When his job as quarterbacks coach at Rutgers came to an end last December, Rob Spence sat down after 24 years of college coaching and reflected on what was important.
He decided to return to his roots as a high school football coach and applied for the open position at Chattanooga Christian.
"I feel like I'm getting into something, not getting out of something. As a coach, you are a communicator and I wanted to communicate at a different level," he said. "It's always rejuvenating to take on a new challenge and expand your skill set."
So after stops at such universities as Clemson, Toledo, Louisiana Tech, Syracuse, Iona and Hofstra as an offensive coordinator plus assistant's tours at Maryland, Bethune-Cookman and Holy Cross, Spence decided he'd had enough of recruiting and the pressures associated now with college football.
"Sometimes we think stepping back is just stepping back, and it could be stepping forward and we don't realize it. The only reason I wouldn't have done it was pride, and pride is a downfall," he said of the move. "I would hope in high school there would be more focus on values and core principles. It's important to each student and the school and community they represent."
In college athletics the end result is all that matters, he indicated.
"When you factor in that scholarship, the sport immediately becomes much more of a business, and the money this is pouring into college athletics has created a monster. That drives the car right now," said Spence, who has bought a home in St. Elmo with his wife, Susan.
"My job is about here. I came here to serve the players and the community and not to be served. It's not about me. I believe that God calls us out of comfort zones and my comfort zone was college football."
He also wanted to get back to the core of coaching.
"I always had the highest respect for the high school teacher/coach," said Spence, who began his career as a head coach in high school. "They are the greatest in America. They balance their different jobs and wear numerous hats, and for better or worse that's why I got into this [at CCS]. I never looked at this as stepping back or stepping down. I wanted to go somewhere for a challenge, and I found a place that wanted to build something. I felt it was another step in the journey."
- Ward Gossett
CHATTANOOGA CHRISTIAN CHARGERS
Head coach: Robert Spence (29-18-1 overall; first year here)
Last year: 3-7; entering its sixth season of varsity competition, CCS has yet to make the postseason.
Returning starters (O/D/K): 6/6/0
(all games at 7:30 Eastern unless noted)
Aug. 22 - Grace Academy
Aug. 29 - At Lookout Valley
Sept. 5 - Notre Dame*
Sept. 19 - at Sequatchie County, 8*
Sept. 26 - White County
Oct. 3 - Grundy County, 8*
Oct. 10 - at Silverdale Baptist
Oct. 17 - Signal Mountain*
Oct. 24 - at Marion County, 8
Oct. 31 - at Bledsoe County, 8*
Control panel: Spencer described WR/LB Jared Miller (6-4, 190, Sr.) as a player who has a feel for the game, loves the battle and has great character. RB D.J. Toney (5-11, 200, Jr.) drew his attention because "he's a big back with good feet and the great work ethic." DB/WR Brandon Mason (5-7, 155, Jr.) "plays big," the coach said. "He's a terrific athlete and 155 pounds of explosion - pound-for-pound the most impressive guy in the weight room."
RB T.J. Smith (5-7, 155, Fr.) is still learning to compete, but Spence said he has the physical skills and can make defenders miss. WR/DB Will Patton (6-2, 175, Jr.) is a soccer player who has brought a tough competitive edge to the Chargers. He'll also handle their kickoff and field-goal duties. TE Nick Fulmer (5-10, 195, So.) also will work as the team's H-back. Spence said he already has the blocking skills and is developing into a dependable receiver.
Items of interest: Spence spent five years as a prep head coach before beginning his college coaching career. His Iona (N.Y) Prep teams were 29-19-1. He taught American history there and already has been to Chickamauga Battlefield. He also is an avid runner and ran in the in the 2004 Boston Marathon. When asked if he ridden the Incline up Lookout Mountain, he replied, "No, not yet. I'm afraid of heights. But I'll get around to it."
There are mountains to climb for the CCS football program, which last fall moved into a new, artificially turfed home facility. The Chargers are entering their sixth season of varsity competition and have yet to reach the postseason. They have yet to have a .500 season either, coming close in 2010, their second year, when they finished 4-6 and missed 5-5 by a single-point loss (43-42) in the season's final game against Bledsoe County.
Team lows and highs through the previous five seasons include four shutout losses (two last season) and a 60-point outburst (60-56) in a 2012 shootout with Bledsoe County. Their most impressive District 7-AA win probably was a 30-28 win over Notre Dame in 2011.