There’s no secret to Jack Turner’s coaching success.
During head coaching stints at Pulaski County and Auburn, Turner installed a simple wing-T offense predicated on being able to run the football and being more physical than the opponent. That philosophy helped the new Carroll County head coach compile a 62-58 record from 2003-2009 at Pulaski, including an appearance in the Group AA Division 4 Semifinals in 2008. The same formula helped him take an Auburn program that had lost 29 straight games to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 2013-2015.
He believes Carroll County will be able to enjoy that same level of success on the gridiron with a renewed commitment to the weight room. It’s a commitment he has been pleased to see come from the top of the chain in Carroll’s school system.
“When I met (CCHS Principal) Chuck Thompson, we kind of meshed. I wanted to sit down and talk with them and see what their feeling was on football. That was the big thing for me. If you are not on the same page, there is no use in wasting each other’s time because I have got a way I want to do things,” Turner said. “I have a way I want to do things and you have got to be in the weight room, I don’t care where you are.”
Turner spent last season working as an assistant coach under Mark Dixon at Galax High School. There, his beliefs were further cemented.
“The kids at Galax haven’t changed in 50 years. What’s changed? Coach Dixon has got those kids lifting weights. They’re bigger, they’re stronger, and they’re more physical,” Turner said. “The kids at Grayson County haven’t changed in 50 years. Coach McPherson has got them in the weight room – bigger, stronger, more physical. Look at Glenvar, look at Giles – bigger, stronger, more physical. It is because of the weight room. You can X and O all you want to. You take over there (in Carroll’s scrimmage at Narrows), we only ran three plays Saturday. They were all inside. You’ve got to get bigger, stronger and more physical and that is how you build a football program.”
Of course, having great athletes helps. Turner said having great athletes will take one of his squads from a six- or seven-win club to a 12- to 14-win team. Regardless, it still starts in the weight room.
“That was the thing for me, that the administration said, ‘Okay, we are going to make a commitment to have those kids lifting weights – not only football players, but everybody.’ And when that commitment was made, I said, ‘Alright, it will take me a year, but we can win some football games,’” Turner said, noting Carroll County has implemented a “zero block” weightlifting class. “(Now at Carroll) they go during school. They go during the day. If we can’t do it during the school day, then I won’t coach football here because you are not going to win. Kids after school, they have got to go work, they have got to do this, they have got to do that, kids ain’t staying after school in Carroll County, Virginia. Not when you have other things, but it can be done during the school day.”
Having been with the program since his hiring in January, Turner said Carroll County is where it needs to be right now. The program is not ahead of or behind schedule, but right on track. The kids are still learning concepts and the fundamentals, but so far he has been encouraged with what he’s seen. In particular, he thought the Cavaliers made a good showing in the Narrows scrimmage against the Green Wave and Pikeview High School from West Virginia.
“We have a lot of improving to do. We did some good things and I was pleased with the effort. I think everybody was pleased with that,” Turner said. “But I think what we have got to do is correct the fundamentals of football. ..But the effort was great. I thought we came out and tried to play physical. I thought our conditioning was good, things that I can control I thought we did a pretty good job. But I was just proud of how they went over there and battled for two hours in heat. That was important.”
During that opening scrimmage at Narrows, Carroll was able to stick to Turner’s recipe for success. Content to eat the clock, get three-and-a-half yards per carry, and keep the ball rolling, the Cavaliers only had one play go for negative yardage. Carroll attempted two passes during the scrimmage. One went for a touchdown, while the other went for a loss on a sack.
“And that was my stupidity for throwing the ball. I can’t believe I threw it,” Turner said. “The only reason I threw it, it was the tenth and final play. Other than that, I would have never thrown it. You don’t keep the drive going. But yeah, three-and-a-half yards per carry, protect the football. I think that is a good recipe.”
Even though last Friday’s benefit scrimmage against Christiansburg was played like a real game, Turner said he planned to use it to get all of his players in so he could get true film evaluations of everybody on the team. The new Carroll head coach declined to get into position-by-position breakdowns for the Cavaliers in a preseason interview, noting there are many close battles that are yet to be decided.
“Our starting backfield against Narrows changed three times that week based on their performance in practice. If you don’t practice the way I want you to practice, you won’t play. It is a different way I do things and it is every day,” Turner said. “You have to win today. So for me to speculate on positions right now would be inaccurate because I guarantee you they are going to change this week in practice and then after Christiansburg because I have some that are very, very close.”
Even though Carroll has some experience back on the offensive line, he said everyone is still young because they are all learning a new blocking scheme. Defensively, Turner said the Cavaliers are still in the “trial and error” phase up front. The plan is to rotate players in and out of the lineup frequently.
“I always base everything on three. I want three inside linebackers, three defensive tackles, three defensive ends,” Turner said. “I want threes because if somebody goes down we have to have somebody ready. So in practice everybody is getting the same reps, that way we don’t have a drop off if an injury occurs.”
Turner inherits a Carroll County program that has won just five games over the past four seasons and has not had a winning season since 2010. There is still much unknown about this Cavalier team, but Turner said the desire to succeed is certainly not lacking.
“People have asked me what has shocked me the most about being over here, and I said the commitment these kids have had. That has been the big thing that has surprised me,” Turner said.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN