Jim Higgins unknowingly began building the groundwork for his new career as head wrestling coach at Soddy-Daisy High School more than a decade ago when he competed for Steve Henry, his coach and now his coaching predecessor.
"He knows what it's like to get overwhelmed and fall short, and he knows how to work and bounce back," Henry said in announcing that Higgins had been chosen to take over the state championship program.
"He got beat his junior year, faced some serious adversity and came back the next year to get an undefeated season and a state championship. He was a beast," Henry said.
Higgins had college offers in both wrestling and baseball and eventually accepted a baseball scholarship, which had been his family's dream. He returned to wrestling, though, and was one of Henry's assistants as the team captured state duals and traditional tournament titles.
"In my world this is about as close to a dream job as you can possibly get," Higgins said. "This year in general has been a whirlwind experience, getting into the Hamilton County school system and then getting teaching and coaching positions. This is great news."
He hopes to continue the Soddy-Daisy tradition but said he wasn't interested in pursuing Henry's 600-plus wins record or his .790 win percentage.
"My biggest concern is putting out quality kids, not just good wrestlers. We want to help our guys become good citizens," Higgins said. "I watched my dad fight cancer and lose, and then 10 years later I lost my mother in a similar circumstance. You find yourself in those situations and you're down to the grit of life. That's when you find out what kind of person you are.
"I used a lot of what I learned through wrestling, mentoring from Coach Henry and tough love from my parents to get through the toughest of times. One of my main objectives is to help these guys understand that. Wrestling is important, but the lessons we learn while doing it are the most important things."
He knows he's stepping into a giant shadow.
"Everybody will be watching, but I'm not consumed with winning state titles or matching or beating Steve's accomplishments," Higgins said. "I'm not going to try to fill his shoes. We'll work hard and continue to try and build the program."
Henry, who now is an assistant principal and athletic director at the school, has no worries.
"This wasn't about whether a guy wrestled in college," he said. "It was about a guy that's hungry, committed and very interested in the welfare of the program. Jim knows what Soddy-Daisy wrestling represents and the hard work that goes into the program. He is dedicated to the sport, the school and the wrestling program."