What’s it Like Coaching at Many Different Levels?

Jake Evans talks to Taylor Burks for the last article in our ‘What’s it like…’ series. Burks is a long time football coach who has experience at various levels of play.

JE: What has been the biggest difference between high school and college football from a coaching standpoint?
TB: More concentration on the football aspect. It’s the same thing for a coach on the high school level, but you don’t have to work on keeping kids accountable as much, because you aren’t in the classroom in college. It’s more pure football coaching, but less influence in the lives of the players.
JE: What’s the biggest challenge of coaching a team with players from many different backgrounds?
TB: Most guys are pretty similar at the JUCO level. Just football players that didn’t make the grades, and need some structure in order to get it all back together. The coaches are there to help them sharpen their skills, then provide some of that structure to make sure that they work when they need to work.
JE: What is the most rewarding part about coaching football?
TB: Hearing back from players about the positive impact you had on their life. I got a message from a past player that I coached in high school. He told me that he never understood what I was trying to teach him at the time, but that he finally got it, and that he was thankful. That right there is what coaching is all about, not just the football.
JE: What are your different roles as a coach? Do they change at all when you coach different levels of ball?
TB: In high school, it’s all about trying to shape kids into not only good players, but good men. Many kids don’t have a firm support system, so teaching discipline and providing support is a big thing for them. In college, keeping kids in class, keeping the grades up so that they can be eligible to get to that 4 year school. Teaching some responsibility since most are away for the first time, is huge. Most kids don’t quite know how to handle that new responsibility yet, so being there for them in college is very important.
JE: Advice for kids looking to play in college?
TB: Go to as many camps and combines as you can go to to get your name out there. There are more than just that school’s coaches at every camp, and alot of coaches have a network that they work with, so coaches might throw a kid’s name around to a coach at another school that they know. A coach at a Tennessee camp might call a friend in another state and tell them that they have a great player that they should look into. For high schoolers, it’s all about getting your name out there as much as possible, showing out for as many people as possible, and keeping your grades in line, so that you can go where you want to.
JE: What is your football playing and coaching history?
TB: I never played college ball. My coaching history is long: EMCC 1993, Defensive and Film Coach; APSU 1994, O Line and TE coach; Dyersburg HS Assistant, Biology and Physical Science teacher; EMCC, Defensive Assistant, LB and DL Coach; Ole Miss 1996 with Tuberville, office work; Georgia Military 1996-1999, D Coordinator; Clearwater Countryside HS (FL) 2000-2002, D Coordinator, Earth Science teacher; Georgia Military 2002-2006, LB, D Coordinator; Centennial HS (TN) 2007, O Coordinator; Paducah HS (KY) 2008-2009, D Coordinator; East Literature Middle (TN), Science teacher, Asistant Coach; Hillwood HS (TN) 2013-2015, Head Coach; Oakland HS (TN) 2016-2017, LB and D Coordinator; Georgia Military 2017-present, LB and Special Teams Coordinator.
JE: What did you learn being a GA?
TB: I never played college football, so becoming a GA was difficult. Being a GA is a great way to see the raw side of the sport that you can’t get from being a fan. Seeing football in the everyday aspect is a great way for an aspiring coach to see if coaching is really for him and if it’s something he can do well for a long time.
JE: Is being a GA something you would recommend as a way to get into coaching?
TB: Definitely, it’s real tough to get into, especially if you didn’t play college football. I’ve bounced around so many times because of that, but it’s been worth it, because once you get a foot in the door like that, your name can get thrown around which helps you get to different schools.
JE: Most dissapointing thing about coaching?
TB: Seeing a kid not reach their potential. I have a kid who should be graduating in December of this year and playing major college football, but he screwed up in the classroom, and now that can’t happen. It’s the most disappointing to see a kid lose out on a major opportunity because they can’t work when they need to work. Even if a kid gets another shot later down the road, it’s rarely as good as the first chance they had.
JE: What are your thoughts from a recruiting standpoint on kids who begin to specialize and narrow their athletic focus early?
TB: Most coaches that I’ve been around don’t like it. Football coaches want kids to do all kinds of things, to breed their athleticism. Coaches love guys that wrestle, or run track, or play soccer. Being a great football player is helped by the speed, strength, and ability to be coached that a kid can get from other sports. Developing all types of athleticism like that just makes a football player that much better at what they do.

Jake Evans is a 19-year-old Integrated Marketing and Communications major at the University of Mississippi. Lover of all things Ole Miss, Predators, Titans & Braves.