published Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Higgins, Yost take over area state mat powers

When asked about the new wrestling coaches at Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland high schools, Steve Henry's face split into a broad grin.

The veteran coach, who finally exchanged the reins of a wrestling coach for those of an administrator, is pleased. Two of his guys have stepped in as head coaches at two of the state's premier programs: Jake Yost at Cleveland and Jim Higgins succeeding Henry at Soddy-Daisy.

"Proud papa is exactly how I feel," said Henry, who built the program into a perennial powerhouse over the course of a 30-year tenure.

Henry resigned last spring after the Trojans won their seventh dual or traditional state championship and their second of 2012.

Cleveland won the traditional state title in 2011.

Yost wrestled and worked as an assistant for Henry and wrestled at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for three head coaches before eventually going to Cleveland as an assistant to Eric Phillips.

"He knew from the outset what he wanted to do, and he's comfortable with where he is," Henry said, "and it's probably an advantage to him that he's been in three programs and has been able to draw this from one and that from another."

Higgins had a chance to wrestle collegiately but chose a baseball scholarship. And he spent a decade in private business.

"It finally dawned on Jim that he was meant to be a coach," Henry said.

Higgins has a child on the way, while Yost recently got married.

"They are from different environments and different lifestyles," Henry said. "Both would have done well here [at SDHS], but the way it worked out is perfect for both of them."

Each knows he will make mistakes. One worries, even stresses; the other coolly accepts the fact.

"I'll tell you this much: I have a lot more respect for head coaches. There's a lot more to it than people realize -- more psychology, more paperwork," Higgins said. "I live with a sense of urgency. You're not guaranteed a tomorrow. You don't ask somebody else to steer your ship and you don't put off till tomorrow what you can accomplish today."

Yost might have been the most relaxed member of the Cleveland staff the past two seasons with the emotionally charged Phillips and the still-fiery Al Miller.

"I don't stress too much," he said of pressure and mistakes. "You make a decision based on the best information you have at the time and hope it's the best. I know I'm going to make some bad decisions, but I'm not going to dwell on it.

"I don't think my life is going to change a ton. There's more responsibility, but Phillips and Coach Henry had given me responsibilities. Phillips has been good, too, helping me see things in a different way and pointing something out but at the same time allowing me to find my own way."

There are extras that come with the Soddy-Daisy job and not necessary welcome extras for one not built into the program.

While Cleveland has a still-new wrestling building, Higgins inherited the old headache known as the Soddy-Daisy wrestling arena, a facility that Henry spent close to three decades repairing and enhancing.

Higgins wasted little time there, putting in a new lighting system.

"I'll probably get my hands as dirty as anybody," he said. "Coach Henry's still around, but while I'm not a caretaker, I also believe if it ain't broke you don't fix it. I want to put my spin on it, but I want our assistant coaches (Tyler Roberson, Ashley Brooks and John Lane) to put their spin on things, too. I want to see the program continue to be viewed as a premier place to bring your child."

Henry wanted to win and wanted his wrestlers to expect to win.

"It was never about the number of state championships or how many wrestlers you sent to college, though, and I want it to remain that way," Higgins said. "It's about the program, the community and learning the skills that will carry you through life."

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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