So forgive Joey Christian if he’s a little taken aback by the giant step forward he took Monday afternoon.
“It’s very surreal,” said Christian, who was chosen to succeed Clark. “It’s such a storied tradition and a great program. It’s very humbling to me.”
Christian is 47 years old and has been on the Indians’ staff for 15 years as an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. He coached at Volunteer from 1997-2002.
Like a team needing two yards on fourth down against a stacked defense, Christian had to fight for the position. The Indians brought in eight candidates for interviews, and reportedly offered the position to Billy Seals of Huntington High in West Virginia. Seals’ team made its seventh straight playoff appearance in 2017 and reached the state semifinals.
But Dobyns-Bennett athletic director Larry Shively said Christian was rising to the top all along.
“It became more evident as we went through the process that we had somebody special right under our noses,” said Shively. “Joey Christian is a fine man and good football coach. He was the best choice for our kids at this time. He was a loyal assistant coach and there’s something to be said for that.”
Christian said he wasn’t concerned about anything behind the scenes.
“I don’t know what went on, and that’s speculation to me,” said Christian. “I’m going to do the best job I can do. I’m going to work as hard as I can for the program and do everything I know to be successful.”
When Clark announced his retirement, Christian said he didn’t jump into the mix right away to replace him. Instead he tried to talk Clark out of the decision.
“I said, ‘No, coach, you can’t do that,’ ” said Christian. “I wanted to convince him to stay. He said his mind was made up. Then Coach Shively contacted me and told me I would be the interim coach. He said they were going to find the best coach, and they weren’t making me any promises. All I wanted was what was best for D-B.”
Christian might be labeled as more of a ground-oriented coach, but said he will use whatever he has at his disposal to win games.
“In 2003-05 we had good quarterbacks and we slung it around all over the field,” said Christian. “If we have that capability and we have wide receivers, we’re going to throw it all over the place.
“I want to be able to create winning matchups. We want to win those individual matchups. I’m an offensive line coach, so sure, the running game is important to me. And I still believe whoever wins the line of scrimmage has a very good chance of winning the game.”
Dobyns-Bennett turned around what looked like a tough season in 2017 and won the Region 1-6A championship. That reversal of fortune certainly didn’t hurt Christian’s chances of getting the job.
“I don’t think D-B football is broke, by any means,” said Christian. “I told Coach Shively, if we were 2-8 I would have never applied. We would have needed to bring somebody in from the outside.”
The elephant in the room is the six-game losing streak to Science Hill after beating the Hilltoppers 19 straight times. But Christian said that game is not a focus.
“It’s Game 3 in the season,” said Christian. “If we win, that doesn’t mean we stop playing. We have seven more games after that. And if something bad happens, it doesn’t mean the season is over. We won’t overemphasize that game.”
Christian said he has known Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter for a long time as their fathers worked together at Eastman.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and their coaches,” said Christian.
Shively said the Science Hill game is an important part of the process.
“There’s pressure to win that game,” said Shively. “It’s something on the goal board. It’s like Ohio State beating Michigan. That’s on the refrigerator. I can imagine on Joey’s refrigerator it will say, ‘Beat Science Hill,’ and it’s something he will look at every day.”
As for the 2018 season, Christian said it will depend on the players.
“We’ve got to identify playmakers,” said Christian. “And we lost lineman, guys who were valuable to our success. We will work as hard as we can, and let the rest take care of itself.”