Chip Seagle is in the fourth quarter of his coaching career. And the journeyman high school assistant knows it.
That is what makes this week so sweet.
Friday afternoon inside Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, Seagle will be calling the plays as the offensive coordinator for Lanett High School in the 2A state championship game against Leroy High from the deep woods of south Alabama and not far from the Mississippi state line.
It is the first time in 32 years of coaching that Seagle has sniffed a state title game. And he is coaching an offense that is averaging nearly 47 points a game in four lopsided playoff victories.
This is his ninth season at Lanett, coaching under Clifford Story, a man Seagle said has become a dear friend as well as a boss. He only knew Story by reputation in 2009 when Story was hired to turn around the Lanett program.
The first two years were rough and in 2010, Lanett went 1-9.
“Every good thing that has come down the pike has come from that 1-9 season,” Seagle said. “What we are doing right now is the child of the 1-9 year.”
Seagle knows a little about turnaround stories. He’s a 1981 Jordan High graduate, playing for Coach Bill Ragle. Seagle became ill after graduating from high school and lost a lot of weight.
There wasn’t a big demand for 195-pound defensive ends on the college level, but he still had a desire to coach football. And he knew he needed to learn how to do it.
So in 1983, he approached Chan Gailey, then a young head college head coach at Troy State University about walking on.
“I never played, but I practiced for two years,” Seagle said.
Practice makes perfect.
After each practice, Seagle would sit at his locker in the old Tine Davis Field House and scribble what he had learned that day into a notebook.
“It was coaching seminary for me,” Seagle said.
And he was watching one of the best. Gailey would later become head coach of the Georgia Tech, the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills.
“The only time in my life I have ever rooted for the Cowboys, was when he was coaching them,” Seagle said.
His first job was working for his cousin as an assistant coach at a little Alabama private school, Dixie Academy. From there, it was Carroll High School in Ozark and then Dothan High.
At one point, he took a job in North Carolina, but he never made it that far.
“I got a call from Smiths Station, and I almost wrecked that truck turning it around getting back to Alabama,” Seagle said.
Many high school assistant coaches are young, working their way up the ladder into that first head coaching job. That’s what Seagle thought he was doing halfway through his career.
“About 12 to 15 years years ago, I applied for every head coaching job in south Alabama,” Seagle said. “The job, it seemed, always went to the top assistant at the school I was applying or some other coach. I never got down, because I knew I was a good football coach.”
What he did was accept his circumstance.
“I had a church youth director tell me one time that not every youth director or music director is called to be the preacher,” Seagle said. “Every disciple is not going to be the pope. That’s just the way it is.”
And a funny thing happened when he quit being consumed with the idea of being a head coach: he found peace and little bit of heaven in the strangest place, Lanett. A town torn to tatters by the loss of textile industry jobs, Seagle found his people.
“We have 42 kids on our team and 40 of them have lint in their veins,” he said. “And they have that work ethic that comes with that lint. ... These people in this town are so loyal. I tell everybody, ‘Don’t come to Lanett unless you are prepared to fall in love with the place.”
And don’t get Seagle started on Story.
“I have tenure and I can walk away right now, so this is not just some guy sucking up to the boss,” Seagle said. “He’s the finest man I have ever worked for. Period. He does what he says and says what he does. If I had known this situation existed years ago, I would crawled to it.”
And the bonus is the quarterback who triggers Lanett’s offense is sophomore Kristian Story, the head coach’s son.
“That kid is the most confident human being on the face of God’s green earth,” Seagle said.
He tells a story as an example. The Lanett offense is similar to the one used by defending national champion Clemson. At Lanett, it started as the old ‘Wing T’ and has morphed into a spread offense that is difficult to defend.
“We were talking about the read on a particular play, and I told him if he was going to be tackled by the end, then he should leave the ball with the back,” Seagle said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, nobody can tackle me.’ ”
And for much of this season, that has been true.
“We’ve got great athletes and great athletes have always been here,” Seagle said. “What is happening here is what happens when hard working and dedicated coaches meet good athletes, who also happen to be good young-uns. I tell everyone that Lanett is the best kept secret in east Alabama. And the state Department of Education pretty much said the same thing two years ago when they came down and rated us.”
So at 55, it’s a good time to be Chip Seagle. He and his wife, Tammy Pierce, live happily in Pine Mountain, a half-hour commute to Lanett. He is teaching ninth graders world history and seniors government and economics at a time when all three subjects are relevant.
And he is doing what good assistant coaches do — coaching his heart out.
With more than 300 games as an assistant under his belt, Seagle is entering the most important game he likely will ever coach.
And he enters it with the confidence of a lifelong football coach.
“Right now, we are good enough to be 14-0; play in the state championship game; average nearly 50 points a game and have more than 6,000 yards in total offense,” he said. “I just hope we are good enough Friday to beat Leroy by 1 point. That’s what I hope.”
Alabama High School Athletic Association Super 7 football championships
All games at Braynt-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. All times EST.
Class 7A: McGill-Toolen (13-0) vs. Hoover (10-3), 8 p.m.
Class 3A: Hillcrest-Evergreen (13-1) vs. Randolph County (13-1), Noon
Class 1A: Sweet Water (12-1) vs. Pickens County (12-2), 4 p.m.
Class 5A: St. Paul’s (13-1) vs. Briarwood Christian (14-0), 8 p.m.
Class 4A: UMS-Wright (12-2) vs. Fayette County (12-2), Noon
Class 2A: Leroy (12-2) vs. Lanett (14-0), 4 p.m.
Class 6A: Wetumpka (13-1) vs. Pinson Valley (14-0), 8 p.m.