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Q&A With VMI's Sparky Woods
Part two of our three-part Q&A series with members of the VMI athletics department features new head football coach Sparky Woods, who comes to Lexington after a year away from the game. That time was well spent. Woods got to watch son Casey play at the University of Tennessee during his hiatus from coaching. Casey was a receiver and holder for the Vols.
There will be plenty of football Xs and Os in our VMI preview story later this month. In this interview, I asked Woods about how fits in at the Institute.
N&A: You said last week at the Big South football media days that you don’t have a military background. What’s the challenge for you in terms in relating to your athletes?
SW: First of all, I don’t have a military background, but I’m very patriotic and I really believe in the mission of VMI. I think it’s probably more important than it has been in many years, if not ever. I think the biggest challenge I have is probably the rat year, and the players that have to experience that. Learning all the responsibilities that they have, all the abbreviations, that’s kind of new to me. I think this year, it’s going to kind of be a rat line for me, too, I’m sure. To see how that’s all done for the first time, that will be a big experience for me. I think it would be much easier after a year.
Everybody’s been really helpful, so I don’t feel like I’m sitting here not knowing what’s going to happen. I just have to see it and live through it, I guess. We’d like for the young guys to have a chance to play a role. Getting through that rat line and keeping them involved will be a challenge.
N&A: What kind of condiut has coach (Brent) Davis been for you as you transition between staffs?
(NOTE: Davis was interim head coach briefly after Jim Reid departed for the Miami Dolphins in January.)
SW: He’s been great. What he did after Jim left and before they hired me was unbelievable. And then he stepped in and did a great job exposing me to things and helping me learn about the kids. It takes a lot off of me not having to be in charge of the offense. All the coaches have been great, but certainly, (Davis) has helped a lot. He’s got a lot of opinions on things, so he’s a good person to talk to, because it gives a great reflection on he thinks we should do.
N&A: What’s changed in the game since you were a head coach at South Carolina? (Woods was the head coach in Columbia from 1989-93.)
SW: Now, the kids have more on them, in terms of outside sources — you (the print media), the internet, things like that. It’s pretty public year round. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different. It keeps everybody on their toes a little bit. There’s some changes, you know, with the evolving of the zone blitz and the spread offense and things like that. But I really think it doesn’t seem far away from what it was.
N&A: You spent last year following your son around. What was that experience like for you?
SW: It was great. I never got to see Casey play football but once or twice. He would be playing at home and we would be having a home game, I could run out there while the kids had an hour, see a series or two, then run back to another meeting. I did see him play some basketball games, but I never did get to see him play much football.
I remember the look on his face after that first game in Knoxville, when he came out of the locker room. His mother and I were standing there, and I could tell that was probably a good thing. He was really pleased. It was his time. He had always hung around while I raised somebody else’s kids. I think he thought, ‘this is great, Dad’s here.’ It was good. Real good.
N&A: What was the initial impression you got from the alumni you’ve met at VMI in terms of their expectations for the program?
SW: They’ve been great. I think they have passion and they love their institute. But I haven’t felt like people are saying, ‘you’ve got to win this many,’ or anything. They’ll have a hard time having higher standards than I do. They’ve been great, not only the alumni, but General Peay and Donny White. I think we’ve got a really neat group, a family of people. They’re all very successful people who care about giving back to their institute. It’s the same thing with the players. It sure would be great if we could win some games to reward all of those decisions they make.
N&A: Any memories of com-ing up to Lexington when you coached at Appalachian State?
SW: The first year I was there we came up here and got beat. Coach (Bob) Thalman beat us. I remember that bus ride. It wasn’t very fun. That was our first year, and I don’t think they won but one game. (VMI won 20-16, the only bright spot in a 1-9 season.) It was a deal where I wasn’t very smart as a coach. I had a quarterback who got hurt and I had another kid I had suspended for the game because he didn’t go to class or something. I came in with a walk-on quarterback and got beat. It shows you’ve got to respect everybody.
I honestly remember telling people, though, that you’ve got to make that trip at least one time. This is a great atmosphere, and great people. I now I get an opportunity to come coach here myself.
N&A: Thanks for your time, Sparky.
ABOUT SPARKY WOODS:
PLAYING CAREER: Carson-Newman 1973-76, quarterback and defensive back
HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE: Appalachian State (1983-88); South Carolina (1989-93).
ASSISTANT COACHING EXPERIENCE: Tennessee (1976); Kansas (1977); North Alabama (1978); Iowa State (1979-82); New York Jets (1994); Memphis (1995-96); Virginia (1997-98); Mississippi State (1999-2002); Alabama (2003-06).
FUN FACT: Older brother Don Woods coaches the defensive line and is the Keydets’ chief of staff.
VMI Q&A: Football coach Sparky Woods
By Chris Lang, The Lynchburg News Advance