ROSS PROVES THE DOUBTERS WRONG
McGill-Toolen coach Caleb Ross
THE PREVIOUS HEAD COACH, BART Sessions, went 34-5 in three seasons before resigning in June of 2014, so fans of McGill-Toolen (Ala.) expected immediate results from Ross.
“The previous head coach was also the defensive coordinator, so I didn’t get someone on campus to replace him until the middle of July,” Ross said. “We graduated 18 seniors from the previous year. It was a head-spinning type of deal. I knew we weren’t going to be as good, but I didn’t think we’d be 4-6.”
Ross came back in his second season and made the program his own, altering the offseason training program, overhauling his coaching staff and tweaking his offensive and defensive schemes. Those moves had positive results across the board as he led McGill-Toolen to a Class 7A title – the school’s first-ever state championship.
“There were doubters, but it was all from the outside,” Ross said. “When you have losses, people want to lay it on somebody. It came down on me, but we knew we had a chance to be good this year.”
Ross credits his offseason strength program for changing the culture of the team. With tire flips, medicine ball training and relay races, the team bonded off the field before they gathered for preseason workouts in July.
“The players saw that our offseason stuff worked,” Ross said. “Now the kids have had success, and they have that confidence. Now, it’s about trying not to get complacent. We can’t live off that success.”
ROSS DIDN’T HAVE A hard time selling his 2015 team on the fact that it could rebound from a 4-6 season in 2014.
“It wasn’t like we had multiple bad years in a row,” Ross said. “We had 10 to 12 very successful seasons, and then we had one tough year. So, it was easy to get them to believe they could be winners again.”
Ross’ message was reinforced at the 2015 spring game against Hoover, when McGill-Toolen jumped out to a 21-7 lead and eventually tied 21-21.
“That ended up being the best thing we did,” Ross said.
McGill-Toolen did not make the playoffs in 2014, prompting Ross to seek out a new defensive coordinator. He brought former Greenville High head coach and Spanish Fort assistant Earnest Hill out of retirement to replace Rick Chancery.
McGill-Toolen held opponents to 10 points a game in 2015, and went undefeated against Class 7A opponents.
“Earnest Hill was going to enjoy being retired and I talked him into coming back,” Ross said. “What a job he did.”
McGill-Toolen beat Spain Park 14-12 in the Class 7A title game.
There were several signs of a turnaround during the offseason. In addition to outplaying Hoover in its spring game, McGill-Toolen went 23-4 during 7-on-7 competition last summer. McGill-Toolen returned 16 starters – many of whom were juniors.
“I thought we had a chance to make the playoffs and get better throughout the season,” Ross said. “Did I know we’d win a state championship? I don’t know. I thought we had a chance to be special. The players hated losing, and they changed the culture that offseason.”