Mike Lunsford, who coached for 39 years, called it quits for both football and girls basketball.
“In football this past season there were a lot of things that went on,” said Lunsford. “My motivation was not the same as my motivation had been in the past. I had a lot of days I really didn’t much want to go to practice. I wasn’t really motivated to be there. I don’t know how else to put it, but I would rather have been somewhere else. And when that happens, it’s time to go.”
Lunsford said the moment didn’t hit him immediately after the Lady Highlanders’ loss.
“I had been focused on trying to win that game,” he said. “We had just lost a heartbreaker. I was just thinking about what I could have done different in the game.
“But I thought about it more on the ride home. I knew it was my last time on a school bus full of kids. At that point, a lot of the stress was off and there was a lot of relief in my heart. I had done all I could do. I wasn’t really all that sad.”
But though the years, he said there was a change in his joy toward coaching.
“A lot of the enjoyment was gone,” he said. “It’s different than when I started, and it’s different than it was 10 years ago. It’s so hard to coach. The games are not even as fun as they were in the past. The kids were still great; same as they always have been.”
Lunsford had two football coaching stints at Cloudland with several years at Hampton in-between. In 2001, he guided the Highlanders to the Class 1A football state title game, where they lost to Ezell-Harding.
After 15 years, he left Cloudland in 2003 and later became an assistant at Hampton. He eventually took over the Bulldogs’ program and went 66-15, leading Hampton to the Class 2A state semifinals in 2015 before losing to Marion County.
Lunsford returned to Cloudland and led the team to a record of 18-6 over the past two seasons. His overall record with Cloudland was 159-53 — giving him 225 career football victories.
Lunsford also coached girls basketball at Cloudland, leading his teams to an overall mark of 45-21 over the last two seasons. Monday’s 48-42 loss to Cosby eliminated Cloudland from the postseason.
He said he will now turn his attention to another love: farming.
“I love being at home and working on the farm,” said Lunsford. “I enjoy that more than anything I do.”
Lunsford wouldn’t rule out a potential return to the sidelines or bench one day. For now, he said he will enjoy watching his son, Michael, coach football at Hampton.
“I don’t know that I will be doing any coaching, but I’m sure I will be around his program some,” said Lunsford. “He’s a lot like daddy. He does it his way. It’s not like I’m going to tell him to do something. I will be a fan.”
Looking back on his career, Lunsford said it wasn’t any wins that he will carry in his heart.
“It was all of the kids who posted on Facebook and came to see me when they heard about it,” he said. “Wins come and go. I won the last game of the season one time, and that was when we finished 2-8. We accomplished a lot, and I enjoyed it. But it was the relationships with the kids. Some of them I hadn’t spoken to in a long time told me how much they loved and appreciated me. That means more to me than anything else.”