See Tom Arth in action against in-state rival UT Martin during UTC’s first home game Sept. 16.
Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m.: At LSU
Sept. 16, 6 p.m.: Against UT-Martin
Sept. 23, 1:30 p.m.: At VMI
Sept. 30, 6 p.m.: Against Western Carolina
Oct. 7, 4 p.m.: Against Furman
Oct. 14, time TBA: At Mercer
Oct. 21, 2 p.m.: Against The Citadel
Oct. 28, 3 p.m.: At Samford
Nov. 4, 1:30 p.m.: At Wofford
Nov. 18, 2 p.m.: Against ETSU
It is not a championship game, mind you, but to every coach on every level, every game is big if for no other reason than no game is small.
Arth voices some encouragement to his favorite player, claps his hands and prepares. Yes, believe it or not, roughly eight months into his time leading the Mocs, Arth has a favorite player on this particular team.
It is his son Tommy's 9-year-old all-star baseball team, and "Junior" is preparing for another game at third base with Dad next to the fence, holding his other son in his lap.
"C'mon, Tommy!" Arth says, sounding more daddy than coach, but still with the booming voice coaches are born with.
Meanwhile, Tommy's coach — yours truly — fields the barrage of questions about who's pitching next, and after that, and after that. That is by far the biggest issue with coaching a team of 9-year-olds, and I wonder if it translates to the big leagues.
"I bet you don't have defensive linemen asking to play quarterback do you, Coach?" I ask Arth.
He laughs. Then he says simply, "No, but some of those big guys do ask to carry the ball sometimes."
Arth's rise in the ranks began when he was a player. He had a record-setting career as a quarterback at Division III John Carroll University. Arth started there for four years and set 18 school marks, including passing yards (10,457) and touchdowns (89), on his way to being a two-time All-American. He then spent three seasons in the NFL in Indianapolis as a backup role to some dude named Peyton Manning who, at the time, played for the Colts.
Being a backup to Manning, one of the best and most durable ever to play quarterback, would be like being the first baseman behind Lou Gehrig or the shortstop backing up Cal Ripken.
"I didn't know anything about football before I got to Indianapolis," Arth was quoted as saying after Manning won his second Super Bowl, this time with Denver, a couple of years ago. "I thought I did, but I knew nothing. The time I spent learning from Peyton impacted my life in so many ways. His commitment and his work ethic are things that people talk about, but unless you have been there and seen it, you cannot even begin to understand what football means to him."
The action is in practices, and there is some deliciousness in the details.
"Peyton was famous for randomly asking obscure and difficult questions that pertained to the film, the opponent or the game plan," Arth says. "He would say, for example, 'Tom, what's your call here in this situation? It's third-and-9, there's 1:27 left in the game, the score is tied, and by the way, the coaches' phones went down, you have no timeouts, the play clock is at 10 seconds. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six'
"He would literally count down the clock, and if you didn't have an answer it would be delay of game; you lose. Or if you didn't have a good answer, well that was probably worse!"
Those memories of watching Manning attack the game helped shaped the rest of Arth's football career.
But it's a coaching career that almost never took flight.
"I had never really thought about coaching," says Arth, who turned down an offer from the Colts to be an assistant when Jim Caldwell was promoted to replace Tony Dungy as head coach. "Growing up, through high school and college, all I ever thought about was playing in the NFL. There was absolutely nothing else. No backup plan."
Arth decided to sideline his sports career.
"[DeCarlo] put me in touch with his son who owned a business in Cleveland, Ohio. I met with them on a Friday, and before I left they had offered me a job," he says.
Arth credits a lot of his lessons in leadership and organization to his time working away from the field.
"I worked with Tony Jr. and his company for over a year, and in that time learned so much about leadership, dealing with people and successfully running an organization," Arth says. "Of all the football experiences I had, there was nothing quite like that company and that group of people that prepared me more to become a head football coach."
He was content, but then football called again and he was pulled back into the game, heart-first.
"I received a call from my head coach at John Carroll offering me a job to come back and coach the QBs," Arth says. "It was such a difficult decision, but realizing that football had and always would be in my heart, I made the decision to return to JCU and begin a career in coaching — certainly one of the best decisions I've ever made."
His playing credentials on every level, from the NFL to the Arena League to playing in Europe, have given way to a fast-track resume that, with more success in Chattanooga, could continue its meteoric ascension.
Consider the following:
» Arth started coaching in 2010 as an assistant at John Carroll. He was promoted to JCU head coach three years later and landed the program's first outright conference title in 2016.
» He won 83.3 percent of his games at John Carroll. By comparison, Nick Saban has won 78.3 percent of his games as a head coach.
» Arth has had several of his hand-selected assistants from his JCU, and even UTC, staff be hired by NFL teams.
» He has some impressive names saved in his phone. Belichick? Check. Manning? Of course. How about Nick Saban? Yep. And the roster includes other NFL head coaches and general managers.
Arth says his goals are no different here in Chattanooga. During the summer, watching his oldest son play baseball, he routinely held court with UTC fans who'd approached him so they could introduce themselves to the new football boss.
"The fans and all the people in Chattanooga have been incredible," Arth says. "They have welcomed my family and I, all our coaches and their families in such an incredible way. We are so proud to be here and have the opportunity to represent UTC and to make our city of Chattanooga proud."
Next Star in Waiting
That Blackburn and UTC split ways this spring, even after UT hired John Currie, has been a hot topic of debate among UTC fans. But considering their conversations on the front end, the shock factor was not that big for Arth.
"David and his staff were a big reason why I accepted the position at UTC. I was so impressed by the way they all — Scott Altizer, Rob Robinson, Jay Blackman, all of them — carried themselves, the passion and vision they shared for the future success of our football program, and most importantly, the way they treated me and how we sort of instantly hit it off. It was a special moment," Arth says.
"I owe so much to David Blackburn and am disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to continue working with him, but I know he is going to be an incredible asset to some athletic department and group of coaches wherever he ends up. I am so grateful for the opportunity he has given us, and we wish him and his family all the best."
Sure, the man who hired you leaving before your first game could be cause for concern, but football, like most sports, is an end-sum game. And no matter which side of the Blackburn debate UTC fans fall, his track record of picking rising stars and making home-run coaching hires is undeniable.
When he announced Arth to replace Russ Huesman, who, like Arth, became a record-setting success story at his alma mater, Blackburn left little doubt that he believed Arth is the next Scenic City star to be born under his watch.
Huesman left a stocked program when he went to coach in Richmond. The Mocs redshirted as many recruits as possible under Huesman's watch, and the defense became a monster that consistently put players in the NFL. UTC's recent run of success of three consecutive playoff trips is directly because of his rebuilding efforts.
"Coach Huesman did such an incredible job at UTC. I am proud to have the opportunity to continue building upon all the success that he started," Arth says.
"The most important thing for me and our entire staff was to begin developing relationships with our players. It is important for them to genuinely see who we are and how we treat people, to know what the vision is for our program, and to also quickly show them that we are a staff and group of coaches who can impact their lives and help them accomplish their goals."
Arth's style is infectious. One local reporter told a story about how well Arth connected to an unnamed recruit who attended one of the UTC camps this offseason.
Before anyone knew it, Arth had the attention of everyone within ear shot: The recruit. The recruit's brother. The other coaches. The reporter — who said he was willing to commit to play for Arth on the spot if he could, adding, "and we have not seen the man coach his first game here yet."
Risk and Reward
Arth has spent as much time adjusting as instructing since being hired to coach the Mocs football team last December.
Sure, he tried to make the most of each of his 15 spring practices, and he put in long hours to try to make the most of his first full recruiting class.
But, along with wife Lauren, he is also committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for the five Arth kids: Caroline, Tommy, Kate, Patrick and Lizzie, all ages 10 and younger.
There was the all-star baseball season for Tommy. His older sister Caroline found a softball team. The younger Arths went to summer camps and helped along the way as they moved into their new home on Signal Mountain.
"The transition to Chattanooga has been as smooth as we could have ever possibly imagined," Coach Arth says. "Lauren and our children absolutely love the city, love our neighborhood, the schools, and most importantly, all the special people who have been so helpful throughout this process.
"As crazy as it always is in our home, there is nothing in the world that I enjoy more than being there and being with my family. People always ask how we do it, and how I do it, coaching and have five children, and the answer is pretty simple. Lauren, or as some call her, 'Saint Lauren,' is a special woman and the most amazing wife and mother in the world."
Sure, the rewards — more money, a bigger platform, a chance to springboard to a much bigger job — come with big risks; something shared, at least in part, by the whole family.
"It's been fun," Tommy told me before one of our games this summer, admitting he was more concerned about the Cleveland Cavs' loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals than anything else. "[Living in Ohio] was great, but there are a lot of nice people here, too."
Said Lauren, when she made her talk radio debut on the local ESPN affiliate over the phone as they were driving back from SoCon spring meetings, "It's been an adjustment, but it's also been an adventure."
Kind of like pitching for a team of 9-year-olds.