WHITWELL, Tenn. - It was on the drive through town, on his way to his initial interview, that R.C. Helton knew for sure just how much he wanted the Whitwell High School football coaching job.
Seeing the small wooden footballs with players' jersey numbers painted on them hanging from poles and outside businesses in town, Helton recognized the importance of football in the community and felt it would be a great fit for his own enthusiasm.
Once he interviewed for the job, school administrators agreed, and Saturday morning Helton was named as Whitwell's new head coach.
"The enthusiasm that Coach Helton has displayed in the past weeks and during the interview is the type that Whitwell football needs," principal Josh Holtcamp said. "Good days are certainly ahead for Whitwell football."
A 1983 East Ridge graduate who has coached prep football in Arizona for the last seven years, Helton is Whitwell's seventh head coach in 11 years. He will try to turn around a program that hasn't reached the state playoffs since 2005 and hasn't had a winning season in 10 years.
The Tigers finished 5-5 last season, winning their last four games, and narrowly missed the playoffs.
"I'm very excited to be back close to home and especially to get the chance to coach at a school and community where football is so important," Helton said. "I know my first job is to establish trust in the kids and the community that I plan to be here for a very long time. We also have to work on the players' mentality to make sure they realize they can compete and win. It's a process that I'm looking forward to.
"When you have a lot of coaching turnovers, the kids feel abandoned. My primary driving force for taking this job is to put down roots and be here for a long time."
For the last three years Helton was head coach at Trevor Browne High in Phoenix, a school of more than 3,500 students. He took a team that had allowed 30-plus points nine times in an 0-10 season to finish 5-5 two years later.
"I actually love the idea of working at a smaller school, and especially one with a community that supports the program so well," Helton said. "I've already watched film from last year, and with so many players coming back, I'm very excited about the type players we have and what we can get done."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.