High School Football Preview: Smith, Harp know what it takes to win state titles

August 09, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Rival coaches Sam Harp and Chuck Smith may do their best to beat each other every season, but they do have at least one thing in common — they both know how to win state championships.

Smith's Boyle County Rebels have won five straight state championships and 25 straight playoff games, numbers unmatched in Kentucky high school football history. Even though Boyle had never won a state title until 1999, only seven schools have won more state crowns than the Rebels, and Smith is one of only 17 coaches to have coached in five state title games.

Harp's Danville Admirals have won seven state championships since 1989, and Harp is one of only four coaches to coach in eight state title games. Overall, Danville has 10 state crowns, the third best mark in Kentucky.

So what does it take to win state championships? What common denominators have their championship seasons had?


Not surprisingly, the rival coaches list many of the same reasons for their teams' success.

Assistant coaches

Both credit their staffs for the state championship trophies the teams have accumulated.

Smith: "We would not have won any state championships without the assistant coaches we have. They have to be committed and dedicated. They've got to believe the dream, too, and let the players see that."

Harp: "To me, the most important thing is the staff. If you have a good staff, which we do, then you have a chance. If you don't have a good staff, it's not impossible to win a state title but it is very difficult to do on a consistent basis."


Harp: "You have to have athletes. Can you win with average athletes? Possibly. But you've got to have those game-breakers that when things are on the line, they will step up. Good athletes make you a better coach. You've got to have a good nucleus of athletes that want to win."

Smith: "There's no substitute for talent. We have players that work hard to develop their talent, but some players are just natural athletes. You can help a player develop, but some things are God-given."

Team chemistry

Smith: "Some teams have talent, but lack things like administrative and community support and may just not have the right team chemistry. Good things happen to those who work hard. The harder you work, the better you will be. I've always believed that (team chemistry) and hard work can overcome a lot of things.

"That's why I give the players who were not on our state championship teams a lot of credit for our success. I tell them, and I hope they know that I am sincere, that they share in our championship success because they laid a foundation of good chemistry and hard work. If not for that, we would not have won the state titles we have."

Harp: "This is possibly the thing most people don't even think about. I've had some tremendous, athletic teams that didn't win championships because the chemistry was not right. We've had guys not get along, guys that were selfish. You can't win that way.

"You've always got to have great senior leadership. You can win also-ran games without senior leadership, but you can't win championships without a couple of guys who will stand up when it counts and not only make plays, but also make sure the team chemistry is what it should be."


Smith can think of a number of games where he feels the Rebels were fortunate to win during their five-year championship streak.

"We've had our share of good luck. I'll be the first to admit that," Smith said. "Things have fallen in place at key times. Sometimes I've had to pinch myself over some of the good things that have happened. You just hope your luck doesn't run out."

Harp views luck a little differently. He knows many feel the Admirals were "lucky" to win last year when Holy Cross gambled on fourth down deep in its own territory with just over a minute to play in the Class A quarterfinals. Danville held, scored and won the game.

"I prefer to call it getting a break," Harp said. "It was a break, not luck, that their coach made the call not to punt. But we still had to stop them and make a play to get in the end zone."

However, he does concede that avoiding injuries is good fortune a Class A title team must have.

"You have to stay away from injuries at a school our size," Harp said. "You do need some luck there. A key injury can really cost you. Look at Garrard County last year with their quarterback (Spencer Crutchfield) getting hurt. You have to be lucky enough to avoid those injuries."


Danville won its first state title in 1962 and Harp says success has only been measured one way the last 25 years at Danville.

"If we do not win a state championship, then we did not have a great year. We went from 1994 to 2000 without winning one and when we did, the newspaper headline said, 'Danville ends 6-year drought.' It was true, but I was thinking of all the schools that would love just to get there and win one. But we set one goal each year and that is to win a state championship. Anything less I don't necessarily see as failure, but a lot of people do."

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