By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor
Back in the 1970s, Tommy Barber earned his high school football coaching stripes alongside coaches who would go on to do great things in the sport — between earning Georgia high school state championships at the high school level, coaching at the college level, and earning Hall of Fame inductions across multiple sports.
Barber was even part of a state championship staff with Redan High (Ga.) before transitioning to his current position as Sports Attack football product manager. Barber recently joined FNF Coaches to discuss the state of high school football across the country.
What made you want to become a high school football coach?
“I was a college baseball player. When I got out of college, I became a high school coach. When you’re coaching in high school, you coach everything. So, I coached football, wrestling and baseball — even a little bit of soccer. I happened to be fortunate enough to be at the right schools at the right times with the right coaches. I coached at two of the largest, most competitive schools in the state of Georgia. We had major Division 1 players who were being recruited. The school — Southwest DeKalb — had coaches with 20 or 30 years of experience. They knew how to take care of players, they were technicians and inspirational figures. I was doing it all — coaching JV, cleaning the locker room, handling equipment. You do all of the jobs when you’re a young coach.
“It was an amazing experience working with young people who really knew what they were doing. In those days, we went from shotgun, to wishbone to splitback veer. There were all of these changes in high school football in the 1970s. We had great players and great seasons. Then, I went on to Redan High School, which was a really unique situation. All of the coaches were my age or younger. They were unbelievably hard-working. We won a state championship in my second year there at the highest level in Georgia. Many of the coaches on that staff became head coaches, some became college coaches, and some became athletic directors. I coached seventh and eighth grade, scouted, went to clinics, and did all of the things young coaches do. I heard Bo Schembechler and Lou Holtz speak and give their secrets. It was a great experience.”
What are you hearing from your former colleagues about playing football this fall? Are they nervous about the safety of the coaches and players? Or are they more worried about the mental health of the coaches and players if they don’t have a season?
“Exactly that. Here in Georgia, we’re practicing and planning on playing a delayed season. It’s so important for these coaches and players to be together during this time. When you’re having workouts and preparing for the season, it’s important to have a goal to shoot for. That’s so important. Some coaches feel this is the most important time in their coaching careers. They need to coach through adversity not knowing how many games they’ll play or whether there will be a season or not. I see on Facebook all of the young coaches are really focused on getting the kids ready to play. It’s the only way to do it. If it gets canceled like the baseball season, you have to change what you’re doing. It will be abrupt. But getting kids prepared is the priority for something as serious as high school football. They have to be full speed ahead, and we all pray that we’ll have that competition.”
How do you see the game changing as a result of the pandemic?
“I think the individual workouts are more important. What we’ve seen in our business is we’ve sold so many machines to NFL guys who didn’t have any idea when they’d be reporting to camp. We sold quite a few Aerial Attacks — and even some Snap Attacks — to NFL players for home workouts. They have to catch passes, punts or even snaps. If they’re not doing that, they’re behind when OTAs start. We’ve seen a shift from machines in schools to machines in the backyard. Where I live in Georgia, a local high school has a tight end whose father bought him a machine for the back yard. He’s a D1 prospect at a great program, and he realizes he still needs to catch passes in the back yard. We’re seeing a shift from home training from school purchases.”
What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk