By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
If someone happened to venture down to Holly Pond any time during a Broncos’ spring football practice, they would’ve never been able to tell Mike Bates had spent five years away from coaching.
In fact, the seasoned head coach would’ve probably been the first to say he felt right at home back on the gridiron.
“My first day back was great,” he said. “I walked right on that field and was able to do the coaching things I’ve done for the past 30 years. I really felt fresh.”
The coach’s words are music to Holly Pond’s ears, as the Green and White try to get back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2012 campaign that saw the Broncos finish 2-8.
Bates’ latest foray into coaching will be the seventh stop in of his career. He brings with him a wealth of experience to a program that lacks the same. In 24 seasons, he’s compliled 150 wins, collected 10 playoff appearances and won a Class 5A state championship at St. Paul’s, where he mentored current Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.
Although he’s back where he wants to be, Bates ability to get a feel for the state of his program was hindered by his late hiring, allowing the coach a mere four days to look at the players on his roster.
“We just did as much as we could in shorts,” he said. “We tried to install a lot, and we worked on a lot of team and fundamental things as well. We’re not caught up yet, but we will get there before the season.”
Bates and his coaching staff will have their hands full, however, as they prepare to delve into the summer and fall.
The Broncos will need to find suitable replacements for departing seniors Austin Hoffman (quarterback), Chris Whitehead (running back), Austin Higginbotham (wide receiver), Ben Wilson (tight end) and Richard Herrara (offensive lineman/linebacker.)
Holly Pond will also have to show marked improvement on both sides of the ball. The Green and White managed just 10.5 points per game last fall, while yielding over 33 ppg on the other side of the ball.
Despite a rough past season, Bates said his new players were eager to learn when they began practice.
“The kids were certainly willing,” he said. “They had a great attitude and gave great effort over those four days. I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Not a lot of negative.”
The biggest goal for the new coach didn’t involve x’s and o’s, but rather, Jimmies and Joes.
“Getting to know the kids was the most important thing for me,” Bates said. “I thought it went well. Like I said, we worked a lot on both team and individual stuff. You can’t really install an offense in just four days of practice.”
Because of the short-notice hire, the Broncos were unable to partake in a spring jamboree. However, Bates isn’t too worried. According to the coach, Holly Pond will play an intrasquad game sometime in the summer before scheduling a fall jamboree to sharpen up just in time for the season.
Bates is certainly no stranger to success and, with a little willingness, he expects to bring that to the Broncos as well.
“If they are willing to learn, I think we’ll make some good progress,” he said. “I look forward to working with them and us improving and getting better every day.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.