Robert Craft didn’t give himself much time to enjoy Friday’s win.
North Forsyth had just beaten Forsyth Central 29-28 in double overtime, a thrilling start to Region 5-7A play.
Yet, there was still work to do.
His focus this weekend was on Lambert; a winless team, sure, but the next team on the schedule nonetheless.
“My first year here, just four years ago, Lambert was the region champions here,” Craft said. “At that point, we had never beaten them, so Lambert is a big game for us.”
Such is the life of a high school football coach in the thick of region play.
South Forsyth head coach Jeff Arnette didn’t stay out late celebrating either.
Arnette, whose team had just handed Lambert a decisive 42-17 defeat, immediately shifted his focus to Milton, the defending state champions and more recently owners of a 34-7 blowout win against West Forsyth.
“Well, the coaches don’t have near as long as the players – the players get a little longer,” Arnette said. “The coaches go back to work that Saturday morning. They grade our film on Friday night, then on Saturday morning we start to work on Milton.”
And those aren’t late Saturday mornings.
Arnette said his coaching staff begins trickling in early the next morning, typically between 7:30-8:30, scouting the opposing teams and searching for exploitable weaknesses.
For Craft, it starts even earlier than that. North’s sub-varsity staff helps with preparation for the following week before a down is played Friday nights.
“When we come together, a lot of the work is already done, depending on what your specific responsibilities within the coaching staff are,” Craft said. “(They) have different responsibilities, really, from Friday night up until that point on Sunday afternoons, to come together with your responsibilities ready to go. Then it’s the planning and preparation for the week that begins as a staff for us together on Sunday until it’s over.
“As you get into these region games later in the year, sometimes that can go pretty late.”
But while Craft knows gameplanning is imperative, it’s also important to avoid burning out his staff.
“As a coaching staff, I want our coaches to enjoy winning, too, because there’s a lot of work that goes into that one night,” Craft said. “It’s different from other sports, where you might have multiple games in a week. With football, that’s the unique part about it. So much goes into that one night.”
Much of that work is never seen by those outside of the program. It’s long hours spent in a dark room, poring over game film and discussing strategy.
By Sunday night, North’s players have their individual scouting report at their disposal – all drawn up electronically, ready at their fingertips.
It wasn’t always that easy to get opponents’ film.
Craft remembers a time when he was an assistant coach at Colquitt County, driving two hours to Macon just to swap film with then-Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe. (Flowe is now North’s offensive line coach.)
“So, you’d literally show up at a McDonald’s, or a gas station, that you’d called and said, ‘Hey, let’s meet here, on this interstate, at this exit or whatever,’” Craft said. “And you would literally get out the car, you may shake hands, you’d hand the tape over, and you’d just get back in your truck and you would just drive home.”
In situations like those, you could either agree to meet somewhere in the middle, or you could send tape through the mail.
Once you got that film, however, an assistant coach would draw the assignment of making copies of the film for the all of the other coaches, delaying film study a couple of days in many cases.
Now, all that’s involved is initiating an exchange on Hudl, an online service that hosts film from youth teams across the country.
“It’s a lot more simple than when I did it for years and years,” Arnette said. “We got in the car and drove to a gas station somewhere and exchanged film that way. That was the only way to do it.”
But while the process of acquiring film is certainly expedited, that doesn’t mean coaches spend any less time in the office.
Mondays through Thursdays are for practice, while Friday is the real thing.
Then Saturdays and Sundays, which most reserve for family time, are spent prepping for the following week.
Exhausting and extensive hours of planning for just three hours on a Friday night.
“Those months, you don’t see your family a whole lot. That’s just part of it,” Arnette said. “I’ve been around my wife for a lot of years and she’s a great coach’s wife. Coaches couldn’t make it without good wives and kids that support them, because you’re gone so much during football. You’re gone from 7 to 8 o’clock on the weekdays, then you’re gone Saturdays and Sundays a lot of the times most of the day.”
That’s one reason Craft makes it a point to have his family around the team; whether it’s riding on the bus with his son or his daughters on the sidelines serving waters to the players.
“During the season, it takes great balance,” Craft said. “I think there’s a special place in heaven for coaches’ wives. I’m blessed to have a great one. My wife feels like she’s a part of this program as much as I am. So, there’s a lot of investment.”
It’s also paramount, Craft said, for his players to see the way he treats his wife and the way he is around his children. In a way, it humanizes the person many get to see as only a coach most days.
Some might only catch a glimpse at the final product on Friday nights, missing the work it takes to get to that point.
But after the game is over, as players are celebrating and fans are cheering, it’s on to the next one.