be that face. As it is, he’s found the same obstacles most of his predecessors have encountered and is having the same struggles. And while he still has support from a good percentage of Blue Devil Nation, being in his early 60s (and seems fitter and more energetic than most folks a generation younger), probably won’t be at LHS long enough, even if he eventually makes the program a winner, to become that long-term face of the franchise.

Meanwhile, Blue Devil football supporters, both long-timers and those who’ve come aboard recently, are trying to do what they can to help the program turn the corner. I’m sure most of them have the best of intentions, but there doesn’t seem to be that leader with the personality who can command the respect of all the factions and sell them on his vision of what needs to happen.

Ideally, it should be the coach. But coaching teenagers who want to play football is the easy part. Guiding a group of adults you have no real authority over is a lot more tricky, and quite frankly, not a lot of people have the ability or skills (I’m not sure f this is a learned skill or a natural talent) to pull it off.

A longtime LHS observer/former player once told me it’s hard enough to win when everyone’s for you.

Left unsaid is it’s impossible when your constituents are pulling you and your program in 500 different directions.

Bob Lea is right in saying “this is a prime example why” it’s been so difficult to rebuild LHS football.

But it has nothing to do with weightlifting equipment.

Andy Reed is The Democrat’s sports editor. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @wilsoncosports.

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