Oct 12, 2018
Open Door

Rodney Barr has a knack for turning teams around. He spent three years as Head Football Coach and Athletic Director at Overhills High School in Spring Lake, N.C., where, in Barr’s own words, “football was not very important.” In his first season, the Jaguars won two games. In his second, they won four. And in Barr’s third and final season, Overhills won six games and made the playoffs.

In 2016, he arrived at Lower Richland High School in Hopkins, S.C., where the football program had not experienced a winning season in 26 years and was in the midst of a 19-game losing streak. Barr needed only two years to take the Diamond Hornets to the playoffs.

“I saw the potential,” he says. “When I looked at the team on film, scouting the team that I would be inheriting, I saw there were a lot of discipline issues on the field. They made small mistakes, like committing penalties or playing a strong first half and not being able to put it together for the second half.

“But the players were there,” he continues. “It was just a matter of fine-tuning and giving the young men some type of direction. I felt like it was a situation where if the right staff got put in place, great things would happen.”

His first step was to get people on board.

“In order for a program to be truly successful, everybody has to be a stakeholder,” says Barr. “That includes the administration, the players, the coaches, the community, and the parents.”

One way he did this was to have a very open door. He did not shy away from community members’ questions or concerns. In fact, he invited parents to attend practices and stop by his office at the school (where he also is assistant athletic director and teaches social studies). Practices were crowded those first two seasons, with 15 or more parents watching, and he often welcomed visitors to his office.

By demonstrating such transparency, Barr showed his commitment to the program.

“It’s still a process in the making, but I feel like people know I’m here to stay,” he says. “A lot of coaches have come to Lower Richland for two or three years and then moved on. They view this job as a stepping stone. I wanted people to realize that’s not my goal.”

With the players, Barr simply was himself.

“I wasn’t trying to put on a show. I wasn’t trying to intimidate anyone,” he says. “I’m just a laid-back guy — not a screamer, not a proponent of profanity.

“But I’m also a big discipline guy,” he continues. “I outlined what I believed in and what I wanted, and the players latched on to that. They were open to new ideas, new thoughts.”

Barr quickly established a team motto of “One mindset, one goal, one heartbeat.” The phrase, he says, helped stress to every player the importance of carrying his own load. Barr and his staff entered players in 7-on-7 tournaments during the offseason and provided leadership training. He also replaced the logo on players’ helmets with one Lower Richland had when the school’s football teams dominated a generation ago.

In the end, the Diamond Hornets didn’t win a game during that 2016 season — but not one player quit. The coach views the initial year as necessary for lifting Lower Richland to a 7-6 record in 2017. Those seven wins totaled the number of victories Lower Richland accumulated over the previous four seasons, and Barr was named Midlands Coach of the Year by The State.

“The 0-10 season built a strong foundation for us. Without a foundation, you’re not going to have a program,” Barr says. “You might have a team that does well every now and then, but we’re trying to build a program that lasts.

“We meshed together well, and we stood together,” he continues. “After a 0-10 season, a lot of people abandon ship. But I think the fact that the kids knew we believed in them kept this team together.”

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