By the numbers, Graham Clark’s coaching career compares favorably with anybody in Northeast Tennessee football history.
Under Clark’s watch, Dobyns-Bennett has racked up 12 double-digit-victory seasons. That’s an impressive feat in a sport that allows only 10 regular-season games.
In his 20th season, the Indians are 9-0 and one win away from adding to that total. To get it this week, it will have to come in the “Showdown in K-Town,” a much-anticipated battle with undefeated rival Science Hill.
Clark said D-B’s success starts in an obvious place.
“Good players who play hard for us,” said Clark on Tuesday.
Tradition matters, too.
“Obviously when you get a tradition going, the guys don’t want to be the first ones to do something bad,” said Clark. “When good things happen, you don’t want that to change and let people down.”
Good things have happened for the Indians since Clark took over in 1993. His teams have gone 197-42, reached the quarterfinals seven times, and the semifinals three times.
Currently the Indians are riding a 32-game regular-season winning streak, and have a three-year record of 31-2. Both of the losses came in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.
D-B has also had its way with Science Hill, beating the Hilltoppers 18 straight times. Clark’s first team defeated Science Hill before the Hilltoppers turned the tables in 1994. Since then, Clark’s Indians have ruled the old rivalry.
Even in 2009 — the Indians’ worst season since the mid-1980s — they defeated Science Hill 24-10.
“We weren’t very good that season, and we actually played younger kids the next year,” said Clark. “We had some tough breaks that year. Knox Farragut had a good team, Clinton had maybe its best team ever, Sevier County was good, and the conference was strong. Daniel Boone was very good.
“But one thing about that bunch, they never quit playing hard.”
Playing-time accountability helps the Indians because most starters are backed up by a pretty good player. Coaching stability also helps. Clark has been around for two decades, and assistants Brian Barrett and Rodney Burton have been there every step of the way.
“It has been a day or two,” said Clark of his tenure. “Whatever turnover we’ve had, has been slow.”
However, Clark hasn’t been afraid to change. The Indians first went to an option-style offense, similar to Georgia Southern, back in 1986. It was the same type of offense used by Clark when he was head coach at Chilhowie, Va., in 1981.
The Indians went to the double-slot approach from 1986-94, and came back to it when the new century arrived. That was when the Indians went 12-2, and put 578 points on the board in 2000.
Giving credence to the “good players” comment, that team featured current Dallas Cowboys standout Gerald Sensabaugh along with Adonis Johnson, Chris Henry, and Scott Butler, who played quarterback at ETSU.
In 2010, D-B went to an offense similar to Paul Johnson’s scheme at Georgia Tech. And the results have been impressive — especially this year as D-B leads the state in scoring with 510 points.
“You do what your kids can do,” said Clark. “And you don’t make it complicated. Then good things happen. It’s just like any company or organization. You do what your people can do best.”
What the Indians have done best under Clark is score. That’s not surprising because offense is his thing.
“I’m hands-on for the offense,” said Clark. “I was blessed for many years to have Darrell Watson as the defensive coordinator. I told him when I got the job, he was the defensive coordinator and I wasn’t going to say a whole lot. Jesse McMillan does it now. I still get involved with personnel.
“It’s funny because I started off as a defensive coach. When I came to D-B, I was the offensive coordinator under Ted Wilson for 11 years.”
As for whether he considers himself a run-first or pass-first offensive coach, Clark replied, “It depends whether my quarterback runs a 4.6 in the 40 or a 5.7.”
At the end of the day, when the wins have piled up, Clark said it comes down to building upon a strong foundation.
“Success breeds success,” said Clark. “You would have to ask the players how tradition affects them, but this bunch has handled adversity well — losing (quarterback) Chris Cook in Week 4 and having some other guys banged up.
“We have good kids and good students, and success breeds success.”