HomeOpinionOPINION: New USJ coach’s ability gives Bruins a fighting chance

OPINION: New USJ coach’s ability gives Bruins a fighting chance

University School of Jackson’s move to go with Derrick Pritchard might not be the move many outside the search committee were expecting, but it makes sense when you look at what USJ was looking for and what Pritchard brings to the table.

Michael Stroup was football coach and athletic director, so they needed to fill both positions. And if they weren’t going to fill the AD spot first, then filling both at the same time made much more sense.

Having been the associate athletic director at Ensworth Academy, one of the larger and more athletically successful private schools in the Nashville area, shows that Pritchard has experience as an administrator for the athletic department of a private school.

But the actual football part of the discussion makes a lot of sense too when you take into consideration just his last two jobs he had in West Tennessee before he made the move to Ensworth.

Michael Hodum – who was a part of USJ’s first-ever football team – was a successful head coach at Trinity Christian in the 2000s and then at Chester County last decade.

A big part of that is the fact that Pritchard was one of his assistants.

For a few years at TCA when they were building that program from one of the area’s favorite teams to schedule for homecoming to a dangerous team that could win a handful of games and possibly make a playoff run, Pritchard was Hodum’s right-hand man as he was coordinating both offense and defense.

By 2010, their last season at TCA, Hodum had hired now-Riverside baseball coach and offensive coordinator Eric Quinn to call offensive plays, leaving Pritchard to focus on defense.

And while TCA had one of the best athletes to come through Jackson that year in Jabriel Washington and a credible supporting cast around him, Pritchard’s defensive scheming was a big reason the Lions went from a 6-4 regular season finish to making it to the only BlueCross Bowl appearance in school history.

The 13-7 quarterfinal win at Humboldt that season was notable evidence of his defensive scheming abilities.

A couple weeks later when they made the trip to Cookeville, they were playing Signal Mountain, who was a fairly new school in Chattanooga and had just been announced was moving up to Class 4A from 2A as TSSAA had just done reclassification.

There wasn’t much reason on paper to believe TCA would have a fighting chance in that game, but I remember the coaches – particularly Pritchard that week – feeling like they’d put a game plan together that could work. And it did for about three quarters before depth became the issue we all figured it eventually would and Signal Mountain pulled away for the championship.

Then Hodum, Pritchard and Quinn all make the move to Chester County, and the Eagles have a historic season that year in which they competed with Lexington and Liberty – two of the best in rural West Tennessee at that time who’d each made a run to the Class 4A semifinals the previous two years – before finishing third.

And it had been a while since Chester County football had been as relevant as it was when that coaching staff got there, and while they’ve competed for region championships and playoff berths since, it was noticeable the year after Pritchard left.

And now Pritchard is bringing that football knowledge to USJ to work with coaches like Jim Hardegree, Anthony Sawyer and Bryce King who’ve worked well together. Hardegree has been there nearly 20 years. King has been there since before USJ fired Mickey Marley in 2015. Sawyer joined during former coach Michael Stroup’s tenure.

But as the Bruins face the challenge of moving up to Division II-AA with the likes of Evangelical Christian School, Lausanne, Northpoint, St. Benedict and St. George’s in their new region, it’s very possible the program will take its lumps in the early going because they did lose a lot to graduation, especially up front.

But Pritchard said he’s seen enough film from last year to know he thinks this team has a fighting chance to be successful.

And if history has shown us anything, then we can believe Pritchard when he thinks his team has a fighting chance.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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