A Family Affair

Area Coaching Pairs Talk Family & Football

 

More times than not, football is a game passed down for generations. Adoration for the sport grows with each family member who shares in its glory. Whether it’s fathers teaching their sons the lay of the land or brothers duking it out on the gridiron, football does more than teach valuable life lessons; it can also serve as a foundation for bonding. Here, we chat with six pairs who are actively coaching in the area about how football has further strengthened their relationship with family now that they both share the sideline. 

Photography by Rich Smith

Gary & JT Rankin

Boyd Buchanan

 

Although this pair has yet to test out their coaching chemistry, if the off-season is any indication, it will be nothing less than incredible. Working together for a mere five months, head coach Gary Rankin has enlisted the help of his son JT to make sure his players are in top-notch shape. While JT’s role as strength coach is more so carried out in the weight room rather than on the field, the duty falls on him to set the tone for discipline and dedication while preparing players for the toughest of matchups. Leading with a display of mutual respect, the Rankins are looking forward to taking their program to the next level. 

 

How has coaching together impacted your relationship?

GR: Not sure yet. Time will tell, but I’m positive it will be a smooth and affirmative relationship.

JTR: So far, it has allowed us to spend more time together directly and indirectly throughout the school day and into the summer, which is rare for a lot of people in the coaching business as their careers usually take you away from family, and not toward them. It’s nice to have him around just for the day-to-day experiences of life.

What are some of the pros and cons of coaching alongside family?

GR: JT knows my strengths and weaknesses and how competitive I am. The pros are he is very good at what he does. A con is I doubt I could fire him since I live with his mom!

JTR: A pro is shared success, while a con is shared failures.

What are some unique things or perspectives that your dad brings to the team?

JTR: Dad brings the uniqueness of being the winningest coach in the state of Tennessee, so that creates a lot of initial buy-in from the athletes in terms of creating a winning standard and culture both in the off-season and in-season in terms of things like effort, discipline, and accountability.

Are there any valuable lessons you’ve learned from your dad since working together?

JTR: Be organized and always work efficiently. Don’t work just to work; they don’t hand out championship rings for that.

Does having your son on staff allow for a better work-life balance? 

GR: For sure! Every coach that I have worked with over the last 35 years knows how I feel about work-life balance – there is plenty of time in this profession to be both a great coach and a great family leader!

Personally and professionally, what are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

JTR: This is our first season together, so I am looking forward to seeing the growth of the football program and being a small part of the success that will come from the 2022 season.

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Todd & Chad Murray

Southeast Whitfield

 

For Todd and Chad Murray, football is more than just a game – it’s a way of life. Growing up with a father as a coach, these brothers have had a lifetime of experiences that have prepared them for their current roles at Southeast Whitfield. Chad coached at Southeast for a decade beginning in 2002 and returned in 2017 to lead as defensive coordinator. Todd, meanwhile, has been coaching at Southeast for 19 years and is entering his third year as head coach. Together on the sideline for 15 years, this dynamic duo continues to complement each other’s coaching styles and lead by example.

 

How has coaching together impacted your relationship?

CM: We have become closer as a family. We are able to complement each other in all facets of the game, and we are always on the same page. 

What are some of the pros of coaching alongside family?

TM: We are able to know what each other is thinking before anything is ever said, and our families get to be together more with us working at the same school. 

What are some unique aspects that your brother brings to the team?

CM: We have been around the game of football for all our lives. Our father was a football coach for well over 30 years, and we have grown up with the shared perspective of a coach’s son. We have understood since a very young age the amount of time and energy needed for developing a program. Todd has been at Southeast his entire coaching career. He has great knowledge and passion for the community in which we serve.  

TM: Chad brings a great deal of experience. He has coached at some other local schools and has ideas from those schools that I may not think of.

In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that make a good coach?

CM: 1) A willingness to help, 2) energy and passion, and 3) the ability to teach and build relationships. 

TM: 1) Relationships: You must build a firm relationship with your players before they will trust you to teach them the game. 2) Be a student: Always be eager to learn more about the game to improve your coaching abilities. 3) Passion: You must have passion for the game and a willingness to help anyone in the program achieve their goals.

Does having your brother on staff allow for a better work-life balance? 

TM: Yes, we work very well together. This helps the balance when we are not at work. We can turn work off and just enjoy our family time as well.

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Wilson & Brad Benefield

Cleveland

 

Although only coaching side-by-side for two years, Brad and Wilson Benefield bring a wealth of coaching experience to the field. Whether it be from other sports, such as wrestling where Wilson got his start, or from other schools like the ones Brad has called home, these varied experiences make this father-son duo a force to be reckoned with. Brad was first brought on to the program in 2009 as a defensive coordinator and is now a wide receiver coach and specialist coordinator, while his son Wilson makes sure the team’s tight ends, long snappers, and holders are in tip-top shape. Regardless of which Benefield you’re being coached by, you can be certain that a love for both the players and the game is a driving factor. 

 

How has coaching together impacted your relationship?

BB: I coached Wilson in high school, and I had some good advice to keep Coach and Dad separate. Now, I feel like much more of a mentor to him professionally and give him advice on how to handle situations. We sometimes discuss Xs and Os, but I try to keep the two worlds separate.  

Is your relationship on the field similar to your relationship off the field? 

BB: Well, the funny thing is he actually is more attentive on the field than he ever was at home. It has given us the opportunity to know one another as men as well as father and son. I have a new perspective on the respect that I have always had for him. 

What are some of the pros and cons of coaching alongside your dad?

WB: The main pro would be having that familiarity with each other and being able to get onto the same page very quickly. A con would be him knowing that I know how to do certain things, such as fixing helmets, and asking me to do those.

What are some unique aspects that your dad/son brings to the team?

BB: Wilson is an excellent relationship builder. I often say that he will be twice the coach I am because he is so good at creating those relationships.   

WB: He brings tiers of experience and great attention to detail. He’s always making a point to make connections with his kids and figure out the best way to coach them.

Are there any valuable lessons you’ve learned from your dad/son since working together?

BB: Your players can respect you as a coach and a friend. I may be too old for that though!

WB: He’s taught me that I don’t always know everything and to be open to learning from someone else.

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Tanner & Chase Harvey

Sale Creek

 

From teammates to colleagues, Chase and Tanner Harvey are proving that a veteran status isn’t necessary to be an impactful coach. Both brought on staff within the last four years, the Harvey brothers are looking forward to their second year of coaching together and are even so close in age that they played on the same football team when they were both high schoolers at Sale Creek – Chase serving as a senior fullback while Tanner was a freshman quarterback. Now in their early 20s, this pair is finding success in becoming not just a coach, but also a friend to those they are leading. 

 

How has coaching together impacted your relationship?

CH: It has brought us closer. Now that we are coaching together, it seems to be just like it was back in high school except we no longer have to ride to practice together or pass each other in the hallways. We have to communicate on a different level compared to what we did as players. 

TH: We became used to pursuing the same goals on the football field when we played together. We still pursue the same goals of excellence for the program, but now it’s not just our efforts on Friday nights that matter the most. We have to strive together the other six days of the week to have the kids ready to play every down from whistle to whistle. 

Is your relationship on the field similar to your relationship off the field? 

CH: I would say it is. We have always loved the game and helped each other get better. We knew what each other was likely thinking on the field, and now even in coaching, we can usually guess how the other would approach a situation. This gets very annoying playing Madden together because he knows my every move.

How do your roles differ?

CH: I coach the defensive line and running backs, and Tanner coaches linebackers and quarterbacks. However, we both help out wherever we are needed. We love this program and will do anything to see it prosper.

What are some unique things or perspectives that your brother brings to the team?

TH: Chase is a similar age demographic to what the kids are. He is 24 and these kids are roughly 14-18 years old, which allows him to relate to things that the kids deal with. They also are able to see Chase as more of a friend when need be, and he is able to see things as they do and can explain things, which allow for clearer understanding both on and off the field.

Does having your brother on staff allow for a better work-life balance? 

CH: I think it does. We both go do our own thing and usually don’t see each other for the first time until practice. 

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Drew & Robert Akins

Walker Valley / Ringgold

 

With 44 years of coaching experience under his belt, Robert Akins has been serving as a role model for his son Drew for decades. The duo might not be sporting the same school colors, but their unwavering support for one another is evident, and their shared coaching philosophies have created a unique bond. Both serving as head coach, Robert and Drew continue to learn as much as possible from each other and are a beacon of positivity for their respective programs. 

 

How has coaching impacted your relationship?

RA: Drew and I have always been close, but both being head coaches, we have some commonalities with things that only head coaches feel. I am so very proud of him for being a great influencer of young men.

DA: I was blessed to play for my dad at Boyd Buchanan. During that time, I learned so much watching him lead our team. When I became a coach, my dad was a great resource. I remember often calling him and asking for encouragement and advice or sharing my disappointments and celebrating together after huge wins. We talk after every Friday night game, and Dad’s score is always the first one I look for after our game is over. 

What are the pros of having a dad who serves as a coach?

DA: I think the pros are simply having somebody to call and ask for advice or share frustrations with. Dad has always been a great mentor both as a father and as a fellow coach. He has done it for a long time and has done it better than most around this area. There’s nothing better than coaching a game on his off-week and having him there to watch or going down to his game on my off-week to watch him. 

Are there any valuable coaching lessons you’ve learned from your dad/son?

RA: Just seeing Drew’s dedication to the game and how he prepares his players for life gives me the inspiration to fight harder for our players.

DA: Coach your players hard and love them harder. This is the number one thing I learned from Dad.

Have your schools ever played each other? 

RA: Just in 7 on 7s, which means nothing in the big scheme of things, but we still beat him … barely.

What’s your favorite coaching memory?

RA: It was winning the state championship in 2003 with Drew at quarterback. I also won a state championship in Alabama in 1983 with great kids and made it to the Final 4 here in Georgia in 2013 with great kids. I have great memories of every year because of the kids though!

DA: I think together it would be winning the state championship with Dad as my coach. We have never gotten to actually coach together, but that was a great experience for us.

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James & Drew Manning

Ooltewah

 

If you ask James and Drew Manning what legacy they want to leave in regards to Ooltewah’s football team, they’ll likely tell you that they want to be known for treating everyone – not just each other – like family. James joined the team in 2017 as a volunteer assistant and quickly became proficient in all things operations, while Drew joined a year later to lend a hand with shaping up the program’s linebackers and punters. Now, James is entering his second season as head coach, but the support of his brother is never far away. While the Manning duo may have historically been on opposite sides of the ball, they strive to teach those who look up to them that compassion, not competition, is where true success lies. 

 

How has coaching together impacted your relationship?

JM: We grew up sharing a bedroom and we were roommates in college, so we have been together for most of our lives. Coaching is just another avenue for us to be around each other.

Is your relationship on the field similar to your relationship off the field? 

DM: At practice, we are focused on the kids. We are there to make them better men and better players. Off campus, we talk football, but not in great detail like most would think.

JM: I think it is in some ways. We were both able to complete four years of college football at Carson-Newman, so we know how important athletics can be for some of our kids at Ooltewah. We really sell out for them in everything we do. I also think it can be very different. I played mostly offense in high school, while Drew was always a linebacker, so we each have different experiences that we bring to the table.

What are some of the pros of coaching alongside family?

DM: Pros are just that. Family. We try to instill in the kids family values – an “I have your back, you have mine” mentality. I believe seeing that within the coaching staff helps the players a lot.

JM: It’s great getting to spend extra time with my brother coaching a game that we both love. With us both coaching at the same school, on Friday nights our whole family is able to be a part of our program. After games, I get to see my parents, brother, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

What are some unique things or perspectives that your brother brings to the team?

DM: Everything James does for OHS is with a “kids first” mindset. He got the program at a low point in Ooltewah’s rich history, but he’s got a chance to build a strong foundation of good values. 

Are there any valuable lessons you’ve learned from your brother since working together?

DM: I don’t get to spend a lot of time with him at practice or on game day, but win or lose, he’s going to come back to meetings on Sunday and give everything he’s got. It’s impressive to watch.

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