The closer a high school football team gets to the ultimate goal of winning a state championship, the more the pain of a season-ending loss hurts. The best coaches are able to spin these losses as motivation for the following season. The biggest setbacks sparks the greatest comebacks.

Tony Vance knows something about handling adversity in his role as Hattiesburg (Miss.) head coach. Vance arrived on the job on Feb. 11, 2013.

That was the day after a monstrous EF4 tornado blew through Hattiesburg with winds of more than 170 mph, causing more than $35 million of damage, including much to the Hattiesburg High campus.

Vance kept his focus on the task at hand, and helped propel Hattiesburg to a gradual ascent to the stop of the state’s rankings. Hattiesburg’s record with Vance as head coach includes the following seasons:

2013: 4-8
2014: 5-7
2015: 8-4
2016: 10-3
2017: 14-1
2018: 12-1

Still, Hattiesburg has yet to finish a season with a state-championship win on Vance’s watch. He recently offered these 10 tips for overcoming the disappointment of a season-ending loss.

Take a week off.

“This year, we lost the week before Thanksgiving, so we had a week off. I gave them time to reenergize, focus and reflect on the season we had.”

Congratulate the players.

“The first thing we do is meet with players during their athletic period. I congratulate the guys and thank them for their service.”

Push the academics.

“They need to focus on the rest of the semester. I make sure they understand the importance of finishing the semester strong.”

Meet with seniors.

“We find out what we can do to help them continue their careers, if that’s a goal. I make sure they understand the importance of graduation and stress that that’s the No. 1 goal.”

Set a schedule for lifts and runs.

“If we have people moving on to other sports, I wish them well. I make sure everyone else is aware of our offseason expectations.”

Have a coaches meeting.

“We’ll address issues or concerns that any individual might have. Individual coaches will meet with coordinators.”

Pencil in replacement starters.

“As a staff, we’ll talk about candidates. We have to decide who we’re going to develop and who’s doing what.”

Share film with players learning new roles.

“We’ll tailor our players to the scheme, because we have a scheme in place that’s pretty flexible.”

Network with coaches outside of the program.

“We don’t think we have all of the answers. We reach out to junior colleges in our area. Southern Miss. is right down the street. We don’t have to go to clinics to get better.”

Set the tone as the head coach.

“We’re losing 22 seniors so the expectation is we might not be very good. Not being good is not an option. We’re going to be good. That message has to be clear to coaches and players.”

The Tony Vance Profile

Team: Hattiesburg High (Miss.)
Tenure: 6 seasons as head coach
Career record: 53-24
Accomplishments: 5A South State Championship in 2017, led the Tigers to their first Mississippi state championship appearance since 1998
2018: Posted second straight undefeated regular season, orchestrated offensive attack that averaged more than 54 points per game

About the author

Dan Guttenplan