If you measure success in wins and losses, and for some crazy reason people do, then Mark Rose’s tenure at Smiths Station might be considered average.
In six years, he finished with a 34-31 record, three playoff appearances and zero region championships. The Panthers won two playoff games, both in 2013.
Contrary to popular belief, though, numbers do, on occasion, lie. In reality, Smiths Station is in as good a shape as it has been in years, and Rose’s contribution to the program is the No. 1 reason why.
Rose accepted on Tuesday an offer to return to North Jackson High, where he coached from 2000-08.
When he took over Smiths Station in 2008, it was coming off a six-year stretch in which it saw two head coaches, 22 wins, one playoff appearance and zero playoff wins. The Panthers’ two wins in the 2013 state playoffs were their first postseason victories since 1997. Between 1986-97, Smiths Station experienced a stretch of success during which it went to the playoffs in 11 of 12 years and played in state championships in 1988 and 1989.
That was the goal for Rose when he took over the program: to bring Smiths Station back to prominence in the state of Alabama.
No, the Panthers didn’t play for a state championship. They played twice with a chance to win a region championship — the toughest region in Alabama, mind you — and came up short both times.
What they did, though, was convince others they could have large-scale success in a county that divides its talent among three other high schools.
Rose instituted a weight training program that was the backbone of the team’s success. From seventh grade on, players were expected to be in the gym developing their bodies into tools prepared for the rigors of 6A Alabama football. Raw Division-I talent may have been scarce, but they were going to be able to outmuscle any opponent they faced.
He instilled a commitment from his players, one that drove them to continue coming to work even when a promising roster turned into a 5-5 season in 2012 because of the strength of the top four teams in the region.
Rose praises the coaches and players for their loyalty to come back and try again in 2013. He always leaves out the part about who they were loyal to.
No, Rose’s tenure at Smiths Station was much more than average, as is his lasting impact.
Will we see Smiths Station contend on a yearly basis? Maybe not, but foundation of the program is such that a significant dropoff for a long period of time would be a surprise.
It will be a challenge to replace such a coach, one Smiths Station and Lee County leaders must embrace with the highest of expectations.
Because those, too, are no longer average.
David Mitchell, firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.