Around September, the hour and 15 minute ride from Greenwood to Augusta began to feel a lot longer for Dan Pippin.
Pippin took over as Greenwood’s football coach during the offseason, making the move from North Augusta where he’d shepherded the Yellow Jackets to 66 wins in seven years. A staple of Pippin’s North Augusta teams was its spread offense, while Greenwood utilized coach Gene Cathcart’s run-based offense to reach three state championship games in four seasons.
After Cathcart left for Seneca, Pippin’s first move was to install his offense at Greenwood. The results were... not good.
“In the spring, I was questioning my sanity; what have I done?” said Pippin.
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Greenwood fans, and maybe the coach, were questioning the shift in offensive philosophy after the Eagles lost four of their first five games. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, though. Bedding in a new coach and offense would be difficult for any team. Add in the heavyweight schedule the Eagles played and a 1-4 start wasn’t a shock at all.
“I think the teams we played had more to do with it than anything else. I don’t think the schedule was very good,” Pippin said on Wednesday, chuckling. “I didn’t make it. I wouldn’t have done that my first year.”
Greenwood opened the season with Dutch Fork, Dorman and Northwestern – all lopsided losses – before beating Spartanburg 17-2, and losing to Hillcrest 35-16. Region 1-4A play proved to be the tonic and gradually the Eagles’ offense has improved, to the point where they’ve won eight straight games and host York Friday in a 4A Division II semifinal game at Babb Stadium.
One thing Pippin didn’t touch when he started at Greenwood was the defense, skippered by coordinator Tony Temple.
“Greenwood has been good at defense forever,” he said. “I’m a 4-3 guy, he’s a 3-4 guy, and I said ‘it’s your call. Do what you guys have been doing.’”
The Eagles haven’t allowed more than seven points in their last seven contests. They’re led by North-South all-star linebackers Temoris Coats and Jamie Callahan and defensive back Kaleb Chalmers, who will enroll at Clemson in January. Chalmers, one of the team’s two Shrine Bowlers with wide receiver “Mock” Adams, tore his MCL in the Dorman loss and only returned in Week Nine. With a scholarship already locked up, Chalmers easily could have kicked his heels up and said he was done.
“That really hurt us in the beginning of the year,” said Pippin. “He could have stayed out and no one would’ve said anything. That’s something he didn’t have to do. It showed me a lot about him, and it showed me a lot about the kids and how much they care about Greenwood. I’ve probably got 10, 15 years of coaching left, and I’m gonna use that as an example.”
Along with Chalmers, Adams, a 6-foot-4, 1,000-yard receiver, gives Greenwood a safety net for its 10th grade starting quarterback Roshun Jackson any time he needs to chuck a desperation jump ball. The pair have been invaluable for Pippin during his transition season at Greenwood, one that didn’t start out like the program’s success-spoiled fans expected.
“If you asked me in spring practice would we be playing in a semifinal, I would have said there was no way,” he said. “We’re a little bit ahead of where I thought we’d be, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”