Blair Armstrong was hired last Tuesday to take over the Woodland football program, and for a community accustomed to coaches with local roots, Armstrong stands out as an exception in that regard.
He has spent most of his career in Florida, where he won a state championship with his hometown school in Jefferson County in 1982. He also spent 10 years in Georgia, most notably leading Peachtree Ridge to the 2006 state championship.
Armstrong sat down with the Leader on Monday afternoon, just hours before his first practice with his new team, and the conversation was a revealing one.
He talked about what it’s going to take to get Woodland football back to a competitive level. He talked about how he seeks out downtrodden programs (“I like to fix things that are broke,” he said. “I’ve never taken over a winning program, ever.”) and how his track record of success can continue in northern Randolph County.
He also shared his thoughts on just how important state championships are to the Chinese.
Here are some high points of Monday’s conversation with new Woodland head coach Blair Armstrong.
On how he can alleviate Woodland’s recent run of struggles
“The number one thing is relationships and trust. You can’t fool kids. They know if you’re sincere or not. They can tell that in five minutes. They’re a lot smarter than everybody gives them credit for. I’ve been around young people my whole life. I don’t hunt, fish or play golf. I do everything I can to help young people be successful, whether it’s in football or any sport or in the classroom. Some coaches, they hold it against a kid if they don’t play football. I’m not going to hold it against any kid. Everybody has different niches in life.”
On how he has fit in with the existing coaching staff
“I’m going to let the kids know that we care, and I think we have a staff that is exactly in my mindset. As I interviewed each one of them individually they all said the same things that I would say in an interview like that, about character and helping kids to be better men, be better brothers, better sons, better husbands and one day better fathers because of the things we teach.”
On the recent tragedy in the Robertson family in which 14-year-old Samuel was killed in a car accident and surviving older brother Dale is a Woodland senior
“I’m hurt and I don’t even know the family. Thinking about the boy that was driving, I don’t even know the details, but I don’t need to [to know] he’s going to be hurting. But he’s said he’s going to play, and I think the best thing for him is to be around his brothers right now. That’s the best thing for him.”
On his preliminary assessment of Woodland’s team
“I’ve watched them on film. They’re aggressive, they’re tough, they’re good kids, they’re country boys. There’s family here. They’ve got each other’s backs. But they’ve been beat down a little bit. Sometimes that dog that’s been beat down kind of cowers down a little bit, and he doesn’t really come out, but it’s in there. It’s in there, I can tell. When I watch certain things on film I can tell. It’s there. We just got to figure out a way to get back to that. It’ll be a struggle, but we’ve got great family and support system here.”
On getting kids to come out for football
“My point is, just try it. If you’re not happy and you want to step away from it I will not harbor any feelings. I will not go around and say, well, he’s not tough enough, he can’t handle it. It’s not about that. Just about any kid can handle it. I’m not going to put them in a situation they can’t handle.”
On coming into Woodland with no prior connection to the community
“I really don’t think that’s going to be an issue. They want to win, and they want somebody that’s going to help them get there. I think the biggest hurdle was me being able to get the job because I’m not from around here. I know as a head coach, when I’ve hired coaches in the past I’ve had letters from out of state or wherever. It’s not that that’s bad, but I don’t know any of their references. And I’ve got Freddy over here who’s from three counties over and I know half the people he’s got on his reference sheet. So I don’t even call that other guy. And it’s not because he’s not good. So I get that. I understand that out of state is out of mind, so to speak. They just don’t know. So the fact that Mr. Waites has given me this opportunity is huge.”
On finishing as a state runner up (which Woodland did twice last decade and Armstrong did in the first half of this decade at Hamilton County, Florida)
“Everybody has a negativity about being second. But it’s like I told them. You guys got to the dance. There’s 100-and-something other schools that are watching you right now on TV. They’re not down here. Plus 5.7 billion Chinese don’t even know you played, so don’t worry about it.”