NICK HYDER OF VALDOSTA
By Hugh Wyatt
It was March 10, 1984, and I was among the attendees at the Pacific Northwest Football Coaches' Clinic, held at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.
One of the speakers was a high school coach from Valdosta, Georgia named Nick Hyder. What got our attention was that he'd just been named (by somebody) National High School Coach of the Year. He'd been the coach at Valdosta since 1974, and in his 11 years there his record was 93-20-1.
He started by telling us a few things about Valdosta, and it didn't take long to convince us that his was a different world from the one we all lived in.
Valdosta at that time was a town of about 39,000 people, its economy heavily dependent on pulpwood and farming. Valdosta High School had roughly 2000 students in grades 9-12. Its stadium seated 14,000 and with nearly 7,000 season ticket holders, it was always packed for home games.
"When we play," he said, "It's a good time to rob a bank."
The night before the clinic, Valdosta had had an intra-squad game. (In the Northwest, we didn’t even have spring ball then.) Called the "Has-been-Will-be Game", it pitted the graduating seniors against the next year's team, and it drew more than 3,000 fans at $2 a head (remember, this was 1984).
He told us of the Valdosta Touchdown Club, with more than 1,000 members – annual membership fees: $15 for men, $5 for women) and all it did for his program.
It paid for his pre-season camp - $20,000 in 1984 dollars.
It spent $15,000 on the annual banquet, with "nice gifts for coaches."
"They buy me a new car every year." (That really got our attention.)
As a result, he admitted, "They've earned the right to chew me out."
But, he was quick to add, "They do not dictate to coaches. The president's son never got higher than second or third string."
Lest any of us get the idea that coaching at Valdosta was a bed of roses, he pointed out that in Valdosta, people were used to winning. Football there was big business. "A playoff game," he said, "can mean $18,000-$20,000." (Again, in 1984 dollars.)
And Valdosta was definitely used to seeing its black-and-gold Wildcats in the playoffs.
At that point, after 74 years of football, Valdosta was 580-190. The legendary Wright Bazemore had coached there from 1941-1971(with time off for World War II) and compiled a record of 268-51-7, with 14 state titles.
Coach Bazemore was not an easy act to follow. Said Coach Hyder, "My predecessor, (who immediately succeeded Coach Bazemore) was 9-1 and 8-2 - and he resigned."
And, he added, National Coach of the Year or not, "We were 11-1 last year, and nobody sings in the street." Right. Where’s the state championship?
And then Coach Hyder got into the things that he believed in.
“Do the best with the kids you've got,” he said. “The object in coaching is to win with these kids.”
And he wrote some letters on the board.
They represented the things he believed were essential to his program’s success.
S- SPIRITUAL TOUGHNESS
M- MORAL TOUGHNESS
M- MENTAL TOUGHNESS
P- PHYSICAL TOUGHNESS
"We spend one hour every day on the kicking game"
DEFENSE - OFFENSE
*********** On the subject of having to do some things a coach might not feel comfortable doing…
You've got to play politics if it's important to your youngsters.
You've got to talk to the people who represent the power structure - you've got to sell your program.
*********** On staff relations…
Win your faculty over.
Marry your principal - If you're having trouble with him, you'd better get straight with him. (At our school, the principal and the head coach are there at 5 AM - school starts at 8 AM)
*********** On team discipline…
"I ain't got but two rules":
1. No Horseplay -
Kids have their choice of choice of punishment (You've got to explain this to parents)
1. 10 licks with a wooden paddle with the coach of their choice
2. Gauntlet - 99 people, 5 yards apart
3. Miss the next ball game
("If I got called into court, I'd probably lose it" - "Whatever happened to the parent that said, "If you get a whuppin' at school, you'll get a whuppin' at home!")
2. Do not embarrass the football team!
Smart off to a teacher
Be late to class
Youngsters can't miss school, We teach discipline. Be there!
We don't believe in “Welfare Football” (miss 2 days of practice and then show up on Friday).
My first year, I cut 12 players who wouldn't practice.
You've got to earn the right to chew a guy out... You've got to show him you care! When you can chew him out and joke with him, you've arrived.
If you've got a kid who's giving you problems, accumulate a record on him- Tell him "When Coach Dooley (Vince Dooley, longtime great coach at the University of Georgia) comes by, I'm going to show him this"
Football is 90 per cent desire.
The closer to the ball you are, the better football player you are
*********** On building a positive attitude…
We coach LUCK. You've got to believe you're lucky
A youngster with no talent giving you everything he's got will get lucky
Teach them that they can get lucky
To be lucky - Be your best self
************ On playing time…
"The greatest coach in the world is competition"
We start 44 people and dress 99 (it was not unusual for 85 players to see action)
We start 44 people - 2 men at every position. But they don't even know who'll start. It's not announced until right before kickoff - it depends on who worked hardest
“All the young kids learn our language”
200 on the 7th grade team playing flag ball - not tackle
110 on the 8th grade team
75 on the 9th grade team
Buck Belue was a 13-year-old freshman. On his first day, three QB's got hurt. He started for four straight years, and never missed a day of practice, never missed a day of school.
"When he led Georgia to the national championship (1980), he had paid his dues in pain."
**************** Pre-season camp
Aug 10 - Camp--- 2 weeks
99 players, 8 coaches, 6 managers
At camp – “We practice once a day - all day long. We practice till we get done!"
**************** On team building…
The strength of the individual is the group
We tell them it's like mules, circling and kicking: "When you get your heads together, you can't lose!"
***************** On profanity…
(Coach Hyder never swore. In an article from that time, he said, “My first punishment was because I said a bad word.” When his mother asked where he’d heard such a word, he told her he’d heard a high school athlete say it. “That was 43 years ago,” he said, “and I’ve never said a bad word since then.”)
He couldn’t say the same for his own high school coach, though: "He invented cussin!"
"I think he used to take notes lookin' at bus station walls!"
***************** On staff meetings…
"We do NOT meet on Saturday or Sunday. We hold coaches meetings at 6 AM (weekdays)."
**************** On off-season work…
To get on the team: January and February - five workouts a week for 8 weeks (40 days) every morning at 6 AM.
Help parents understand that they can help their kids by helping them deal with this
Kids will believe that they're tougher because they've paid the price
(Coach Hyder said that one benefit of working the kids so hard was that he could occasionally allow a kid to miss a practice for a family function or come late because of classroom demands – “they’ve paid such a price that they wouldn’t abuse the privilege.”)
********** On defense…
The first thing I look for is people lying on the ground. If they're lying on the ground, they're not playing football for us - they're playing for the other team.
You can only be quick if you're on your feet.
**************** On offense…
Our offense is designed to make everybody (on defense) stay where he's supposed to stay.
Most kids can't make more than one adjustment- Give them a strange set... a different snap... motion.
No team is any better than its offensive line.
It takes twice as long to develop an offensive lineman as a defensive lineman.
The most unselfish thing in football is blocking. Nobody will play in our backfield if they can't block.
Runners - you've got three friends:
Our base play is belly off-tackle (what we call 6-G). Then, Belly Keep, Belly Option, Trap
In all practice situations, we want pressure. You've got to create pressure.
We create pressure in "Make 5, lose 5" scrimmage - Come off the goal line - the offense has got to make it out to the 50 and back
If they don't gain at least 5, they lose 5 --- and every coach that sees something wrong calls it.
"We're going to stay out there until we get it done. I tell them, “Gentlemen, I've got nothing better to do!"
“When you give in, you tell them it's okay to be mediocre."
*************** On Conditioning…
We practice 2-minute drill on offense and defense – it makes everybody down and distance conscious
"We tell the players, 'This is your sprints.'" (It’s either that or 10-100s, 10-50s, 10-40s, 10-30s)
Nick Hyder didn't just arrive at Valdosta. He'd already established himself as a hot property at West Rome High School, where he had turned down several other offers (he once said that Clarke Central High in Athens “almost opened up the bank” to get him) before finally agreeing to move to Valdosta. He was finally convinced to do so by Wright Bazemore.
When Coach Hyder left West Rome, his record was 53-12-3. (He also coached baseball there: his record was 124-67.)
He would go on to win 249 more games at Valdosta, and seven state titles. With only 36 losses and 2 ties, his winning percentage was .871. Overall, at West Rome and Valdosta, his career record was 302-48-5. Whew!
He was named Georgia Coach of the Year seven times, and in 1994 was named National Coach of the Year by USA Today.
He was the first coach in the state of Georgia to win 200 games in only 20 years, and the first to win 300 games in only 30 years.
His only losing season was his first one at Valdosta, when he went 3-7; but it was in that first season that he established the tone for the way his program would operate, letting those 12 players go because they wouldn’t abide by his rules. He wasn’t happy about losing, but he was thinking about more than that one season: he was building a program.
At one point in his career, a number of players were caught drinking before the season and tossed off the team, missing their entire senior season.
As for the paddling? The story goes that one player chose the paddling rather than miss a game, but halfway through, he yelled that he’d had enough. But when Coach Hyder told him that meant he’d still miss half the game, the player decided to take the rest of his licking. At the end of it, the player hugged the coach and said, “I never had a spanking before.”
Some people today would call Coach Hyder tough. What he was, though, was firm in his beliefs. And consistent. He had his priorities, he let everyone know what they were, and he lived his life accordingly. “A lot of people have rules and a playbook,” he said. “We have a priority system. Number one is our Creator; Number two is family; Number three is academics; Number four is friends; and Number five is the Wildcats.”
Coach Hyder taught Sunday School; he was deeply involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; and he constantly preached that if you always put God first, everything else would work out.
“We are very strong on opening each practice and game in prayer,” he said. “I never come up from that prayer wanting to abuse a player. We call it intelligent intensity and finesse.”
Nick Hyder’s career was cut short when he suffered a heart attack in the school cafeteria and died on May 16, 1996. He was buried in a black and gold casket, and lay in state at midfield of the Valdosta High School Stadium.